Having lunch in the park is a very typical phrase around the world, when my niece said, I want to take you to lunch in the country and we were in the middle of Paris, I was thinking at least an hour to find the perfect setting. But instead we parked the car and took a boat ferrying us to Le Chalet des Ilse. This place has always been reached by boat. The island is situated in protected environment with the flora and fauna making it a unique haven of peace.
In 1852, the Bois de Boulogne is given up by Napoleon III to the city of Paris and the big works of its refitting begins the year after, supervised by the Baron Haussmann. As for the Chalet, it was the wishes of Empress Eugénie, who had fallen under the spell of a real Chalet built by the architect Seiler near Bern, Switzerland. Thus the emperor, transported it by train and raised as before on the big island by the lake. At every turn, there is a story.
The Bois de Boulogne is the 2100 acres, actually twice the size of NY Central Park, so could rightfully be called the one of the lungs of Paris. The other is Bois de Vincennes on the eastern side of Paris. There is so much to offer here the fragrant Bagatelle Rose Garden, Roland Garros Tennis Centre, and Hippodrome de Longchamps for racing, Monet Museum and the amazing Fondation Louis Vuitton.
Actually Paris is a gardener’s paradise with so many and so varied. The earliest garden is the Tuileries, the 17th century formal garden right in the middle of Paris, designed by the king of gardeners and Gardener to the King, Andre Le Nôtre, who gave the “French Garden” its noble reputation. He had also designed Versailles and Vaux le Vicomte.
A long abandoned viaduct was converter into the world’s first elevated park in 1993 at times 30 feet above street level, the scenic three-mile promenade from the Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes. Covered with trees, pergolas, water features and flowers. There are 45 brick archways, making good use of them, they were turned into studios for craftsmen. What I call a “Two for” – And in 1994 the mayor was on roll and committed the site of former wine warehouses to become the Parc de Bercy but still retaining some reminders of its past, such as a vineyard and an old railway line. Biodiversity is an important part of the Parc de Bercy, like its sports stadium that is semi hidden by sod green walls. Paris has 9.5 % of green space, which surprisingly lags behind places like little Singapore with 47%, Vienna with 45.5% and surprise, Moscow with 54%.
On the Left Bank there is another favorite of mine, Luxembourg Gardens as people rush through it daily from one side to the other, I pause a my favorite little corner near rue de Fleuris. The oldest apiary in Paris is here, the beekeeping school, Rucher Ecole has been teaching apiculture since 1856. The bees are also used to pollinate the fruit trees in the Luxembourg Gardens, but I am sure they also love the Linden, Horse Chestnuts and Honey Locust trees along the avenues. It turns out that these city bees are among the healthiest and strongest around, even more so than those in the countryside. Although there is a collection of antique hives, the bees populate the modern wooden hives with copper roofs, surrounding the gazebo. Every autumn the gathered honey is sold fetching $65 US a pound, Parisian prices for sure!
Remember that the bee has been a symbol of France since Napoleon adopted it as his personal emblem, Paris is abuzz with rooftop boxes. They can be found on top of Opera Garnier, Musee d’Orsay, the Grand Palais and even on top of Notre Dame (yes, they survived the fire). Many hotels have added them to roof top gardens and proudly serve them for breakfast and tea.
There are so many other parks, like Palais Royal, Park Monceau and the Champs de Mars under the Eiffel Tower. Gardening is good for the soul and health…. Andre LeNotre lived to 87 in the 1600’s that puts life in perspective.