Paris in the Springtime: How to Avoid Everyone

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15th Apr, 2013

This is how I like my outdoor terraces: deserted, tourist-free and preferably childless (sorry parents but screaming kids are just not part of my vision for an al fresco paradise). But since we’re coming out of what seems like the longest winter yet, at the first hint of sun, you can bet everyone and their mother (plus her entourage) will be stampeding for the best outdoor spots. Finding your own little piece of Parisian paradise away from the crowds requires some effort and some exploration…

*Pictured above: (c) Le Mama Shelter Rooftop, scroll down article for more information. 

An Abandoned Colonial (human) Zoo now ideal for Picnics!

So you may recall a little while back MessyNessy wrote about a place called the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale

“… In the furthest corner of the Vincennes woods of Paris, lies the remains of what was once a public exhibition to promote French colonialism over 100 years ago and what we can only refer to today as the equivalent of a human zoo. In 1907, six different villages were built […] representing all the corners of the French colonial empire at the time […] This included mimicking the architecture, importing the agriculture and appallingly, inhabiting the replica houses with people, brought to Paris from the faraway territories…” (Read the full article here)

But what Nessy forgot to mention about this stain on French history, is that it also makes an idyllic outdoor oasis for catching rays with a picnic! (If being surrounded by a little sinister history doesn’t bother you). The gardens were re-opened to the public in 2006, (after spending most of the 20th century behind rusty padlocked gates), and as it’s not exactly a place the French are particularly proud of, the lush green park has remained a pretty well-kept secret and very few people actually know about it at all, let alone visit.

You say colonial junkyard, I say perfect seclusion! In between grassy bamboo-lined fields, ideal for a sunny apéro, pathways overtaken by nature lead to strange, abandoned houses and pavilions, untamed tropical plants, exotic landscape and clues all around to the garden’s colonial past. Perhaps a little more interesting than picking daisies?!

Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale, 45 bis Avenue de la Belle Gabrielle, 75012 Paris. RER eastbound train takes you to the Parisian suburb of Nogent-sur-Marne. 

 

Pizza in the Potager

Almost everyday, I pass this seemingly private little vegetable garden in the middle of Paris and one sunny day, I decided to stop and take closer look. I was expecting to be shooed away with a sun hat by the lady relaxing alone in a deckchair, but to my surprise, once I was spotted peeking through the fence, a friendly hand gesture invited me inside.

Tucked away on a quiet residential street just East of bustling Bastille, the Jardin Nomade is a 270m² shared neighbourhood garden transformed from an abandoned plot of land by local residents. But don’t be shy, the tranquil (nomadic) space with tables and chairs is open to all, especially if you fancy pitching in to grow some veggies.

And in case you forget to bring a picnic, it just so happens that Nessy’s favourite homemade pizza place in Paris is just feet away. Order a slice of 40×60’s gourmet focaccia pizza to go, with the freshest ingredients– possibly as fresh as those vegetables growing beside you as you relax in the Jardin Nomade, pizza in mouth, smile on face.

40×60 Pizza, 44 rue trousseau, 75011 Paris / Jardin Nomade,  48, rue Trousseau on the corner of rue Delescluze

P.S. To enquire about your local shared vegetable garden and get involved in the social life of your gardening community by becoming an official member, contact www.jardinons-ensemble.org, and get in touch with the non-profit organization in charge of your local patch.

 

A Garden in Bali by way of Clichy

Suggest anything near the Place de Clichy to a Parisian and watch their face scrunch up in disapproval. But thanks to Parisian snobbery, you’ll find a rather uncrowded, luxurious hidden treasure between Place de Clichy and Square des Batignolles. In a lush bamboo garden that connects a quirky travelling hipster’s hotel, El Dorado, with its wine bistro, Le Bistro des Dames, you can forget the traffic jams and city woes and travel to the faraway exotic. Thirty thrifty tables are surrounded by ivy, bamboo trees, bay leaf, buddha heads and squadrons of happily chirping sparrows. Compliment your glass of wine, starting from €3,50 while snacking on crab avocado salads, honey-roasted figs and mango duck.

Le Bistro des Dames, no reservations, 18 Rue des Dames, 17eme, Metro Place de Clichy

 

The Wild Secret Garden of Montmartre

While hundreds of tourists are standing in front of the Sacre Coeur, you’ll be having the last laugh as you explore the little-known natural habitat next to the Montmartre vineyard. The 1500m² high-wall enclosure used to be a public square until the mid 1960s when it was abandoned for almost twenty years.

In the 1980s, a wild garden was created on the hilly terrain with winding pathways, a pond and newly introduced species of plants and animals. Allowed to evolve naturally, the space is only open to visitors that manage to find it from April 1st to October 30th on certain Saturdays and Sundays of the month with some rather complicated opening hours which you’ll have to check here– so it’s all the more likely you’ll be alone in your own little secret garden.

Entrance on rue Saint-Vincent opposite number 14, 18eme arrondissement. 

 

While you’re there, try these terraces in Montmartre…

Le Vieux Chalet

At the end of a corridor covered with match-boxes, there’s a surprising and delightful patio with an apple tree as a centrepiece. Few Springtime tourists from the nearby Place du Tertre would ever suspect there is a peaceful flowery refuge hiding behind this mediterranean brasserie which has managed to maintain its casual, working-class soul since 1948, an old favourite of Picasso.

 14 bis, rue Norvins, 18eme, métro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt. 

Terrass Hotel

Walk in like you’re staying there, spot the elevator in the lobby, levitate up to the 7th floor and order a cocktail or lunch on the roof terrace, with its magnificent views over Paris. 12 Rue Joseph de Maistre75018 Paris

 

Afternoon apéro in Paris … or Provence?!

Le Jardin Naturel is pretty impossible to know about unless you move into the neighbourhood and go exploring– luckily, Nessy did just that. Just on the other side of the wall is the Père Lachaise cemetery where thousands visit every year, but your only way into this tranquil paradise is by a tiny side street cut off from the crowds on the rue Bagnolet. This 6300m² diverse Parisian garden is not like the others, planted with wild vegetation and host to a pool frogs, newts and water lilies.

But before you disappear into the secret garden, make sure to pick up supplies! Just over the road is the highly recommended Nouveau Nez, offering a collection of natural wines, charcuterie and cheese. After few hours in the Jardin Natural, chomping on provincial snacks, you’ll absolutely feel like you’ve spent an afternoon in the countryside.

What next? A few minutes up the road is Le Mama Shelter (also pictured in lead image), Philippe Starck’s uber cool hotel, which also happens to have one of the most stunning terraces in Paris from mid-May– except you don’t have to actually share it with Paris. The roof terrace here usually has a useful reservation-only policy which keeps the numbers low, making it an enjoyable, not-too-crowded space for a beautiful al fresco dinner with friends.

If you haven’t thought to book and you just want to go for an early evening drink & nibbles, it’s worth giving them a call and asking if you can pop by (in previous seasons they have been known to keep the bar open all day).

Jardin Naturel: 120 Rue de la Réunion 

Au Nouveau Nez: 52 rue de Bagnolet, 75020

Mama Shelter: 109 Rue de Bagnolet (Tel: 01 43 48 48 48)

The St. Germain Courtyard where Nobody thinks to Go

If all my suggestions so far have been a little too off-centered for your Rive Gauche-loving arse, how about a charming courtyard in the heart of St. Germain with cozy seating, a trickling fountain and four star service? If you’re not in the mood for people-watching and competing for tables with the Parisian elite, I recommend trying the garden hidden at the back of the Hotel de l’Abbaye for peaceful afternoon drinks with friends.

Hôtel Abbaye Saint Germain 10 Rue Cassette  75006

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