Sunny day, everything’s A-ok… Well now that June’s thunderstorms and lightning (very, very frightening) have long since disappeared, yes Big Bird, you may have a point. Though try swinging round mine for rise and shine one day and see how you like the daily chorus of randy pigeons, upstairs elephantine neighbours and a team of builders who enjoy knocking down walls at 8am (and how many damn walls can a small Parisian apartment have?!). No, not very A-ok.
So as is my want to do when I’m teetering on the edge of the precipice of insanity, I head out into fields of green to calm my soul and recalibrate my neighbourly tolerance. This time, a mere postage stamp of grass wouldn’t do it, so I directed my adventure shoes to the eastern edge of the city in search of the calming glades of the bois de Vincennes. And please ignore self-professed oracle Wikipedia that claims it is ‘the largest public park in the city’. It is neither a park, nor in the city. It’s so very, very much more.
Just a short tram ride away, and the breath of nature soon began to work its magic as I hit the north western corner near the lac de Saint-Mandé. Nature was also calling in quite a different way, so before beginning my much needed forest bath, I hunted for that elusive beast, a public toilet. Now before I begin extolling her virtues, I’ll just tell you this. Get this ‘step’ out of the way before you head into the forest’s deep embrace – failing to find said facilities (twice round the lake I went) I was saved by a group of Polish workmen who let me use their hole-in-the-ground style portaloo when I asked for directions. You have been warned.
Lack of toilet facilities aside (though plenty of water fountains, work that one out), there’s not much else this massive green space can’t offer. Three times larger than New York’s central park, there’s no way in the world you could get round it all in one visit (I’m not even going to mention its famous chateau – that’s for another post). And for somewhere that tourists to the city hardly register, it gets 11 million visitors a year and could easily offer a week of activities.
Head towards the western side near Porte Dorée and the biggest lake, Lac Daumesnil offers a chance to mess about on the river for €13/14, with bonus lifeguard swans (also an option on the eastern Lac des Minimes). Further to the south east is the hippodrome for more energetic pursuits, though be sure to check the gee-gees are running before you go. For a more cerebral workout the resident zoo, arboretum, farm and botanical gardens (Parc Florale) will teach you about the herbs, birds, bees and trees, though it’s the cycling and walking opportunities that are really at its heart.
With 2,500 acres and 50 miles of paths just crying out for hikers and cyclists alike, it’s easy to meander through the trees and find a spot for quiet contemplation, and plenty of trees to hug if you’re into that sort of thing (don’t knock it ’til you try it). Though given its popularity, there is plenty of traffic in the form of scamping dogs and their owners, serene (and sometimes not so serene) strollers, and plenty, especially at this time of year, of those Tour de France guys making Lycra look as serious as possible. Bizarrely I also spotted plenty of tech-neck afflicted head lolloping smartphone addicts wandering about. Lost, obviously (well you’d certainly hope so).
For five-star centering and calm, away from the forest traffic, head to the buddhist temple or ”Grande Pagode du Bois de Vincennes’ where you’ll find Europe’s largest buddha. Sadly it’s only open during special festivals, but if it’s those you’re really after, the Parc Florale leads the way with the city’s biggest summer jazz and classical music festivals. If all of that isn’t enough to lead you to a state of zen, then I don’t know what will. After the drama of this world cup, you’re certainly going to need it…
Find out more here.