Autumn leaves… or does it?

Living in France, we do get used to erring on the side of tardiness when it comes to appointments and suchlike (though it does allow time to squeeze in a bonus apéro as an alternative to watch tapping if you’re waiting on a friend on a café terrasse somewhere, silver lining and all that). But the weather? Never have I before seen the summer be quite so fashionably late as it was this year, finally gracing us with his* presence in mid-October just as we’d begrudgingly stuffed our summer garb into the back of the wardrobe and liberated the winter woollens.

Though it may point to worrying variations ahead in our global climate, we did as we all do when the sun appears in an unexpected encore, and without a care for the world weather crisis, re-donned our flip-flops and raced to the nearest patch of grass in the hope of achieving a hallowed autumn tan. But which parcel of green in particular? is always the burning question on fairer days, though one I didn’t have to ask as I was passing Parc Monceau last week on my way to scope out a location for a future blog post (this isn’t just thrown together at the last minute you know…).

Nestled at the very top of the 17th and the very bottom of the 8th arrondissement, you’d be hard pressed to find much else in the immediate area to do, and I must admit I only found myself here on the way to somewhere else, and popped in to use that rarest of facilities – free toilets – housed in the entrance’s imposing rotunda. But having not visited it for a while, I couldn’t resist a turn around the lawns, and dutifully washed my hands and started on my loop.

Now this time of the year most of the green grass in Paris is ‘turned off’ and put into rest mode so it can regenerate into a lush carpet ready for next year’s picnic season, so rolling around on Monceau’s gently undulating slopes just wasn’t an option. But you know, parks simply weren’t design just for collective lounging on warm sunny days, and this one more than most demands you stroll around its confines, trying to spot the myriad features installed for the pleasure of the visiting public, that honestly put the humble picnic quite to shame. So many there are, the city should really think of inventing some kind of Monceau bingo.

Originally completed in 1779, it was the idea of Phillipe d’Orléans, cousin of King Louis XVI and close friend of future English king George IV. Not surprisingly given his close ties to the neighbours across the channel, Phillipe was a lover of all things English, and wanted to fill his public park with architectural follies, or reconstructions of historical and world buildings, typical of English gardens at the time (before Vegas went crazy with the idea a few centuries later). So look hard enough and you’ll find an Egyptian pyramid, a Roman colonnade, a Chinese fort and a Dutch windmill nestled in the landscape, not to mention statues of French luminaries like Maupassant and Chopin, added later in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The level of art was so impressive, even Monet popped down a few times a century after the park’s inception, producing five paintings of it in total.

These days, quiet artistic reflection has given way to almost frenzied athletic activity, though feel free to take a moment to reflect on the property prices of the buildings overlooking the park’s 8.2 acres (clue: win-big-in-Vegas prices). If you’re a visitor here today, chances are jogging is on the agenda, and during daylight hours there is a constant stream of lycra-clad pavement pounders doing the rounds, not to mention the grunt of a thousand sit-ups and lunges echoing through the air. So eager is the fitness spirit here, I spied a guys selling protein powder at the entrance. No kidding. Those with younger models looking to shed excess energy, a carousel and tandem swings will effortlessly get the job done.

Maybe jogging isn’t your thing, though admittedly a better choice than the chosen active pursuit of 1797 – the world’s first silk parachute jump that landed in the history books right in the park’s grounds. Perhaps a turn or two doesn’t look too bad in comparison, though we’ll let the weather decide our level of exertion for now. Where did I put that umbrella?

Click here for more info on times and location.

* summer is masculine in French as are the rest of the seasons, try and work that logic out…

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View-ly scrumptious

IMG_2005Inner city living, eh? Flying by the seat of your pantalons from metro to boulot to whichever hipster hangout or cultural happening is the flavour of the moment, dodging your fellow chic citizens along the way. A constant thrill ride though it can be, sometimes you just need to take yourself off to a quiet green corner and take a few (hours of) deep relaxing breaths before you give in to the urge to boff someone across the chops for pushing in front of you at the supermarket. It’s high tension living for sure.

Thankfully large cities are fairly accommodating things and provide us with parks a plenty in which to mull over our urban woes, savour a sandwich or stroll through the leafy air without purpose to recharge our lungs. Paris may find it hard to compete with the sheer size and centrality of London’s royal parks or New York’s Central Park in its very heart, but there are enough small patches of lawn for everyone to have somewhere near to have a breather.IMG_2003

My need for the green took me up to Parc de Belleville one afternoon, sandwiched between Buttes Chaumont and Père Lachaise in the 20th arrondissement. An enormous sweeping park it isn’t, moulding itself around the hilly contours of the neighbourhood with enough steps to provide a behind-shaping workout, but with its winding leafy-lined paths, it’s probably the most Central Park-y space Paris can muster (minus the kamikaze squirrels).

It may not have Parc Monceau’s refined beauty or the classic charm of the Jardin du Luxembourg, but one thing it can particularly puff its chest out for is the view you get from the top. At 108 metres it’s the highest park in Paris, and therefore an awesome spot from which to survey the beauty of the capital spread out below. All the gang are in the picture; the Eiffel Tower, Tour Montparnasse and every church tall enough to muscle into view, plus there’s a handy plan that points it all out to you and a viewing scope for a close-up look.

IMG_1993Your only other options for getting a decent panoramic view of our darling girl is to shimmy up one of the highest buildings or climb the stairs to Montmartre, but we all know how common those ideas are. Nothing ruins a wide shot of the city scape like a strange tourist’s head. Here you can take in the scene in perfect peace without a foreign elbow shattering your sense of calm.

Once you’ve convinced yourself you’ve correctly identified where your apartment/hotel is in the geographical scheme of things, you can head down slope to a park bench, a patch of the 1000m squared of lawn, or choose instead to get to the bottom of that misty haze hanging over your vision, and check out the (free to get into) Maison de l’Air which will educate you about the importance of fresh air and the pollution problems choking it up. There’s a definite undercurrent of environmental protection in this park more than any other.IMG_1998

If the weather’s just not playing ball, check out the view and head toute de suite afterwards to one of the colourful independent cafes in the area, where the prices are far friendlier than in the packed-to-the-pavement tourist hangouts. This weekend though you won’t have to, given that we’re set to be graced with sun and an unseasonably warm 23-degrees. Time to give your sunnies their swan song and take in the panorama before the winter descends.