The green green grass of home

Kim MontS 3Normally, I’m the sort of gal that doesn’t need an invitation to have a lollop around in a large green space, being a country girl at heart, with fine English sap running through my veins. But a friend with small human in need of celebrating his three whole years on this earth steered me last weekend to a patch which hadn’t previously seen a great deal of lolloping on my part, and picnic blanket and thermos of wine in hand, I headed south on RER B to the resplendent Parc Montsouris.

Literally translating as a very unappealing and frankly incorrect ‘mouse mountain’ thanks to years of linguistic tinkering with its original moniker of ‘Moulin de Moque-Souris’ (meaning the equally perplexing ‘mouse-mocking windmill’), this 15.5 hectare park is nestled in the 14th arrondissement and forms part of the quartet of vast green urban spaces across the capital created by the power duo of Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann (capable of creating much smaller bits of green too), eventually completed in 1878.

Kim MontS2Much smaller than the bookend woods Boulogne and Vincennes, it echoes the hilly contours of sister park Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th, though unlike the others was designed specifically in the English landscape garden style. So far, so elegant and refined. It’s construction story though was a million miles away from its classic, cultivated exterior, being built on the site of a former quarry and a network of abandoned tunnels and mines which came to reveal a gruesome cache of some of the six million Parisians that were buried under the city in the 18th century. Around 800 skeletons were removed to their final resting place in famous catacombs of Paris.

Kim MontS 5Thankfully no hints of its macabre past remain today and you’ll find an undulating park perfect for picnics and frisbee or a good old-fashioned stroll. There’s also a duck pond towards the middle and a café and kiosk for something cold and refreshing should you be stupid enough to forget your thermos of chilled white wine. Kiddles will get all squeaky and excited when they spy the ponies offering rides round the winding paths, and joggers decided long ago that this is in the top five training spots that the capital can muster.

Kim MontS 4As for us, we took advantage of the wide open spaces and spread our picnic blankets under the shade of a giant tree, surrounded by fellow alfresco diners, snoozing citizens and lounging couples. We might not have seen any mice, but the bubbles (of the soapy-water-blow-into-the-air kind) and birthday cake(s) were far more interesting than any mouse-mocking that could have taken place. As English experiences in Paris go, all that was missing was a delicious cup of afternoon tea.

Reach Park Montsouris by taking RER B or tram 3a to stop Cité Universitaire.


Parks and recreation

IMG_1653Ah sunshine, there you are. Since you’ve been so elusive these last couple of months, I’ll forgive the fact that you’ve decided to bring your golf-ball-sized hail storm buddy along for the party, but the rough with the smooth and all that. Now that you’ve taken to hanging around a bit more frequently, we can all get on with the serious business of finding a patch of luscious green space to lounge around in.

Being from the country, I’m a little picky about my leafy bits, and quite frankly get kinda cranky when I don’t spend enough time surrounded by trees. But thankfully I moved to the right place and Paris has kindly provided me with enough green space to lollop around in to my heart’s content, which is no mean feat given the city’s diminutive size and sardine-like configuration.

IMG_1386Now I say Paris is responsible for the impressive show of greenery, but really we have just one man to thank – Baron Haussmann, that famous city planner who knocked down half of Paris in the mid-19th century and built it back up again into the smashing city we have today. (He wasn’t legally a Baron though, he just called himself that. Clever, eh?)

Maybe he’d watched that ‘whoops-a-daisies’ scene from Notting Hill too many times, the one where Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts break into that charming garden in the middle of that London square, but the man sure had a thing for parcels of grass. Not only did he create the two forested book-ends of the city, the bois Boulogne and Vincennes, but also some of the nicest large parks around, including Buttes Chaumont and Montsouris.

But his real act of class was creating a plethora of small squares throughout the capital intended to be no more than 10 minutes away from each and every address, for rich and poor alike. Before he got to work, there was only one in the whole city. Take a look on a map – those green patches aren’t mould you know, they’re delicious stamps of living, breathing nature.

IMG_1654And we’re not only spoiled by the flora, there are benches for afternoon mulling, climbing frames for the miniature citizens, paths for meandering and even the odd bandstand. Oh, and if you’re lucky there might be a public toilet, and we know how rare they are in this town.

So before you get attracted like a magnet to the same patch of nature that the rest of Paris is drawn to on sunny day (shoulder to shoulder in the Place des Vosges anyone?), consider popping round the corner and discovering the small urban oasis peeking out from between the buildings in whatever neighbourhood you happen to be in. The Baron commands it.

Lady Kim