Directly adjoining the Père-Lachaise, the Jardin Naturel shares the cemetery’s tranquil ambience, with none of the morbidity. It’s sizeable for a Parisian neighbourhood park, and its marriage of playground and concealed location ensures that your company will consist mostly of local families and the occasional dog-walker. It also boasts an especially rich biodiversity for the city, with a focus on the wild flora of Île-de-France. Just across the Rue Lesseps is the park’s extension, the Jardin Lesseps, named for the megalomaniacal developer of the Suez Canal. Its main draw is a ping pong table, which kids tend to monopolise after school hours.
Nestling at the heart of the left bank’s Jardin des Plantes is this lush tribute to mountain flora. Around two thousand different species are arranged according to continent of provenance, surviving thanks to the microclimate created by the surrounding trees and the shallow valley in which the garden is situated. This also ensures that it remains somewhat hidden, overlooked by the families and joggers who populate the neighbouring gardens.
Albert-Kahn Musée & Jardins
The spectacular, ten-acre Jardins alone makes a visit to the Albert-Kahn Musée & Jardins in Boulogne-Billancourt worthwhile: Each section is modelled on a garden from around the world – rocky Vosgienne forest, Japanese village gardens, contemporary Japanese gardens and English and French gardens – and makes for a wonderful, lazy afternoon away from the hubbub of central Paris. On Tuesdays and Sundays between April and September (except July and August), in the pavillon du thé, you can even partake in a Japanese tea ceremony, led by a tea master from Kyoto’s Urasenke school. Albert Kahn was an early-20th-century banker and philanthropist who financed ‘discovery’ missions across the world. His main legacy is ‘Les Archives de la Planète’ on show inside the house – a fascinating collection of films and snapshots brought back from each mission in more than 60 countries.
Jardin Sauvage Saint-Vincent
Behind the Sacré-Coeur, just next to Montmartre’s vineyard, this garden is part of a very old piece of fallow land that was slowly reclaimed by nature. The trees, plants and flowers are self-sown and created their own little meadow before the City of Paris decided to turn it into an official biodiversity enclave in 1987. It’s only local flora and fauna, but it’s in fine fettle, especially as the garden is only open to the public once or twice a month in order to leave the vegetation in peace. The plot’s 1,480 square metres shelter hundreds of plant and animal species, from the pond-dwelling toad to the horse chestnut trees overhanging the path and the stinging nettles, which, thanks to the handy educational signs, you learn are used to treat rheumatism. Young and old alike are encouraged to join guided visits, where volunteers explain the garden’s treasures, and each plant and tree is tagged to help you fill in the questionnaires they distribute. Don’t miss one of the rare open days.
Jardin de la Nouvelle France
The Champs-Elysées can be horrendous for pedestrians. Those who’ve come to see the Arc de Triomphe, only to be swallowed up by the unnavigable mess of traffic and window shoppers, may be surprised to discover that the avenue was still surrounded by parkland as recently as a century ago. Patches of landscaped greenery still flank it on either side, of which the clandestine Jardin de la Nouvelle France (formerly Jardin de la Vallée Suisse) is doubtless the prettiest corner. Laid out in preparation for the 1900 World Fair, it reflects the Orientalist fad of the time: a picturesque bridge arches over a carefully manicured rock garden, complete with artificial pond. Find the white marble statue by Alfred de Musset situated near the intersection between avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt and Cours la Reine, and seek out the broken flight of steps to its right. They’ll lead you down into this haven of tranquillity.
A kind of illicit pedestrian counterpart to the boulevard périphérique, the Petite Ceinture is one of Paris’ least well-guarded secrets, in both senses. Essentially a disused railway that loops around the city like a ‘little belt’, the route has lain derelict since the last commercial train rattled along its tracks last decade. As the council vacillates over its future function, groups of urbex enthusiasts armed with torches explore its grimy industrial charms. Save for three short stretches in the 12th, 15th and 16th arrondissements that have been opened to the public, access is technically illegal, but the various unofficial entry points aren’t policed. Once you’re on the Ceinture, the urban bustle fades into stillness and silence, the shops and the boulevards are replaced by graffiti and dense undergrowth. Those attempting the walk should bear in mind that petty crime on the Ceinture is not unheard of, and that it’s best not to venture out alone or at night. A torch is a requisite for the pitch-black stretches of tunnel.
For more information on visiting the French capital, visit www.parisinfo.com.
Need to know
Air France flies direct to Paris from Dhs3,850 return.