Northern Paris has a number of contemporary parks, like the Parc de la Villette (19th). The 55-hectare park is the French capital’s largest green space. Originally the location of the city’s slaughterhouses, the site was redeveloped into a park and now comprises 10-odd themed gardens, among them the garden of mirrors; the Jardin de la Treille, which has 90 fountains tinkling away among the vines and climbing plants; a bamboo garden created by the artist Daniel Buren; the Jardin des Iles (garden of islands), the Jardin des Equilibres, featuring large metal kites, and the Jardin des Ombres (garden of shadows), where you can admire a skilful play of light.
In some of the green spaces, designed specially for kids, children and adults alike can relax and have fun: there are amusing installations in the Jardin des Dunes and the Jardin des Voltiges, a mysterious musical forest in the Jardin des Frayeurs enfantines (garden of childhood fears), and a huge slide in the Jardin du Dragon. The Parc de la Villette is also one of the city’s top cultural venues, hosting plays, concerts and exhibitons all year round.
The first section of the Parc Clichy-Batignolles - Martin Luther King in the heart of the 17th arrondissement was opened in 2007. The park is being built in stages, and will gradually increase to its full size (10 hectares) by 2020. Skilfully intermingling plant and aquatic life, it is organized around the four seasons, and has different areas for visitors to use depending on what they feel like doing: walking, playing sport or just lazing.
In the town of Bobigny, the Parc départemental de La Bergère situated along the Canal de l’Ourcq is a 15-hectare green space where hillocks and undulating terrain alternate with grassy parkland. It is home to a number of different bird species, including some quite rare ones, such as sand martins.
The 410-hectare Parc Georges Valbon in La Courneuve is the biggest nature reserve of the Seine-Saint-Denis département. This biodiversity-rich park is part of the local Natura 2000 special protection area, as it is a habitat for some of Europe’s rarest birds. The park hosts free nature-based, cultural and sporting events throughout the year for people of all ages, as well as games, shows, etc.
A walk in the woods
In Vaujours, a former gunpowder factory has been redeveloped into a woodland park known as Parc forestier de la Poudrerie. The Canal de l'Ourcq runs through this sprawling park – a great place to go for a long walk. It is a thickly wooded area punctuated by ponds, huge expanses of grass and meadows. A habitat for many emblematic birds, it is part of the ‘Natura 2000 Seine-Saint-Denis’ site. There are play areas for children and a disc-golf course, as well as a beekeeping facility where visitors can learn about bees and beekeeping.
Unusual green spaces
Winemaking happens everywhere in France, including the capital, and a wander among grapevines can make for a pleasant and unusual walk. One such spot is the picturesqueMontmartre vineyard on Montmartre hill in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, with no fewer than 1,760 vines. The Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre, held here every year since 1934, celebrates the local vines and the now-famous wine made from them, Le Clos Montmartre.
The Jardin sauvage Saint-Vincent niched on the slopes of Montmartre is also worth visiting. Nature has been left to run amok in this little square, which was abandoned in the early 20th century, so much so that it is now a veritable urban wilderness right in the middle of the 18th arrondissement. A variety of vegetation has sprung up here, offering shelter to many birds and insects. A place to explore in the course of a guided visit (organized in summer only).
Along the water
Long used to serve the industrial warehouses along their banks, the Canal Saint-Martin, Canal de l’Ourcq and Canal de Saint-Denis are now popular spots for strolling and relaxing. These are protected areas where people can get a breath of fresh air, have a leisurely walk or just enjoy being in a green space, and they also offer plenty of lifestyle and culture options. Many creative professionals are setting up shop here; more and more new bars and restaurants are popping up; former industrial spaces are being turned into places to party, and there is no lack of art! Whether you’re exploring on foot, by bicycle or by boat, there is street art to admire at every corner, as well as the protected green spaces.
The area around the Canal Saint-Martin has many reminders of the Paris of a bygone era. Its mysterious vaulted tunnels, waterways lined with horse chestnut trees, romantic footbridges and many bars make the canal a must-see for all Paris lovers.
The Bassin de la Villette is popular with local residents, who make the most of its water-based activities (cruises, electric boat trips and a water sports complex), the plentiful cafés and restaurants, barges turned into cultural venues, cinemas and the 104 arts centre, not to mention many spots devoted to street art.
The Canal Saint-Denis and Canal de l’Ourcq continue on into Seine-Saint-Denis in the northern suburbs and boast a rich industrial, sporting and artistic heritage, with cultural venues, parks and nature sites. These cool, peaceful stretches of water are ideal for people who enjoy walking, fishing, canoeing and kayaking.
Located in the 18th arrondissement, the Jardin des Deux Nèthes has a magnificent plant wall while, on Rue d’Alsace, a staggering 40,000 plants have been combined to cover a single façade (extending from Number 11 to Number 21).