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Photo: M. Astella Saw

Experiencing Spring in Paris’ Parc Floral

The dark-limbed cherry trees are now heavy with pastel blossoms – and its clear to even the casual observer that Paris has burst into Spring. In full flush, too, is the Parc Floral, on the outskirts of Paris, just across the thundering périphérique.

One of the city’s four botanical gardens, Parc Floral spreads out over more than 30 hectares within the Bois de Vincennes, with flower collections that attract amateur and professional plantsmen and -women. But it’s not all buds and blossoms – there’s plenty of animation for young ones, and picnic spots in the shade. And lest we forget: springtime is when the swirly ice cream cones come out, too.

Photo: M. Astella Saw

Come in, through a thickness of oak, pine, and cedar trees. The ferns have found room to unfurl. The urban landscape of one of Paris’ hidden gems overflows with natural splendor: birdsong ripples through the air; sometimes, one can even hear the unabashed call of a peacock, hiding. Further along, curving paths wind through the valley of flowers that hugs the lake.

As the weather turns warmer, the park grows awash with color. Themed gardens put the focus on rhododendrons and irises, on sensuous peonies, starry dahlias, and fat camellias. Yellows and bright pinks pop; deep reds and purples luxuriate. Here, a pavilion for medicinal plants and herbs is full of intriguing discoveries; there, under bonsai-covered walkways and a grove of rustling bamboo, the air seems stiller, cooler. A vast swath of tulips in stepped beds – magenta or pales cream, coral-hued, or tiger-striped – reaches up gloriously straight to the sun. It’s no wonder that tulips were prized by the sultans of ancient Turkey before they set off a craze (and the first stock market crash) in 17th-century Holland.

Photo: M. Astella Saw

Tucked away at the far end of the park, the Jardin Insolite has sylvan charm aplenty. Through the rustic wooden gate, enchantment comes in the organic potager, lush tufts of edible flowers and aromatic herbs, a sweet little greenhouse, and handwritten signs telling slugs to keep away. A wheelbarrow is parked on the side of a narrow path – this is a living, working space, after all. Round a bend, a couple sits on a bench, their eyes closed, breathing it all in.

For more active sorts, Parc Floral offers numerous outdoor fitness stations, aerial adventures to be had among the trees, and mini-golf among gnome-sized Parisian monuments. Kids have plenty of room to scramble in the huge playgrounds – and when their energy flags, rent one of the jaunty red rosalies (shaded quadricycles) to get from point A to point Bloom.

Unlike the city’s more formal gardens, where visitors are strictly kept off the manicured lawns (a whistle from ever-alert gardiens is a shrill reminder), the Parc Floral is a blissfully relaxed spot. Pack a picnic basket or simply slip a baguette sandwich into your tote bag. Then, select a shady spot in which to set up camp.

On a sunny Sunday, there may be bunting and balloons tied around a tree trunk to mark a grandfather’s alfresco birthday tea; nearly hidden in a quiet clearing one is apt to find a young woman on an unfurled fouta, accessorized only with sunglasses and a bestselling novel.

The scene heats up in the summer months, with public concerts amid the greenery, and a series of garden workshops for little ones. But come in the heady days of spring, to start. Leave the tourists in the city center. Park Floral is one of Paris’ best spots to soak in the season.

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Parc Floral is located within the Bois de Vincennes in the 12th arrondissement of Paris. For more information, visit the park’s website.

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