Sitting on a park bench in Parc Monceau on a sunny weekday morning conjures up sentiments that by now have become redundant in my writing about Paris. But please forgive my blatant romanticism and child-like euphoria when I ask, could it get any better? On one particular morning we were greeted by rare crystal blue skies and bright sunshine – two things we had yet to see during our previous days in Paris. I had heard about these days and had seen photos showing Paris basked in sunlight – photos that my suspicious nature had led me to believe were doctored or frauds. But now I know these days really do exist in the city. Fortunately that was the day we had planned a morning visit to Parc Monceau, a beautiful public garden nestled in the 8th arrondissement with roots dating back to the 18th century. It was also the first park to get a make-over during Haussmann’s renovation of Paris on behalf of Napoleon III. Again I ask, could it get any better?
After arriving at the Monceau station we ascended from the subterranean world of the Paris metro onto Boulevard de Courcelles, a lovely street lined with trees and Haussmannian architecture, and right next to the main entrance of Parc Monceau. While not as well-known as the Luxembourg or Tuileries gardens, inside Parc Monceau’s stylish, black iron fencing with fancy gold trim lies the essence of the Paris garden culture. Now don’t get me wrong I love our time at the Luxembourg and Tuileries gardens. But this was one of the parks that gave us the feeling that we were observing and experiencing true Parisian life.
Parc Monceau features such a unique layout. One huge walkway lined with benches cuts the park in half and reminded me of a huge freeway connecting two of Parc Monceau’s main gates. But its true treasures lie in the smaller pathways which wind throughout the park giving lovebirds, joggers, and mothers with children a chance to admire the different beauties it has to offer. This is where we truly fell in love with Parc Monceau.
I think we could have stayed there forever. The stroll we took through the park’s soothing, well-manicured landscapes was almost otherworldly. It was quiet and relaxing yet full of energy and vibrancy, something that only increased as lunch time approached. After a quick stop at a lovely and quaint little deli/patisserie, we followed the lead of so many other Parisians filing into the park. Like them we searched for the perfect park bench and sat down for a picnic.
The view from our bench was stunning. There was a beautiful pond wrapped around a huge, lush willow tree and semi-surrounded by a set of Corinthian pillars. The sun broke through the tall oaks shading the park benches which heightened the spectacular greens and blues that were laid out before us. But surprisingly it wasn’t only the natural beauty that captivated us.
Like most parks or gardens, this was the neighborhood’s backyard. As we sat and ate we also experienced some prime people watching. It may sound empty but people watching is actually a wonderful part of a Paris experience. Whether you’re sitting at a cafe or spending time in a garden like us, watching people offers an amazing glimpse into the city and culture. So we watched. We watched a young child no more than two years old chase the horde of pigeons who were searching for crumbs of bread. We watched as two French mothers talked intently while their young children played in the sand. We watched as a short but content elderly gentleman strolled through the park only stopping to offer us a friendly “Bon appétit”.
It’s here that I understood how slowing down and soaking in the city would allow for a Paris experience that’s far different from the strictly touristy trip. In Parc Monceau I gained a fascination with Paris that went past the usual awe of a new traveller. I felt the pulse of Paris and I began to understand it. I’ll always have fond memories of that time in Parc Monceau, memories that are still incredibly vivid almost a year later. That’s why I know I’ll go back. I must go back. I can’t wait to go back.