Can you believe that this little oasis – this secret garden open to the public – is literally steps from tourist hell — the crowding pushing jostling hot chaotic confused wondering what to do next tourists in the square outside Notre Dame? The meditation garden is in the courtyard of the Hospital Dieu; We hate tourist hell — so now that we have seen the magnificent places at the center of these scrums, we avoid them. The Hospital Dieu courtyard is one of our secret gardens that provide refuge from chaos.
It the oldest hospital in Paris created originally in the 600s and remains the primary emergency care center for central Paris. The statue of Charlemagne in the courtyard in the picture below is dressed by medical students in costumes that change with the season.
Hot tired tourists milling about in front of the Cathedral or lined up to visit the tower have no idea that this charming and idyllic spot is so close by. But the meditation garden of Hotel Dieu is a cool pleasant place to catch your breath and enjoy peace so close to the hubbub.
We like to seek out tranquil spots like this one. The notion of secret gardens suggests small private oases. And of course private courtyards are everywhere in Paris. Nicer residential buildings often have inner courtyard gardens and there are locked allees — private streets gated from the world. This is a glimpse of one such courtyard near our building.
And another just down the street.
But I love finding another kind of secret garden — places that are beautiful and accessible to the public but that are hard to find or overlooked by most visitors to Paris. Some of the large parks of Paris might actually seem like secret gardens to tourists who seldom get out to them. For example, we saw almost no non-locals when we visited Butte Chamont. And it is just one of dozens of relatively untouristed parks and gardens in Paris.
Kids love the grottos and waterfalls at Butte Chamont.
And this park is right in the the city in the 19th arrondissement.
But Butte Chamont is well known if not frequented by tourists; there are other gardens that are hard to find but interesting respites from heat and bustle. Here are three of them: the Jardin de Tocqueville, the Jardin Sauvage and the Musee Albert Kahn gardens.
Jardin du Tocqueville
Our current find is just around the corner from our apartment. We were looking for a place to hang outdoors that was closer than Square Batignolles and Monceau and found ‘Jardin de Tocqueville’ on our Paris Plan. It looked like a substantial place on the map but we have walked all over the neighborhood and had never noticed it.
So we began a search. On our evening walk we went up the street where it should be — nothing. Then we tried google maps — nothing — or rather something wrong. (No one will be surprised to discover that google maps actually had the ‘pin’ in a totally wrong spot across the tracks and blocks from the actual place.) We asked on Trip Advisor — no one knew.
Here is what we found where the garden should be; certainly one of the ugliest buildings in Paris.
I was determined to find this place that seemed not to exist and so one morning on my daily baguette run I retraced the route where it HAD to be — found the small sign on the gate obscured earlier by a parked car and there it was. It was no wonder that it was difficult to locate. To get to the Jardin de Tocqueville (and yes it is named for THAT de Tocqueville) you have to go through the ‘porch’ of this ugly building
and then through another passage and voila — the public but secret Jardin de Tocqueville.
The garden is made of three squares — the first two contain benches and children’s playspace, the final square with flowers and trees is currently blocked due to nearby construction on buildings that tower above it.
Le Jardin Sauvage de St. Vincent
Another garden that is secret partly by dint of being open only a couple hours a week is le Jardin Sauvage de St. Vincent in Montmartre. It is hard to spot on a street behind Sacre Couer. It is one of those places like the Jardin de Tocqueville that you have to be looking for to find and even then it is easy to pass right by. The entrance is behind a high metal gate but once through you are on this stone stairway.
This is a ‘natural’ space which looks to be designed for eco education for school kids. It is only open to the public for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon. There is a pond filled with tadpoles complete with a display on the life cycle of the frog.
And there are eco exhibits like this bug house as well as signs and exhibits identifying the local flora.
And you know it is a secret garden when you spot the back gate.
Musee Albert Kahn
Another secret garden which is mysteriously absent from guidebooks is the charming Musee Albert Kahn located at the St. Cloud Bologne metro stop. It is easy to locate from the metro but if you arrive at its formal address on the opposite side you are met with locked gate.
Albert Kahn, a French banker and philanthropist, set out in the early 1900s to photograph cultures around the world. He sent over 50 photographers out to capture traditional cultures and ways of life — and these stunning photographs are displayed at the Albert Kahn Museum. There are 72,000 autochromes i.e. early color photographs in the collection. His collection is sometimes referred to as the ‘archives of the planet.’
The museum is on the edge of the grounds of his home and also contains his gardens. Kahn was fascinated by various forms of gardens and so set out to recreate several styles in his back yard. Like Disneyland — lots of disparate ‘lands’ are artfully fitted into the fairly small space — about 10 acres including the buildings. It is an exquisite place.
We entered at the traditional Japanese garden which contains a tea house where ceremonies are performed.
There were quite a few people sketching — some looked like botonists interested in the flora — others like artists practicing their sketching skills.
I skipped the rose garden as the roses are not quite yet in bloom and wandered into the espaliered French garden. Here there are espaliered fruit trees and trees so aggressively trained that they form fence rails . The espalier techniques are designed to create two-dimensional forms from three- dimensional flora.
Here is Ed in his usual position at the edge of the formal French garden across from the Palm House. Kate you will note the eco friendly water bottles and the stylish ‘man bag.’
These boys are annoying the fish that are a dominant part of the water feature.
Even on a sunny Saturday afternoon there were only a few visitors to this oasis of tranquility.
And we were pretty pleased to be among them.