Nestled in a quiet north-eastern corner of Paris, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is well and truly ‘off the beaten track’; largely avoided by the touristic tornado that sweeps across the centre of the city, especially in the summer months. The 19th arrondissement in which it is located is somewhat more working class and less polished than the chicer inner districts, but just as charming. If you choose to disembark from the metro at Stalingrad (Lines 2, 5 and 7) there is an array of interesting attractions along the way. Firstly, the Canal St Martin provides a relaxed and trendy atmosphere as well as terrific variety: the bar/restaurant 25° Est has a rooftop terrace overlooking the Bassin de la Villette. In addition to this, the banks of the canal offer cinemas, boat trips and even hotels.
Continuing on for the busy convergence of activity at Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad, it is quickly apparent that the jostle of daily life has been left behind. Walking up Avenue Secrétan, fruit sellers spill onto the pavements, and buying some strawberries is a tempting prospect for a lazy afternoon spent at the park. It is possible to access the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont from several perimeter entrances, and at first glance it all seems quite faceless and banal. Only when you wander the network of paths are the true wonders revealed.
To reach the heart of the park, you must climb and descend the slope that shields it from the outside world. At this point, it is possible to appreciate the magnificent and breathtaking scenery. Once a quarry, the area of wasteland was stunningly transformed in 1867 by Baron Haussmann, the man responsible for rebuilding Paris in the 18th century. Nowadays, the park is a haven that boasts a lake, a waterfall housed in a grotto (complete with artificial stalactites), an obelisk on an island offering alternative city views, restaurants, picnic areas, gardens, walks and above all, the ability to be transported to a place of physical beauty, within one of the busiest cities in the world.
Serving as a complete escape from the urgency of Parisian life, the park is a little paradise lost and waiting to be discovered. Sitting in the obelisk perched upon an island cliff top, cars and buses seem toy-like, and the Sacre-Cœur is heavenly, radiating its white godly glow from the hills nearby in Montmartre. Whether you choose to eat, drink, snooze, chat or just take in the ambience of the natural environment, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is the setting in which to do it.
For children, the park offers great selection too. Being a park covering a large surface area, it is an advantage that access to the lawns is not restricted, giving children an excuse to run about and families the incentive to bring along a picnic. If boredom strikes however, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont plays host to a spectrum of treats for the younger generation. There are sandpits, swings, a merry-go-round, a theatre, pony rides and artificial streams to amuse small minds, and plenty to do in an afternoon! In addition, there are plenty of kiosks offering waffles and ice cream, as well as a total of three restaurants.
The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is an example of the sheer extent of imagination and inspiration within a city where nothing is done by halves. It is a hidden gem in an area mainly untouched by the sometimes ruthless tourist trail. A giant play area for adults and children, it is a perfect place to visit in the spring and summer months to take full advantage of the balmy afternoons and sun drenched lawns.
Metro: Stalingrad (2,5,7), Jaures (2,5, 7 bis), Buttes-Chaumont (7 bis)