Parc Monceau: An English Garden in Paris

Charming Parc Monceau draws parents, children, lovers and artists

The millions of tourists pouring into this city will almost immediately make a pilgrimage up Avenue des Champs-Elysees, squeezing through crowds while gawking at the showrooms of some of the most expensive luxury goods stores in the world. No one leaves before having their photo taken in front of the Arc de Triomphe.

Few know they can easily escape the crowds, expenses such as $20 glasses of beer, and stifling Paris summertime heat by taking a detour to one of the most beautiful, tranquil and unique parks in Paris.

Parc Monceau, a short stroll straight down Avenue Hoche from the Arc, has for centuries drawn parents with young children, strumming musicians, lovers young and old, and artists ranging from Claude Monet to the makers of the 2006 film, Paris, Je T’aime.

The park’s genesis dates back to 1769 when Louis Philippe II, the Duke of Chartres and later the Duke of Orleans, bought a plot of land to create an English-style park.

An anglophile, he wanted Britishstyle winding pathways and randomly placed gardens and monuments. Among the monuments he installed that are still standing is a small pyramid, which my son is fond of climbing, and a breathtakingly beautiful pond partly encircled by Corinthian columns.

Things didn’t quite work out for Louis Philippe, a cousin of King Louis XVI. Despite his known sympathies for the French Revolution, he was executed by guillotine in 1793.

But his park blossomed after the city purchased the land in 1860 and then sold some of the land surrounding the park to create space for luxury apartments.

Napoleon III’s brilliant civic planner, Baron Georges-Eugene Haussman, preserved and enhanced the rest of the park for the use of the public.

Parc Monceau isn’t short of important historical moments. In 1797, Andre-Jacques Garnerin made the world’s first silk parachute jump, leaping from a hot-air balloon to the park, where a cheering crowd greeted him.

In 1870, it was one of the grim public areas where authorities took the so-called communards, anarchists and communists who briefly seized control of Paris, for execution during La semaine sanglante — “The Bloody Week.”

Today the park, even on relatively frigid (for Paris) days, is populated by joggers, strollers and parents bringing their kids to the playground, the swings, a roller blade/scooter oval, and the small carousel. At lunchtime, the population soars as Parisiens flood in to have their lunches, leaving garbage cans spilling over with packaging.

And on sunny weekends, Parc Monceau often resembles a summer folk festival, with families picnicking on the grass, lovers cooing on the benches, and kids trying to play soccer or climb trees while avoiding whistle-blowing security guards shouting: “C’est interdit!” — It’s forbidden!

There are more than 40 parks in Paris: the two woodland parks book-ending the city, Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes, as well as smaller parks and gardens such as my colleague Keith Spicer’s favourite, the spectacular Jardin du Luxembourg, which faces one of Paris’s most magnificent structures, the Palais du Luxembourg that houses France’s Senate.

You shouldn’t come to Paris, especially in the warmer months, without spending some time drawing a few deep breaths inside these wondrous combinations of natural and man-made beauty. And Parc Monceau has to be high on your list.