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GREAT GARDENS and PARKS

There are so many great parks and public spaces in Paris such as the Tuileries and Place de la Concorde and there are many others too.

These are just some of them –

Luxembourg Palace and Garden – Closest Metro, Odeon , Notre Dame des Champs. RER Luxembourg

This is a beautiful park next to the Palace building that houses the French Senate, the Palace dating back to 1620. The gardens cover an area of 55 acres (22.5 hectares) and have the trees, statues, pathways, fountains, flower beds as well as summer activities for children – puppet shows, pony rides, toy sailing boats on the ponds and other activities. There is also the Musée du Luxembourg here too – see www.museeduluxembourg.fr

Jardin des Plantes – nearest Metro, Gare d'Austerlitz
This garden is a Botanical Garden and dates back to 1626 and covers an area of around 60 acres (24 hectares) with a vast array of plants and also a zoo with over 1000 animals, birds and reptiles here. There are rose gardens, iris, alpine and other garden types, the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle (Est. 1793) greenhouses and much more, so lots to see and enjoy. See www.jardindesplantes.net and www.mnhn.fr

Bois de Boulogne – nearest Metro stations – Les Sablons (line 1), Porte d'Auteuil (line 10), Porte Dauphine (line 2).

The Bois de Boulogne covers an area of 2137 acres (865 hectares) and there are forests, lakes where you can row boats, cycling and walking tracks, sculptures , monuments, special garden areas, trees that date back to the 1800's, stylish restaurants, Longchamp Race course (horse racing), the Château de Bagatelle, Roland Garros Tennis stadium and Museum (see wwwfft.fr) and also one of the most stunning new buildings in the world – the Fondation Louis Vuitton Building (see www.fondationlouisvuitton.fr ) designed by American Architect, Frank Gehry, located at 8 Avenue Mahatma Gandhi (nearest Metro – Les Sablons). The building seems to float above the ground with its incredibly soft lines like a magnolia flower blown sideways by the wind. The architect says his inspiration came from seeing a flying fish.

Bois de Vincennes - nearest Metro Château de Vincennes

The Bois de Vincennes covers 2459 acres (995 hectares) making it the biggest park in Paris, and the highlight of a visit here is to see the Château de Vincennes, a massive castle with walls around it that has history dating back to 1150 when the Bois (woods) was the location of the royal hunting lodge for the king. The castle you see now was largely built by Louis XIV, and you can see inside to view such rooms as the Royal Chapel. See www.chateau-vincennes.fr There are also lakes here in the parklands too, botanic garden, arboretum, and the Temple of Love overlooking one of the lakes. Vincennes the town area is also worth seeing as is the beautifully landscaped and planned open-air zoo that is here, located on the Route de Ceinture du Lac Daumesnil – See www.parczoologiquedeparis.fr (Metro Porte Dorée).

Parc de la Villette - 211 Avenue Jean Jaurès, near Metro stations – Porte de Pantin (line 5), Corentin Cariou (line 7)

This Park covers around 90 acres (36 hectares) and here you will find the Géode – a big silver dome some 36 metres high, where there is an IMAX theatre inside, as well as the Cité de la Musique Museum and Citédes Sciences et de l'industrie – the biggest science museum in Europe as well as Theatres, open air stages, equestrian centre, large halls for music events and lots of space and gardens, follies, the fountain of Lions and even a giant children's slide that comes out of a dragon. See www.lavillette.com

There are many other great parks, squares and gardens in and around Paris, but we think the ones detailed above are some of the best.

The Château of Versailles –

This requires a full day to do it justice, and it is well worth the effort to get up early and head off to see it, or even stay over in Versailles itself, a town of about 85,000 people.

To get there – you need to go on the RER train – C 5 (Yellow line), so best to print out a RER train map to see which station you are nearest to, and if needed how to get to an RER station via the Metro. You then buy a return ticket to Versailles Rive Gauche (NOT Versailles Chantiers). The RER C 5 trains either head to Versailles Rive Gauche station (the one you want) or to Saint Quentin-en-Yvelines (C7) (not where you want to go).
From Versailles Rive Gauche it is about a 5 minute walk to the Château. Many organised tours also head from Paris to Versailles, and you will see the masses of Tourist buses when you arrive here. If you can book your entry ticket on-line that will also help – see www.chateauversailles.fr

The Chateau is huge, designed by King Louis XIV as his seat of government for around 6000 courtiers, and to give you some idea of the size, there are some 700 rooms and over 2000 windows in the Château. Right out front you will see the gates emblazoned with the coat of arms of King Louis XIV and also a large statue of him on his horse.

Inside the rooms that you see, from the King and Queen's bedchambers, state apartments to the Drawings Rooms, Library, staircases, with paintings, furniture, Chapels, the hall of mirrors Ballroom and other rooms – all have luxurious décor befitting a King and Queen! Every room has a story, with and you can guide yourself through the Château or take a guided tour to hear more about the Château and its history.

While the Château building will take a long time to see it all, or even just some of it, the gardens are even bigger and equally spectacular pathways, massive fountains, ponds, urns, statues, avenues of trees on each side or the main vista, the whole Château and gardens covering some 2200 acres (900 hectares) with pine forests on each side of this grand garden area with the lawns stretching out in front of you like a green carpet. They in fact in French call this the "Tapis Vert" (Green Carpet).

Also here are the Grand Trianon (built 1687) and Petit Trianon buildings and its garden and Queen's hamlet. It may be a long walk to the bottom of the Garden, but it is worth it. When I was there, it had just started to snow, which again added to the atmosphere. There is also the Grand Canal at the bottom of the Garden that is 1.6 kilometres long, with the Petit Canal also here too, the two canals forming a cross shape.

Almost hidden from direct view from the Château is Marie Antoinette's Estate – it is near the end of the Petit Canal in the gardens of the Petit Trianon – eleven houses that are built around a lake. This is where she also lived with her gardens, dairy cows supplying the Château with produce and milk. This is a very special part of the whole Versailles Complex, and gives you another insight into life at the Château.

Château de Fontainebleue – and gardens, about an hour south east of Paris by train

To get here - Catch an SNCF train from Gare de Lyon station in Paris to Fontainebleue Avon (see www.transilien.com )

Fontainebleue is a massive Château, south of Paris with around 1500 rooms, with parts of the castle dating back to the 12th century, with the Château being lived in for over seven centuries, with a succession of French Kings and Queens living here.

To say that this is a sensational Château to visit is an understatement. It is in my mind even more spectacular than the Château of Versailles. There is so much to see here in both the Château and the formal gardens that you need at least a full day or more to enjoy it. Each room in the Château seems even more impressive than the one that you just saw. There is the Francis I Gallerie, the Gallerie of Diana, The Salle des Colonades, Furniture Gallerie, Masterpieces, Grand Apartments, wherever you look, frescos, decorative ceilings, four museums and then the gardens outside with their formal landscape design structure, Grand Parterre, English garden, French Garden, circular pools, and forests next to the Château for horse riding and walks. It is a truly remarkable place to visit, and you will be in awe with what you see here. I think it has to be a MUST SEE destination. See www.musee-chateau-fontainebleue.fr

Disneyland Resort Paris - from Paris take the RER A4 train to Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy. The Resort is about a 2 minute walk from here.

Disney first set up its first park here outside Paris in 1992, and it has since grown in both size and attractions. There are all the Disney characters, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Discoveryland, Main Street, Horse drawn Streetcars, the film studios, hotels to stay in and food, restaurants and all that you might expect to see at a Disneyland. See www.disneylandparis.com

Villages - France has many big cities, but is also very rural too, with small villages scattered across the country. If you want to visit a village close to Paris there are many choices, but these are some that are somewhat special in the Marne-la-Vallée – Chateaux-Landon, Provins, Nemours on the River Loing, Meaux, Bombon, Moret- sur- Loing.

Happy Travelling!

Geoff Stuart

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