There’s a je ne sais quoi about Paris in springtime. It’s intensely beautiful, and gone before you know it. A gentle reminder of the fleeting exquisiteness of life.
There are relatively few tourists in Paris at this time of year, it’s like you have the city all to yourself for a quiet promenade under the cherry trees.
Of the 500 public parks/gardens in Paris, my favorites are located on the Left Bank.
Below are some of my favorite circuits in the city:
Place Monge, 75005 Paris
Start by grabbing picnic supplies in the heart of 5th arrondissement at the Marché Monge. This quintessential Parisian market is an Instagramable location with its cobblestones and bubbly fountain splashing away as vendors sell their produce.
It’s a small market with a surprisingly friendly family atmosphere. It’s been a tradition for more than a hundred years and is open (Wednesday, Friday, or Sundays 7 a.m. till 2:30-3 p.m.). There are about 40 stalls offering items perfect for a gastronomic picnique: charcuterie, fresh produce, bread, cheese, wine, flowers, olives, honey and dried fruit. Now that you have your snacks, let’s grab some culture. Head toward the Arènes de Lutèce on 49 Rue Monge.
Lutetia of the Parisii
Our next spot is a local attraction and the perfect place to take a break. You’ll find plenty of seating at the “Arènes de Lutèce,” the ruins of a Roman arena that once held 15,000-person crowds. (Lutetia is the Roman foundation of what became Paris.)
It’s fun to imagine the Parisii going about their daily business in this 1st century Roman arena tucked away in the 5th arrondissement. In this quiet area of Paris, you will feel like a local as you rub elbows with university students from the Sorbonne (located just steps away) and staff taking a break from their work at Salpetriere University Hospital.
We are lucky to have the amphitheater. It was saved from destruction due to the intervention of Victor Hugo who, in 1883, asked the Parisian municipality to preserve it. It was Hugo who said, “Laughter is sunshine, it chases winter from the human face.” What better way to live his words than to take a short stroll around the small gardens that typically have a variety of trees blooming in springtime to include cherry and redbud.
A meal in a mosque
When you are finished head toward the Grande Mosquée de Paris. You can’t miss, just look for the minaret punctuating the skyline. What’s even better is that this religious building also has a very popular restaurant. The entrance is located at 39 Rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, 75005.
You will be positioned at a crossroads between the Grande Mosquée restaurant and the entrance to the Jardin des Plantes. Before you start your trip through the garden, pop into the Grande Mosquée courtyard to order hot mint tea. It is an event just to watch the waiter pour your tea into your cup. Don’t miss the North African pastries.
They are to die for: My favorite are the “Gazelle horns”, scented with orange blossom water. Want the recipe? Click here. Buy a few extra pastries at the counter by the door before continuing. Or, if you skipped buying produce at the market, have lunch at the Mosquée restaurant. It’s popular with Parisians, so book ahead. I always think of the great mystic Persian poet Rumi when I am in this area of Paris. Rumi once said, “ “Beauty surrounds us, but usually we need to be walking in a garden to know it.”
And the garden in front of the Grande Mosquee is a wonderful example of springtime in Paris at its best.
Jardin des Plantes and Jardin Tino Rossi
Stroll alongside Parisians in the Jardin des Plantes located at 57 Rue Cuvier (Metro: Jussieu). There are several enormous pink and white cherry blossom trees stretching from the Grande Mosquée to the Seine River. I think of Claude Monet who said “I must have flowers, always and always.” You will be tempted to sit on the grass, but be forwarned: it is stricty “interdit.” Either grab a bench to enjoy the cookies you bought at the mosquée or head out of the gate that faces the Seine river and take a left onto Quai Saint Bernard.
You will enter the Jardin Tino Rossi at 2 Quai Saint Bernard (Metro: Jussieu) where you will find paths perfect for strolling, cycling or jogging amid more spring blossoms. If you continue, you will head out of the 5th Arrondissement and into the 4th. You will notice one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture (The Notre Dame Cathedral) amist even more cherry blossoms. Notre Dame is scheduled to reopen its doors to visitors in December 2024 following the devastating fire in 2019. Great news and in my opinion, and another welcome symbol of rebirth which lifts the spirit.
From here, you will be in the heart of Paris with a small park and the Shakespeare and Company bookstore on your left. The bookstore is a great place to stop in to chat in English with the locals. Many of the employees who volunteer there are well read and educated, making for a wonderful opportunity to discover other anglophones who are francophiles. They all seem to have the same thing in common. They come to Paris for inspiration. If Solange Nicole had only thought of Paris when she wrote:
“I need you like a blossom needs rain, like the winter ground needs spring-to soothe my parched soul.”
Here is a link to April Events in Paris to help you plan your visit.
Here’s more about Paris in Dispatches’ archives.
Alice Verberne is a contributing writer for Dispatches Europe. She has worked in print journalism and magazine production in the United States and Europe throughout her career. She currently resides in France where she enjoys visiting former French speaking colonies and discussing history with the locals.