French Parks and Green Spaces
Chances are if you’re going to France, you know about the museums, the exquisite food, and the streets steeped in history. Somewhere along the way, however, France’s green spaces were left by the wayside — places equally worth exploring. We’ve chosen a list of gardens, châteaus, and national parks to suit varying tastes and interests. Below, you’ll find a list of the most beautiful and most captivating to spend an afternoon, a day, or more than that.
Though Versailles is famous for the Hall of Mirrors and the decadent gold gilding that can be found in many of the cavernous rooms, the gardens themselves are not to be skipped. Behind the mansion, you can descend the steps down towards a large expanse of seemingly-endless manicured lawns. Here you’ll find the Parterre d'Eau and the Parterre and Fountain of Latona, the two fountains closest to the château, and the Orangerie gardens, which mostly feature citrus trees, as well as olive, pomegranate, and oleander trees. It’s easy to get lost among the tall hedges, but that’s part of the charm. Marie Antoinette’s hamlet is also a pristine example of what rustic life might have looked like at the time, albeit somewhat glamourized for her own tastes.
2. Vanoise National Park, Rhône-Alpes
This national park, though definitely not a garden, is France’s largest, established in 1963. Given its location, the park crosses into Italy to become the Gran Paradiso National Park. In summer, you can hike the paths crisscrossing the mountainside, go biking, and see many different types of flowers. In the winter, however, since you’re in the alps, skiing is one of the most popular activities.
3. Pyrénées National Park, Midi-Pyrénées
At the opposite side of France, on the southern border with Spain, you can find Pyrénées National Park. Home to a rare animal named desman, which, unfortunately, only comes out at night. Covered in brown fur and walking on webbed feet, it is difficult to spot, but this national park has plenty of other animals to spot. Established in 1967, it is the habitat for about 70 species and is an ideal spot for any kinds of outdoor activities. Here, there are frogs, mink, eagles, vultures, and beautiful views.
4. The gardens at Château de Chenonceau
This château is one of the most famous in all of the Loire valley, and its gardens are not to be missed. Boasting not one, but two, restored Renaissance gardens — one named after Diane de Poitiers, its original fountain still intact, and the other after Catherine de Medicis — the gardens are just as eye-catching as the château itself. There’s even a maze through which you can walk: it’s large enough to feel real, but small enough to prevent getting lost entirely. Once you’ve taken a tour of the outdoors, taking in the château’s interior is also a good idea.
5. Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris
Though well-known and well-frequented, these extensive gardens merit an entire afternoon stroll. Found in the sixth arrondissement of Paris, south of the Seine River, it has been part of the city since 1612, when Marie de’ Medici began work on her residence within the city. Though the palace is now owned by the state, it has also been converted into a museum. While here, you’ll pass by many statues, benches, and well-tended stretches of grass; at its center is a large pool of water and many fountains. The gardens also have their own orchard and a puppet theatre to entertain children. The best part, however, is the sense of calmness imbued throughout the garden: it’s almost as though you’re no longer in Paris.