Occasional warm and sunny days, the trees finally bursting with leaves, drinks on outside terraces and the first gelato of the season – it’s easy to love spring in Paris. Still, as a big city, it isn’t always the best setting to enjoy the delights of the season. Wouldn’t it be nice, just occasionally, to live in a cute little village where you could stroll along under blossoming trees and never once being cut off by a scooter?
Well, guess what: you can, right in the middle of Paris! If you’ve heard of the Promenade Plantée but have never gotten around to seeing it, there is absolutely no better time than right now. And if the name doesn’t ring a bell, you’re in for a treat.
The Promenade Plantée is a former railroad track that came into Paris from the east and ended at the Gare de Bastille, back when there was a station there. It’s since been converted into a stretch of pedestrian-only paradise: a raised portion flying over the 12th arrondissement from the Bastille Opera to the Jardin de Reuilly, followed by another couple of kilometers along a path and under the Boulevard Péripherique, theoretically all the way to the woods in Vincennes.
I was first introduced to the Promenade by my then-boyfriend, who took me for what I’m sure he thought would be a romantic stroll several years ago (on second thought, it must have worked, since he’s now my husband). To be honest, I couldn’t see what he was so excited about. I appreciated the plants, since there weren’t any where I was staying in the 9th arrondissement, but it was also mid-summer. All I could think of was how hot and muggy it was, and wouldn’t it be nice to get some ice cream instead?
It never occurred to me to go back, until this past weekend we were trying to come up with something to do with some globetrotting friends who already knew Paris. We figured the Promenade was worth a shot, since it’s not exactly well known. And did we ever hit the jackpot: not only had our friends never actually taken the walk, but it had burst into full, glorious bloom! We walked along, marveled at the flowering trees, had a picnic, took pictures of the flowering trees, looked at the tops of buildings that you never see from down at ground level (like the police station whose top floor is decorated with huge concrete ladies emerging out of the building onto people’s balconies), enjoyed the flowering trees and imagined a Paris that was about three stories tall, full of plants and free of cars. Ahhhh, spring. I’m not sure how long the bloom lasts, so go now. Seriously. At this time of year, I’d even be willing to pull out a worn cliché and say it’s one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
As an added bonus, the Viaduc des Arts is underneath the flyover portion: just north of the Gare de Lyon, the huge arches supporting the railway have been converted into a series of hip galleries, restaurants and boutiques, worth popping into for a browse or a coffee if you like unique spaces.
To get there: Head from the Place de la Bastille (metro Bastille) along the right side of the Opera, down the Rue de Lyon. Just past the Opera, you’ll come to a concrete stairwell on your left – it doesn’t look like much, but it should have a sign mentioning the Promenade Plantée. You’ll come back down to earth in the Jardin de Reuilly; if you still want to stroll, head on toward Vincennes!