Parks reflect the soul of a culture. So while Parisians are mired in angst about their economy, unemployment, taxes and role in the world, as a visitor, one can’t help but notice the number of beautifully planted, well-tended small and large parks scattered throughout the city, normally the hallmark of an economically healthy and prosperous metropolis. (Above, The Promenade Plantée)
On a recent short trip to Paris, I was particularly interested in exploring the world’s first elevated park – which inspired the creation of New York’s “High Line” — the 20-year-old “Promenade Plantée,” also known as “Le Coulée Verte.” Built on top of an abandoned, roughly three-mile railroad track, which ran along a 19th century viaduct, this remarkable green space offers both open, treetop views of the city as well as enclosed sections with benches, fountains, and, in June, a profusion of climbing roses. It incorporates a playground, passes between buildings, arches over a large green meadow and winds up at the entrance to another park, Le Bois de Vincennes.
I was not disappointed.
Though the weather was cool, the skies mostly grey, and the stairs mostly grimy, my spirits lifted the moment I set foot on the Promenade, and found myself face to face with an explosion of flowering yellow blooms. The streets below bustled with everyday traffic, but the loudest sounds along the Promenade were twittering birds and the occasional murmurs of conversing strollers.
Although the Promenade runs east west in the now trendy 12th arrondissement (Bastille area), unlike New York’s High Line, this extraordinarily beautiful park is more hideaway than trendy. Few Parisians lounged on its benches. The walkway was mostly empty. It felt more like stumbling upon a secret garden than a public park. I urge anyone headed to Paris, ready to move beyond the usual tourist highlights, to seek out the Promenade Plantée’s pleasures.