The Jardin du Luxembourg is such a lovely world unto itself, no matter the season, that it well deserves its own day on a Parisian itinerary — especially if you’ve been to Paris several times before, and are looking for a slower kind of holiday this time, one of little moments rather than big monuments.
If you have a day to spare the next time you’re in town, here’s how you can spend it in le Luco, as locals affectionately call this charming park …
10am: On your way to the gardens, stop at The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore (9, Rue de Médicis 75006; note, it opens from midday Sunday), and buy yourself a new book. May I suggest Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast? It’s cliché, yes, but Ernest reminisces about his times walking through the Luxembourg Gardens, and finding inspiration in the museum there, so it seems appropriate. (Already read it? Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik is another classic that also waxes nostalgic for the gardens, as well as Paris in general.)
If you’re peckish, pop into Treize Bakery a few doors down (5, Rue de Médicis 75006) for a slice of banana loaf or a brownie to go, then cross the road and continue to curve down to the Rue de Vaugirard gates of the park.
Enter and walk straight ahead, with Marie de Medicis’s old home (now the seat of the French Senate) on your right, until you find the glorious Medici fountain (above) on your left. Claim a signature green chair by the basin of water and garlands of ivy, and sink into your book, as the sunlight filters through the canopy of leaves above.
12pm: Take the stairs next the Medici Fountain and turn right. Marie’s original early-seventeenth-century terracing remains, overlooking the old octagonal pond in the central axis; with its geometric shapes of lawn edged with flowers and paths dotted with tree-boxes of citrus plants, this would become the template for the formal French garden.
Positioned around the terrace, as though guardians of Marie’s vision, is a series of 20 glamorous marble statues, the ‘Queens of France and Famous Women.’ Take a tour, saluting Sainte Geneviève (above), the patron saint of Paris, Jeanne d’Albret, Henri IV’s formindable mother, the fabulous Duchesse de Montpensier, and more. Take notes; you’ll want to look these ladies up later in biographies and memoirs, as they all have fascinating stories to tell.
12.30pm: Head back eastwards, passing the pond, and scoot up the stairs and past the lacy bandstand. Within the grove of chestnut trees you’ll come to a sweet little chalet housing the restaurant La Terrasse de Madame.
Sit outside, on the garden furniture beneath the parasols and chestnut awning, and slowly savour lunch, along with a glass of rosé, in the dappled golden sunlight.
1.30pm: Meander around the gravel pathways, on a kind of sculptural treasure hunt — there are all sorts of whimsical and wonderful odes to artists and writers in these gardens. See if you can find George Sand, Eugène Delacroix and Henri Murger.
Extra points for spotting the Statue of Liberty (it’s one of five replicas in Paris), the vintage weighing scales, the apiary buzzing with bees drunk on linden and chestnut pollen, and the espalier orchard of apples and pears.
There are countless photo opportunities, and you’ll want to take the time to capture the many beautiful details of the Luxembourg, whether for Instagram or your own private album.
Look out for … the colourfully arranged flowers and bursts of blossoms of springtime, summer’s orange trees in their green planter boxes, the crispy mountains of raked autumnal leaves, the Eiffel Tower peeking into the skyline, the cute little crêpe and toy kiosks, the olde-worlde wooden sailboats being pushed around the pond by adorable Parisian toddlers …
3pm: Make your way to the Musée du Luxembourg in the northwest corner, stopping by the orangery next to the rose garden, where you might chance upon a public art exhibition. If you’re lucky, there’ll also be an exhibition on in the Museum, once home to the Impressionists (and the haunt of an inspired Ernest Hemingway), but now the host for two annual art shows.
Right now you can see ‘The Golden Age of English Painting,’ which seems rather apt considering that much of the Jardin du Luxembourg has been made over into a romantic, rambling English-style garden. As you exit, stop at Angelina out front, and treat yourself to a serving of the famous chocolat chaud à l’ancienne, old-style hot chocolate.
4.30pm: If it’s a weekday, the final school bells will have rung, and children will soon start spilling into the park, with their nannies or parents in tow. Head to the kids’ play area, where you’ll see some vintage balançoires — boat-like metal swings — and where the 1879 carrousel will soon crank into action.
Watch as the children choose from a menagerie of animals and play jeu de bagues, an echo of the tilting-at-the-ring knight game of the seventeenth century. Nearby you’ll also be able to watch Parisian kids-at-heart play pétanque, or chess under the paulownia trees.
5pm: The gardens open and close with the sun so, depending on the season, it might be time to leave — or perhaps head back to La Terrasse de Madame for apéro.
If it’s summer, and you want to linger for as long as possible, find the ‘pélouse autorisée’ patch of lawn by the southern gates, and lounge on the velvety lawn amid the picnickers, relishing a crêpe or ice-cream from a nearby kiosk, or just savouring the moment, as you can only do in such a place of simple yet perfect pleasures.