Notre Dame Gardens
Stand in the plaza in front of Notre Dame Cathedral and you have no idea that a beautiful little park sits right behind this towering church. No one else standing (or pushing) around you seem to know either. While the concrete plaza outside the cathedral’s iron doors is filled with people snapping pictures, milling about, waiting for who knows what, on the far right side of the plaza (and just across the frontage street) a gate leads onto a flowered promenade overlooking the Seine River and the historic buildings over on the Left Bank.
Guess what? Unlike having to shoulder for position to get near the cathedral’s entrance, just a few people were inside the park the three-days running that I stopped inside the park. Go check this park out. As soon as you step inside the little gate, that tourist din out front becomes just like pigeons having a chat. You also find that Notre Dame’s front-side is definitely not its photogenic side.
Colorful, high-growing wildflowers arrangements in the center of an ornamental lawn lead you down the promenade. A little ways along, some benches appear so you can rest your dogged feet, take in the view of the Seine, smell the fresh air. You’re sitting on the Ile de la Cite (island of the City), the foundation of Paris itself more than 2,000 years ago. The island was a natural defensive barrier against marauders. When Paris began to grow onto either side of the Seine, the people built a wall surrounding the small city. Notre Dame Cathedral is the third such church to stand on this site, and was begun in 1163. Besides the Eiffel Tower’s Champs de Mars, this comfy park beside the Seine is the most open space in central Paris for long-distance views. The sunset from the stone railing overlooking the Seine can be your definition of romance.
At the back of Notre Dame Cathedral, you find the best place for photographs of this icon. It’s funny, because back here (and along the promenade) you can get close to the church for some vertical photography. Think “black & white,” “sepia,” digi-cam crazy, and you cannot take a bad shot as you look up to the spire, flying buttresses, and birds circling the nave. Wow! I developed photo-trigger-finger (a damaging injury without the assistance of French red wine at a café soon afterwards—more on this in a moment).
The park fills out behind Notre Dame, where dozens of benches sit beneath leafy maple trees. This park is not a recreation park, but a really a fine spot to rest after having visited the Louvre Museum or marching along the Champs Elysees—or touring the Cathedral. It’s a good place to pull out your Paris map and plan your next stop.
(read more about Notre Dame Gardens highlights here)