Using the park entrance opposite the University, I had the distinct impression to be in the entrance of the Buttes Chaumont Park, mainly due to the winding paths, changes in altitude and the concrete wood effect used on the railings and steps. This impression soon changed though as Montsouris began to take on individual characteristics of its own, with a few more English proclivities than other Parisian parks.
One of the first things to notice is a working railway line running out through the park, followed by an old abandoned line a few metres further along. The abandoned line was completed in 1869 and was very popular until 1927 when the subway opened offering fierce competition.
After navigating a series of relatively steep paths, the park opens up to greener pastures, with sixteen hectares to roam about in including an artificial lake which consumes almost one hectare. Crossing over the stepping stones and small waterfall feature, I came up to the large lake where many people lay out upon the sloping grass banks. There were lovers picnicking, drinking wine; practicing jugglers; students listening to Jeff Buckley; many people reading and more again soaking up the sporadic sun. The island in the middle attracts migratory birds with many species viewable throughout times of the year. In the north east of the park, a historical entrance to the Paris catacombs remains covered, although you will find the official tourist entrance not too far away outside of the park.
There are a number of sculptures to find, often depicting mythological nudes, sculpted by a multitude of artists, from 1880-1960. My favourite was by Georges Gardet, called ‘Drama in the Desert’, but it was the source of attention for children and families and so I’m afraid I am without photo. The park also boasts some 150 species of trees and shrubs, some exotic and quite rare, although I could probably only name a dozen of the most common at best.
There are pony treks for children around the lake, following the sweeping water edged trees, and waterfowl. Signs of the city lay all around as a constant reminder that you are still firmly placed in Paris. Walking away from the lake towards the other side of the park lies a big field with large shady trees. If you can avoid the ball games, frisbee throwers and practicing jugglers, it’s a nice spot to lay down a blanket and relax. I felt a little uncomfortable when a young boy came over wanting to play ball, but I frequently see children talking with adults in France, responding politely. The attitude in the UK has changed a great deal in the past decade, largely due to the media and its scare-mongering to the point that even if we see a lost child crying, or one with a cut knee we’re filled with a terrible quandary on how to approach.
Whilst you may not escape the crowds at Montsouris Park (especially on a warm weekend), this is a good retreat for nature lovers or simply to unwind after a day or two of navigating harsh stone pavements.