Paris Secrets: Peace at Last—Where to Rest, Relax and Recharge
Cities can be stressful places, and Paris is no exception. With the bustle of busy streets, the jostling of crowded boutiques and the claustrophobia of cramped metro trains, it’s sometimes hard to find a moment of pure, unadulterated peace and quiet. In my relentless quest for Zen, I’ve hunted high and low to find the most restful Paris secrets. So sit back, take a deep breath and read on.
La Halle Saint-Pierre
The recent surprise discovery of this contemporary art gallery calmed me down to no end. Poised next to the boisterous steps leading up to Sacré Coeur, it somehow seems to have slipped under the tourist radar. Housed in an airy former market hall, the gallery exudes a hallowed and, dare I say, church-like quality, with light streaming through the high windows and quietly bouncing off the even-higher ceiling. Dedicated to Art Brut (primitive or outsider art), this gallery showcases often-provocative exhibitions with quiet discretion. The current exhibition, “Hey! Modern Art and Pop Culture” (on view through August 23), is a fascinating multimedia cabinet of curiosities. Make sure to browse the inspirational bookshop and stop for a slice of quiche at the café in the vast entrance hall.
The fewer the number of tourists, the higher the level of tranquillity. I’m not religious, but I often just pop into a church for a few moments of quiet contemplation. Only last week I discovered one of the best-kept Paris secrets, the serene gem of Notre Dame du Perpétuel Secours. No, not the big cathedral on the Ile de la Cité, it’s a small, unpretentious neo-Gothic church hidden away by the Père Lachaise Cemetery, which, incidentally, is also well worth a quiet wander on a bright day. Just off a busy boulevard and behind at least four layers of doors, the church provides a calming contrast to the perpetual movement of this vibrant and multicultural arrondissement.
Feeling a little calmer? Here’s an extra dose of green and leafy nature for extreme relaxation.
Le Parc des Buttes Chaumont
One of my favorite places in Paris, this 18th-century park winds in and around the steep sides of a former quarry, taking you far from the tourist crowds. Admittedly, on a sunny day Parisians love nothing better than to picnic and play here, but its calming influence is undeniable. The maze of undulating pathways conceals numerous hideaways, waterfalls and fleeting views over the city. I love the delightful feeling of detachment from the urban buzz. (NB: For runners, this is a perfect place for an energizing Sunday morning run.)
The Forest of Fontainebleau
Hop on a train at the Gare de Lyon, and in 30 minutes you’ll see elegant Haussmannian apartments replaced by shady trees, twittering birds and lingering moments of untainted silence. The 25,000 hectares of forest are home to endless walking, running, cycling and bouldering routes, and there’s even a station in the middle of the forest (le halte de Fontainebleau). The town of Fontainebleau itself is calm, refined and home to a magnificently understated castle.
Right, that’s enough relaxation for one blog post. I hope that you’re already feeling a little less tense, and that those hurtling so-much-to-do thoughts have slowed down a gear. Remember that there’s always a little time to stop and take some deep breaths in between apéro sipping, cheese nibbling, exhibition admiring and discovering Paris secrets.
Victoria Wall is a Brit who has been living in and loving Paris for more than four years. A freelance writer and translator, she channels her language enthusiasm into English Copywriter in Paris.
Editor’s note: Have you become a member of the GG2P Travel Club? There’s one level that’s free!