It was a balmy summer’s day when I first stumbled upon the park. The kind of day when everything is bright, light, and there’s no better time to explore the City of Light. And if you’re looking for a location a little off the beaten tourist track in Paris, then you need to look no further than the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, a charming public space in the 19e arrondissement of the city.
Although this oasis of green, complete with its own set of grottoes, waterfalls, and even a Roman-style monument, may be well-known by locals, it’s often missed off tourist brochures in lieu of more popular parks such as Jardin des Tuileries.
However, this most definitely shouldn’t be the case as Buttes Chaumont is well worth a visit on any visit to Paris, and is also the perfect spot for a Parisian-style picnic during the warmer months! Attractions close by to the park include the secret vineyard of Butte Bergeyre and Parc de Belleville.
A very brief history of the Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Constructed during the rule of Napoleon III, Parc des Buttes Chaumont is the fifth largest park in Paris and was first opened to the public in 1867. The public space was created under the watchful eye of engineer and designer, Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand, who is now interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Prior to his work in Buttes Chaumont, Alphand worked on creating Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes. Characterised by its English garden elements and 19th-century style architecture, work on the park started in 1864. In order to create the picturesque peaks that you can see today (and that stretch up to fifty metres into the sky), heavy explosives were used and two hundred thousand cubic metres of topsoil was added.
Prior to its designation as a public park, the plot of land was used as a disposal area; the carcasses of horses and sewage were discarded here. While nearby, the former Gibbet of Montfaucon was once a large set of gallows where public executions would take place.
Temple de la Sybille
The structure stands high atop a manmade cliff, regal. Almost. Yet this is France and there is no Queen, let alone all of the trappings with come with royalty. Instead, this folly is named Temple de la Sibylle and is based upon the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy. It lies on its own island and is accessible via two bridges which span the artificial lake below.
Standing at least fifty metres above the glistening waters of the lake below, the monument has spent much of the past few years closed for reparations. However, in more recent months, some of the pathways which meander their way up to the Temple de la Sybille are open to explore once more!
Parc des Buttes Chaumont Lake & Bridges
In the very heart of the park, the artificial lake is home to a whole host of birds and other wildlife throughout the year. Head to the park in the spring, and you can expect to find some of the very best cherry blossom in the city as well as plenty of other spring blooms.
Elsewhere in the park, there are several impressive bridges. One suspension bridge leading to the island which houses the Temple de la Sybille, was designed by the man behind the Eiffel Tower, Gustave Eiffel, himself!
Secret Grotto & Waterfall
The stalactites in the grotto may be hand-carved, but the magic of the place remains very real. Somewhat hidden from the rest of the park, in the remains of a former quarry, a 14-metres-wide, 20-metres-high grotto has been created. This stunning space seems out of place in the hustle and bustle of busy Parisian life, and even has its own tumbling (albeit, artificial) waterfall.
Part of the park is also home to the Petite Ceinture, a secret and long forgotten Napoleonic railway which loops its way around the inside of Paris. Constructed in 1862, the iron track encircles a 20 km stretch around the city and was once used to transport both goods and passengers around Paris.
Officially closed in 1934, the steam train was soon replaced by the metro and so the tracks were left and abandoned to the elements. Today, you can see parts of the overgrown tracks for yourself at several designated points throughout the city, though those of Parc des Buttes Chaumont are closed to the public.