garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad
Tucked away in the heart of Paris, the Square du Vert Galant sits on the western tip of the Ile de la Cité. Its name – which my dictionary amusingly translates as ‘gay old spark’ – is a reference to the raffish king Henri IV, who used to cavort on this spot with some of his many mistresses.
It was Henri who created the Ile de la Cité by joining together three smaller islands and building the Pont Neuf, which joined the two banks of the Seine.
Turned into a public park in 1884, the little green triangle is visible from both sides of the river, and from the Pont Neuf, but it is difficult to work out how to get there (in fact, you follow the signs for the tourist boats Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf down the steps in the centre of the bridge).
Once there, you will find a pleasantly shady little spot, with great views of Paris either side, some mature trees, an odd lump of Canadian rock and some even more oddly-planted flower beds.
It is ideal for a picnic, with a water fountain near the entrance, lots of benches and some lawn. You are so close to the river on the path that surrounds the park, it is almost possible to dangle your feet in the water.
There is a well-known photo by Robert Doisneau of the park in 1950 as a slice of Parisian life.
Since its creation, a large equestrian statue of Henri IV has looked approvingly over the green spot that bears his name, which is still known as a place for romantic assignations and marriage proposals.