A secret garden in Paris

There is always something new to discover in Paris, and finding a secret garden in Paris behind a high wall, with a fascinating past, present and future is always interesting. 

Still jetlagged this morning, and I’m up at 5 am and out the door by 7 am. I have no fixed plan but decide I’ll walk from Saint-Paul, across the river, and head towards Le Bon Marche to have a look at their Christmas windows. Wandering through Saint-Germain, it’s still dark and the street light decorations of Rue Guisarde and Rue Princesse (named after the 16th century Catherine Marie de Lorraine) are still on.

The sky is lightening by the time I reach Le Bon Marche, about 5km from my starting point. The streets are still deserted, and the Hotel Lutetia is still under renovation after what seems like a decade. The Christmas windows at Le Bon Marche are not as elaborate as Galeries Lafayette or Au Printemps, but are still worth a look. 

The Conran Shop in the Le Bon Marche building is usually nicely decorated but this year they are showing what I DIDN’T get for Christmas – a Herman Miller Eames chair – all five thousand euros worth of it. 

Wandering down Rue du Bac, there seem to be some new shops, including Ligne Rosset and a beauty store called ‘Oh My Cream!”

It’s been a long walk, so I decide to head to my favorite part-owned Aussie café, Coutume, in Rue Babylone. Usually doing a roaring trade, it is still so early that I get a window seat, two large cappuccinos and a serve of pancakes before anyone else arrives.

Rue de Babylone has a secret garden in Paris, known as Jardin Catherine-Laboure, named after a nun, who if I’m reading the French sign correctly, was declared a saint by Pope Pius XII. Set behind a high wall, these massive gardens with a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower were once the garden and kitchen garden for the Hospital for the Incurables, later renamed Hopital Laennec, after the inventor of the stethoscope. The hospital is neat and well-maintained from the back, but completely devoid of people. I decide a wander around the block to check it out is worthwhile.

The side of the old hospital is lined by new apartment buildings, which look expensive, and the front entrance of the hospital has office-like turnstiles. It turns out after a bit of research that the Hopital Laennec was abandoned around 2000, lay unused for about 8 years until a redevelopment restored the hospital buildings which now form the headquarters for the Kering Group, owners of a stable of luxury brands including Gucci, Stella McCartney. The site is also the headquarters for Balenciaga and houses the art collection of billionaire Francois Pinault. The site was open for two days as part of European Heritage Days in September, with a video taken at the time indicating that it’s worth going to next time. 

I’ve effectively done a full circle, ending up back at Le Bon Marche, which is now open for business from 10 am.  This year the store lighting is red, with some blue and white thrown in for good measure.

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