France // Paris //

Jardin des Plantes

The Jardin des Plantes was founded as a medicinal herb garden in 1626 and gradually evolved into Paris’s botanical gardens. There are shady avenues of trees, lawns to sprawl on, rose gardens, a sunken alpine garden, historic glasshouses, museums and even a zoo. Magnificent floral beds make a fine approach to the collection of buildings that forms the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. Best of the lot is the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution, housed in a dramatic nineteenth-century glass-domed building (the entrance is at the southwest corner of the gardens). Though it doesn’t actually tell the story of evolution as such, it does feature a huge cast of stuffed animals, some of them striding dramatically across the central space. Live animals can be seen in the rather mangy ménagerie near the rue Cuvier gate. Founded here just after the Revolution, it is France’s oldest zoo – and looks it, though there are some more pleasant, park-like areas where you can see deer, antelope, goats, buffaloes and the like, grazing happily enough.