Calm before the storm, reflected in still water in the extraordinary, artificial landscape of Parc Georges Valbon. These expansive views give just a glimpse of the 450 hectare park. There are two more chains of lakes, a terraced rose garden planted with 45,000 roses, sports pitches and an equestrian centre in other parts.
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Bordering Saint-Denis, La Corneuve and Garges-lès-Gonesse, Parc Georges Valbon was created between 1960 and 1990 from farm land encircled by the growing conurbation of the Île de France region. Over the years the park designers and managers seem to have arrived at a successful balance of intensive and low key management suited to each different area. The rose garden and ‘valley of flowers’ are neatly gardened. The central area of the park, seen in these photos, has simple, bold planting of easy care species among swards of rough grass and wildflowers while another quiet valley is maintained as a nature reserve. The diversity of the park landscape is reflected in the diversity of its flora and fauna. Coots, moorhens and mallards entertain the visitors around the ornamental lakes while secretive corncrakes and little bitterns find shelter in the quiet reed beds of the nature reserve.
Although the huge park may look deserted in these rainy day photos around 2 million visitors are recorded each year. The park could accommodate many more visitors without overcrowding but, designed at a time when the car was king, it is surprisingly difficult to get to without a car. Our 15km bike route took some careful planning to find a quiet crossing over the A1 motorway; the nearest bus stop is a fifteen minutes walk from the park entrance. Visitor numbers are likely to soar once a planned new railway station is opened on the edge of the park; a boon for Parisians escaping the city centre crowds on a sunny day; maybe less popular with the locals who value the quietness of this extraordinary landscape.
The stillness of the water and the open landscapes in these pictures suggest a quiet, calm place. It’s true that the park is quiet and calm, even though it is next to a motorway, bisected by a railway line and under the flight path of nearby Le Bourget airport. There’s background noise if you choose to listen for it but the foreground is a gentle mix of wind in the trees, birdsong in the reed beds and the sound of children’s voices.