It is quite convenient to enjoy a low-impact vacation in Paris. All encompassing public transportation, a growing bicycle culture and walk-able neighborhoods make cars almost completely unnecessary. French foodies demand fresh, locally grown ingredients, and the city’s iconic parks provide plenty of green spaces. Growing interest in organic eating and the environment mean that there has never been a better time for eco-conscious travelers to check France’s capitol off their to-visit list.
It is simple to go car-less in Paris. The Paris Metro is one of the world’s great subway systems. With 16 lines crisscrossing the city, it is possible to rely solely on the Metro (perhaps flagging a taxi after an especially late night on the town). Weekly Metro passes are available starting at 17.20 Euros.
Paris is also a great city for walking. Though the main roads are heavy with traffic and seemingly impassible, many visitors find it preferable to take on the city’s many neighborhoods on foot. There is a plan to make central arrondissements car-free within the next two years. Plenty of maps and unguided walking tours make the city accessible, even to non-francophones. Many experienced Paris travelers consider walking the only way to truly experience the city.
Recently, Paris has become a good place for bicyclists. Bike lanes and new rules of the road (cyclists can use bus lanes on major thoroughfares) have made it much more convenient to see the city from the bike saddle. Despite the sometimes-frantic roadways, drivers in Paris are much more cognizant of bikers than their counterparts in the U.S. The city-wide Velib bike rental program makes it possible to rent bikes cheaply when you need them and drop them off at another location.
The small, centrally located Gavarni Hotel is probably the greenest place to lay your head in Paris. It claims to be 100 percent carbon neutral and relies completely on renewable energy. Eco-friendly cleaning products and organic cooking practices round out the impressive list of features. Even without the green-ness, this is a desirable hotel because of its location. It is within a short walk of the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees. The problem? There are only 25 rooms at Gavarni, making booking ahead a necessity.
Hotel de la Porte Doree is another green gem in the City of Lights. Its air conditioning and heating systems are state of the art and consume 75 percent less electricity than average units. Other standard green hotel staples like organic cleaning products, low-flow faucets and toilets and recycling program make this a good bet for Paris-bound environmentalists.
Vegetarian options may be slight in Paris, but locally-sourced food is abundant. You could even say that it is the norm. Remember, despite its image as a center of culture, France is largely an agricultural country with a long coastline. This makes locally (or at least domestically) grown or caught foods a major part of the diet. And notoriously finicky Parisian eaters demand fresh ingredients. Travel + Leisure Magazine points to two high end green eateries, all-organic BioArt and local-grower-supporting Arpege, which carries an impressive three-Michelin stars into the kitchen. The chef at Arpege actually uses horses to till the land on the restaurant’s farm field on the outskirts of the city.
Farmers markets can be found throughout Paris on various days of the week. Though not all stalls have organic produce, the “bio” movement — as it is called in France — is gaining steam and most markets will have at least a couple of stalls selling organic foods. Specialty organic grocers like Naturalia and La Vie Bio are growing, with several dozen outlets throughout the city. Prohibitively expensive Raspail Market has a higher than average amount of organic produce for sale, but it is, unfortunately, more about the bio fad than making organic eating practical for the masses. Save money and hit the local markets or organic grocers.
As we pointed out above, one of the true joys of a trip to Paris is strolling around the city’s neighborhoods and along its boulevards. There are plenty of parks and gardens to enjoy as well. In most of these green spaces, there’s public art, mainly in the form of sculptures and statues. The Jardin des Plantes is nearly 400 years old. It includes greenhouses with tropical plants, a Natural History Museum and a botanical school. Jardin des Luxembourg is the most famous park in Paris. It is known for its fountains, statues and the palace that sits on its grounds. Nature-lovers will find Luxembourg overly manicured. Larger, more natural-looking green spaces, like the Bois de Boulogne, are found on the outskirts of the city.
Though the fad has largely passed in the U.S, rollerblading is still popular in Paris. A group known as Pari Roller organizes weekly night-time mass skates through the streets of the city. It is an interesting way to see the city without producing any carbon.
Paris is not an urban green utopia. But the elements are all in place for those who want to enjoy a convenient vacation with low environmental impact.