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Seven cultural picnics around Paris

If you go down to the ’hood today…

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Domaine de Chamarande / © Time Out Paris - TB

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Domaine de Chamarande / © Time Out Paris - TB

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Parc Floral de Paris / CC - NAParish

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CNEAI / DR - © CNEAI

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Fort d'Aubervilliers / © Time Out Paris - TB

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Abbaye de Maubuisson / CC - Groume

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There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe that picnics are all about Babybels and Peperamis, and those who are of the opinion that one can nourish the soul while stuffing the stomach. By opening this page, you've fallen into the latter category. Welcome – and congratulations: you can now skip the Buttes-Chaumont and head straight for the best of Paris's alternative picnic spots. Eager to sip your beer in the cool shade of a medieval abbey? Wanna know what those Babybels taste like when mixed with a helping of cutting-edge street art? Look no further…

The ideal getaway • Domaine de Chamarande

We have a bit of a crush on the Domaine de Chamarande. This castle in Essonne, with its beautiful park nestled on the edge of some woods and a chocolate-box village nearby, is the perfect place to take in some culture - and have a picnic while you're at it, too…

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A musical outing • Parc Floral

On the edge of the Bois de Vincennes, the Parc Floral is a haven of greenery with flower-beds aplenty, plant-filled greenhouses and a large bandstand coveted by jazz and classical music players during Paris' summer festival period…

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Bel-Air

Down to the river • CNEAI

Perched on the Île des Impressionnistes in the heartland of the squeaky-clean western 'burb, the Centre National Edition Art et Images de Chatou counts as one of the most wonderful contemporary art hubs in the area – nay, the city…

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Paris et sa banlieue
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Tyres and tarmac • Fort d'Aubervilliers

At the Fort d'Aubervilliers, parkland is in short supply and graffiti rules. The terrain used to serve as a scrapyard; if we tell you that the tables of the outdoor café consist of planks of wood perched on a pile of disused tyres, you get the idea…

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Paris et sa banlieue

Back to the Middle Ages • Abbaye de Maubuisson

Once the site of a Cistercian convent, this building retains some of its medieval splendour: ribbed vaults, stained-glass windows and the like. It's nestled in the centre of a vast ten-hectare park, where artworks are sometimes displayed as well…

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Castle in the air • Château de Versailles

Centuries of makeovers have made Versailles the most sumptuously clad château in the world – a brilliant, unmissable cocktail of extravagance. Allow yourself a good part of the day to explore the gorgeous interior and no less ornate gardens…

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Paris et sa banlieue
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Back to the future • Château Éphémère

After years of lying abandoned, the Château Vanderbilt is being given a new lease of life. It’s a theme park for modern art lovers, and equipped with an outdoor terrace that sits on the fringes of a beautiful park to boot.

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More nature and (cultural) nurture…

Secret parks

Secret parks in Paris Jardin Naturel Directly adjoining the Père-Lachaise, the Jardin Naturel shares the cemetery’s tranquil ambience, with none of the morbidity. It’s sizeable for a Parisian neighbourhood park, and its marriage of playground and concealed location ensures that your company will consist mostly of local families and the occasional dog-walker. It also boasts an especially rich biodiversity for the city, with a focus on the wild flora of Île-de-France; but even if you can’t tell your apiaceae from your apocynaceae, the peaceful, secluded setting is enough reason to come and plonk yourself on a bench for an hour or three. Just across the Rue Lesseps is the park’s extension, the Jardin Lesseps... Jardin Alpin Nestling at the heart of the left bank’s Jardin des Plantes is this lush tribute to mountain flora. Around two thousand different species are arranged according to continent of provenance, surviving thanks to the microclimate created by the surrounding trees and the shallow valley in which the garden is situated. This also ensures that it remains somewhat hidden, overlooked by the families and joggers who populate the neighbouring gardens. The Jardin Alpin isn’t big – you can cover it in five minutes – but it compensates with its atmosphere of dense verdant calm. One to head to with a book and a long afternoon ahead of you. Albert Kahn Musée & Jardins The spectacular, ten-acre jardin alone makes a visit to the Albert Kahn Musée & Jardins in Boulogne-Billancou

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Art in the suburbs

Those who don't believe that contemporary art (think 'pretentious, highbrow, trendy, urban') and the suburbs ('rough, dodgy, uncultured, rude') could ever go hand in hand should pop over to the other side of the périphérique from time to time. In the last 20-odd years, between the narrow belt covered by the underground and the oh-so-distant terminuses of the RER lines, contemporary arts centres and galleries have been cropping up all over the place, each bolder and better than the last. Artists' residences, shiny new exhibition spaces, restored historical monuments: here, between concrete and countryside, is where you'll find all the region's best contemporary art. The essential venues Vitry • MAC/VAL Opened just days after the 2005 banlieue riots ended, this contemporary art museum has earned a fearsome reputation for artistic savvy. Its collection offers a stunning snapshot of French art from 1950 to the present, including installations by Gilles Barbier, Jesús Rafael Soto and Christian Boltanski. Recent acquisitions have branched out into contemporary art, representing artists of all nationalities including Yvan Salomone, Tsuneko Taniuchi and Jesper Just. Add to that its ongoing tradition of artists in residence, as well as a wide range of temporary exhibitions, and you’ve got one of Paris’s most exciting galleries. Ivry • Crédac In September 2011, Crédac (Centre of Contemporary Art of Ivry-sur-Seine) moved from its premises in the Centre Jeanne Hachette to a disused fact

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By: Tania Brimson

Unmissable Museums

Consider this your cultural bucket list: There is something so impressive, lovely or beautiful about each of these institutions that it would be a shame to miss out on any of them... The Louvre The world's largest museum is also its most visited, with an incredible 8.5 million visitors in 2009. It is a city within the city, a vast, multi-level maze of galleries, passageways, staircases and escalators. It's famous for the artistic glories it contains within, but the very fabric of the museum is a masterpiece in itself - or rather, a collection of masterpieces modified and added to from one century to another. And because nothing in Paris ever stands still, the additions and modifications continue into the present day, with a major new Islamic Arts department set to open in 2012, and the franchising of the Louvre 'brand' via new outposts in Lens (www.louvrelens.fr) and Abu Dhabi. If any place demonstrates the central importance of culture in French life, this is it.Some 35,000 works of art and artefacts are on show, split into eight departments and housed in three wings: Denon, Sully and Richelieu. Under the atrium of the glass pyramid, each wing has its own entrance, though you can pass from one to another. Treasures from the Egyptians, Etruscans, Greeks and Romans each have their own galleries in the Denon and Sully wings, as do Middle Eastern and Islamic art. The first floor of Richelieu is taken up with European decorative arts from the Middle Ages up to the 19th century, i

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