A formal forest in Paris, France

At 2,459 acres (neally four square miles), the Bois de Vincennes is more a tamed wood than a formal garden—it is, in fact, a remnant of the ancient forest that once surrounded the Roman city of Lutetia.

This massive park just beyond the bd. Péripherique at the city's eastern edge is covered by 1,663 acres of woodland and forest threaded with 35 km of trails, 18km of bike paths, and 19km of bridleways for horses.

Most Parisians flock here for the zoo, the Palm Sunday-through-May fun fair, the hippodrome (horse racetrack), an interpretive farm, a marionette theater, and above all the block-like Château de Vincennes, (www.vincennes.monuments-nationaux.fr) built in 1337 as the royal residence for Paris (until they replaced it with Versailles), and later a Napoleonic arsenal.

The Bois de Vincennes also incorporates many small lakes, a massive château, a flower garden, and a small flock of out-of-place but interesting monuments, inlcuding a Tibetan Buddhist temple and an Indo-Chinese pagoda.

Fun historical tidbits from the Bois de Vincennes

The Bois de Vincennes (once called "Vilcena") was part of the ancient forest belt around Paris. It was originally saved from suburban development by being proclaimed a royal hunting ground in the 11th century—the allée royale still marks the course of a royal hunting road from the time of Louis XV.

It remained partly park, partly military arsenal (thanks to the castle) from the Napoleonic era though World War II, when the city began restoring and maintaining it as a public park

Fun fact: King Henry V (the English one—you know, from Shakespeare's play and Branagh's movie) died of dysentery here in 1422. On the castle tour, you get to see the kitchens where his body was boiled before being shipped back to England.

Another fun fact: The Bois de Vicennes is where femme fatale extraordinaire Mata Hari was shot in 1917.

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