By Bill Harby
Whether you prefer thickets of grand old trees, a formal English garden, or a pocket park, these five urban green spaces offer colourful ways to rustle through autumn leaves.
Geneva: Park La Grange
One minute you’re in bustling Geneva with buses and trams and people everywhere, then, a few steps later, you’re in this 21-hectare park that sprawls like a huge green picnic blanket down to the lake. With broad grassy areas and secluded spaces between huge old trees, it’s a good place to release urban stress.
Take a book and find a bench in the sun or shade. Or commune with the roses and statue by the little pool. The park is also a great place from which to watch lakeside fireworks – not because it offers the best view, but because you can stretch out on the grass, a world away from the lakeside throngs, and marvel at the spectacle through the silhouettes of the trees.
This is an especially great park for fall foliage thanks to its 34 species of maple trees, normally so colourful during autumn. Little kids will love this bright display, but not as much as they’ll love the inventive “play islands”, around the park, including a shallow summertime frolic pool with fountains sprouting from cement mounds.
The largest green space (9.1 hectares) within the city, the park offers lots of big grassy areas and pathways between the trees, plus playful sculpture and an intimate open-air grass amphitheatre. In this big park, you’ll want to take off your shoes, slide through the fine grass, and relish your inner child.
Zürich: The Old Botanical Park
Zürich residents who don’t have time for a day-trip up the hill to their beautiful forested mountain park, Uetliberg, can still visit Friedhof Fluntern, the woodsy cemetery (say hello to James Joyce) and its adjacent forest.
But to get a healthy dose of green right in the middle of the city, wander through the Old Botanical Garden, which dates from 1837. The sounds of the city are all around this small oasis on a hill, but grand old trees envelop you. At the top, you can sit on a bench and bask in the sun or study the medieval medicinal herb garden, where every plant is labeled. Just below, a humid greenhouse is home to tropical plants. Narrow paths lead around the hill to several other areas where you find solitary thinkers bent over a book, lovers nuzzling, and others, eyes closed, recharging before the rest of their workday.
Bern: The Botanic Gardens
Rising from the Aare River, this 2-hectare hillside botanic garden is nothing if not educational, with some 6000 labeled plants from around the world, arranged geographically.
One of several greenhouses features various palms of all sizes, another just has ferns, and another is full of prickly desert cacti – everything labeled with genus and species. Not in a learning mood? No problem. Just meander up and down the scruffy, curving paths, eventually finding yourself at the kiosk where you can enjoy a coffee and pastry, or a cold beer, while contemplating your stroll around the botanical world.
Lucerne: Dreilindenpark (Konsipark)
This gorgeous hilltop retreat – the largest public park in Lucerne – has multiple personalities, each one beautiful and fascinating. Climb the steep steps along with the music students carrying violin backpacks. They’re going to the Lucerne School of Music practice rooms in storybook 19th-century buildings. As you stroll the sloping, manicured lawns dotted with sculptures and shaded by towering trees, you may hear cello arpeggios wafting from the windows. All very exquisite and refined.
But this park has a wild side, too. A forest trail leads down one of the slopes. At the hilltop trailhead you can make a fire and throw your bratwurst on the hanging grill, then sit back to the sizzling music and gaze at the breath-taking panorama across the lake to the Alps beyond.