By Matt Chesterton
August 07, 2014

One of the most important Argentines you’ve probably never heard of was really a Frenchman, and his name was Charles Thays. Falling in love with Argentina after arriving here in 1889, this landscape architect devoted the rest of his career to reshaping and greening its cities. From Plaza de Mayo to Parque Tres de Febrero, most of the famous open spaces in Buenos Aires were designed or remodeled by Thays, a stickler for high standards and the curse of foot-dragging bureaucrats. The Victorian passion for urban improvement came late to Buenos Aires, flourished under the influence of people like Thays and had all but fizzled out by the time of his death of 1934. But the parks and gardens survived.

One of the signature achievements of the current city government has been to crisscross many parks with cycle paths, a project that must surely have pleased the ghost of Carlos Thays. When the last dog walker to set forth without a poop bag has been shown the error of their ways, he can rest in peace.

El Rosedal

Usually known simply as Bosques de Palermo or Palermo Woods, Parque Tres de Febrero is the city’s largest and most important green space. It’s a patchwork of discrete groves and gardens. The jewel in its crown is this rose garden, in whose 3.5 hectares bloom 18,000 roses. An artificial lake, Andalusian patio, and magnificent white bridge complete the prettiest of pictures.

Plaza Francia

More of a bluff than a square, Plaza Francia spreads out in front of Centro Cultural Recoleta, an excellent venue for the visual and performing arts. A peaceful spot for a picnic on weekdays, it draws much bigger crowds on weekends when it is taken over by a so-so handicrafts fair.

Reserva Ecológica

The willows can weep to their heart’s content, the rushes grow wild and high and the shrubs as prickly as they dare in the city’s Ecological Reserve, which occupies a spit of reclaimed land on the city’s watery eastern edge. Look up for more than 200 bird species, down for iguanas and foxes, and straight ahead for the muddy brown waters of the Río de la Plata.

Parque Centenario

Opened in 1910 to mark the centenary of Argentine independence, this Charles Thays-designed park is one of the city’s biggest and best. At weekends, hordes of locals arrive to stroll or jog around the artificial lake, browse the secondhand book stalls that line the perimeter, or simply sip a few yerba mates beneath the jacaranda trees.

Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays

One of BA’s most attractive aspects is the sheer number of trees lining its streets and avenues. But only here are they grouped into categories, and labeled. More than 5,000 species of flora fill the garden, from the native ceibo (whose red flowers are a national emblem) to the Chinese loquat. Feral cats skulk around the statues.