Twelve secret daytrips by train
Second updated edition published on 19 July 2023 containing two new chapters, Brunoy and Parc Saint-Cloud. All photos and maps are now in colour.
Look inside Chapter 5, Neuilly-sur-Marne, pp. 90-97
Diagram map showing journey times from Paris stations 1
Map of the Ile de France showing 12 destinations 2
Rail map of the Ile de France with stations in text highighted 4-13
The Ile de France: past and present 29
How to use this guide 45
GARE DU NORD
1. Parc de la Poudrerie 49
2 km walk along the Canal de l’Ourcq to astonishing remains of 19C gunpowder factory hidden in a woodland park and nature reserve. Return from Vert-Galant station or optional 3 km continuation of canalside walk to Villeparisis station.
21 minutes by train
GARE DE L’EST
2. Lagny-sur-Marne 59
Lively medieval market town, impressive 13C church, café with toilettes containing bas-relief and lavabo of 12C church, restaurant. Optional 5 km riverside walk to monumental outdoor sculptures carved by local artist and bus to Val d’Europe station, or 8½ km walk to sculptures and return to Lagny along opposite bank of the Marne.
23 minutes by train
3. Meaux 71
12C cathedral and Bossuet’s 17C walled garden at Meaux, restaurant, historic bridge. Optional 10 km walk along the quiet Canal de Chalifert, past old village where Ronsard was curé in 1552 and café in idyllic riverside setting, to Esbly station.
25 minutes by train
4. La Ferté-sous-Jouarre 80
42 minutes by train
5. Neuilly-sur-Marne 90
1 km walk along the River Marne to 1960s guinguette for drink/lunch/dancing. Return to Neuilly-Plaisance or optional 2.8 km walk along Canal de Chelles, then bus or 2 km walk to Chelles-Gournay station.
15 minutes by train
6. Brunoy 98
5 km walk from Brunoy along the River Yerres, past 12C church, Neolithic menhir, island restaurant, medieval mill and 18C bridge to country house of Impressionist painter Caillebotte at Yerres, set in a public park by the river.
32 minutes by train
7. Igny 106
4 km walk along the River Bièvre and tea in garden of 18C Château de Roches, now a museum to Victor Hugo. Return from Vauboyen station or optional 2½ km continuation of country walk to Jouy-en- Josas station, past 12C Madonna in church, Oberkampf’s 18C textile workshop, café with garden.
37 minutes by train
8. Château de Vincennes 116
Impressive 14C castle and donjon in Bois de Vincennes, medieval royal residence and seat of government. Good-value traditional brasserie nearby. Optional 3 km walk through Bois past Lac des Minimes to the little-known Jardin Tropical containing abandoned pavilions from the 1907 Exposition Coloniale, returning from Nogent-sur-Marne station.
17 minutes by métro
9. Parc Saint-Cloud 128
3½ km walk from Pont de Sèvres to Musée Céramique de Sèvres and through park, past 17C waterfall with panoramic views of Paris. Optional visits to Musée Historique and hilltop Jardin de Trocadéro and lake, then downhill through old town of Saint-Cloud for scenic return to Paris by bus along the Seine.
39 minutes by métro
10. Parc de Bagatelle 137
32 minutes by métro and bus
LA DEFENSE RER OR METRO
11. Malmaison 144
Bus ride and short walk to 17C Château de Malmaison, home of Josephine and Napoleon. Lunch in nearby brasserie with garden and return by bus to La Défense. Optional 1½ km walk through park to church in Rueil where Josephine is buried and lunch in traditional brasserie, returning to La Défense by bus. Optional continuation by bus to Bougival for 3 km walk along the Seine past Georges Bizet’s house to Rueil-Malmaison station.
25 minutes by bus
GARE ST LAZARE
12. Marly le Roi 155
3½ km walk through old village of Marly le Roi and park of Louis XIV’s vanished château, past 17C aqueduct, 11C church and former homes of Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun, Auguste Renoir and Anaïs Nin to Louveciennes station. Optional 1 km continuation past Mme du Barry’s former château at Louveciennes, downhill to the Seine past viewpoints painted by the Impressionists and remains of the Machine de Marly at Bougival, returning to La Défense by bus. Optional 1 km continuation to Pont de Bougival past Impressionist reproductions and further 1 km optional detour uphill to village of Bougival, returning to La Défense by bus.
33 minutes by train
Getting around the Ile de France 168
The cultural context 168
Getting into the local rhythm, the pleasures of provincial life, the love of numbers, the French attitude to information
Practical details 171
Public transport: types of ticket, trains, buses, taxis, boats, bicycles, walking, maps, useful sources of information, books, bookshops
Table of best days to visit 182
Train traveller’s glossary 186
Chronology of French rulers 187
Acknowledgements and picture credits 188
Preface to the second edition
An Hour From Paris, a guide to 20 rewarding but little-known daytrips within an hour of Paris by train, first appeared in 2002 and is now in its third edition. I wrote the book I would have liked to have had in my hand when I first arrived in Paris from London in 1991. I needed to know how to get into the surrounding countryside by train, what was worth seeing, how long the journey would take, and how to get back without necessarily returning to my starting point. I also wanted enough local and historical information to appreciate the context of what I was seeing, a clear local map and directions, and honest comments on what I was likely to find en route, including food.
Part of my impulse to explore beyond Paris came from the need to get into the countryside and escape crowds, especially other visitors. So I also wanted to know which wild flowers and animals I might see. Ideally I wanted to be able to walk for pleasure as well as by necessity, if possible by a stream or river, but not for too long before reaching a café or a station.
No such book existed, so I started exploring the train network around Paris with a copy of the green Michelin guide to the Ile de France in my hand instead. As it was written for car drivers many of its recommendations turned out to be impractical, but the places themselves were always rewarding. Some of them, such as Conflans Sainte Honorine, became the starting point for further explorations on foot as I began to appreciate just how interesting and accessible the Paris countryside is, and how little-known it is to most Parisians, let alone foreigners. It took several years of happy exploration and discovery before I realised that I had enough material to write the book I had always wanted to read.
The subsequent success of An Hour From Paris led many readers to ask for a sequel. I resisted this for some time, as their assumption and mine was that I would have to travel further afield to find rewarding new daytrips, probably called Two Hours From Paris. But when I came to look over the notes I had accumulated over 20 years, I saw that there were plenty of places in the Ile de France that I had not included in An Hour From Paris which might be worth re-visiting, as the train service had improved so much that many of them were now far more accessible. I did re-visit them, over several years, and was delighted to make further discoveries, such as the country walks around Auvers sur Oise. Meanwhile Paris friends kept giving me ideas for new destinations within an hour of Paris, such as Marly le Roi and the Parc de la Poudrerie, and I discovered others myself, such as the Canal de Chalifert at Meaux. Finally I decided to put ten of these trips taking around half an hour by train into a shorter book called Half An Hour From Paris.
Of the twelve destinations described in this new edition, the oldest ones with Roman or medieval origins, Lagny, Meaux and La Ferté sous Jouarre, are to the east of Paris where few tourists go, as are the most surprising places to be found just outside Paris: the Château de Vincennes, Parc de la Poudrerie and Neuilly-sur-Marne. Brunoy to the south is also of medieval origin, whereas Igny in the south and Parc de Bagatelle, Parc de Saint Cloud, Malmaison and Marly le Roi in the west developed between the 17th and 19th centuries mainly as a result of their proximity to Versailles. Today they are prosperous suburbs concealing an interesting history, but little-known to foreign visitors.
Although there is now far more information about the Ile de France available than there was when I first started exploring, these lesser-known places tend to be mentioned superficially or not at all. Not everything is available online, and even if it is, it often helps to know beforehand exactly what you are looking for. The medieval stone bas-relief of St Furcy in the toilettes of the Café St Furcy at Lagny is not mentioned by the tourist office and the locals do not spare it a glance, although I did find it on an obscure website once I had discovered its existence. And Google does not go into details of how to get to places like the Parc de la Poudrerie by train, or pick out the most rewarding routes for walkers when they get there.
In revising Half An Hour From Paris for this second edition, I have observed that this situation has not fundamentally changed since the book was first published in 2018. Despite the greater accessibility and awareness of places close to Paris as a result of the Grand Paris initiative, Parisians do not see their local countryside with the same eyes as a foreigner. I am happy to report that the bas-relief of St Furcy in the café at Lagny is still ignored by the tourist office and the locals, although there is now a new footbridge across the Marne which extends the options for the suggested walk. In fact, there are more recommended walks in the Ile de France accessible by public transport available from various French sources than ever before, but their focus still tends to be specialised – historical, architectural, botanical, cultural or sporty. The ambling walker who is curious about everything and happy to stop at a café or restaurant is not particularly catered for and practical information on how to get there and back by public transport remains minimal.
Apart from a few improvements, additions and updates, surprisingly little has changed in the original ten places included in this book. I have added two new chapters, the Parc Saint Cloud to the west and Brunoy to the south east, to even out the circle of places around Paris which was rather biased towards the north east and because I think these destinations are good value.
The thrill of discovering places like these a stone’s throw from Paris is what makes exploration off the beaten track so rewarding. I hope that you will enjoy these trips as much as I have enjoyed discovering and researching them.
This edition is dedicated to Joan Fleming, my helpful, amusing and intrepid companion on so many of these walks.