The confluence of the Seine and the Marne at Chinagora, Alfortville
Article first published in Bonjour Paris, 8 October 2021
This is a walk which I discovered by following the Marne from St Maur-Créteil, a continuation of the walk from the islands of Créteil towards Paris, 12 km away. Although the footpath has been tidily ‘aménagé’ so that it presents no difficulty to local walkers, parts of it are still surprisingly rural, with rewarding views of the Marne. It passes a little island painted by Cézanne and ends dramatically at the confluence of the Seine and the Marne at Chinagora, an astonishing Chinese hotel and restaurant complex which overlooks the meeting of the two rivers.
From there you can return a little way along the Marne to take a shortcut through the listed Art Deco façade of the old Suze distillery to the métro at Ecole Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort. And to relax after the walk, there is a friendly Italian café-pizzeria with a sunny terrace next to the station.
6 km walk from St Maur-Créteil RER station to métro Ecole Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort
Turn right from the station at St Maur-Créteil and take the pedestrian crossing straight ahead, under the railway bridge. Cross the Avenue Ronsard at the next pedestrian crossing and continue into the Avenue Noel on your right. At the end of this quiet street, lined with 19th century villas, turn right into the equally quiet Boulevard du Général Ferrié, with a green space in the middle. At the end of the boulevard you will see a little bandstand. Turn left at this point, past a playground on your right and a station de pompage and you will see the Marne in front of you.
Turn right to follow it along the Quai Schaken. Eventually you will cross a footbridge over a rustic little canal, actually part of a drinking water treatment plant.
Continue past a few houseboats with little gardens and a convenient bench and take the steps leading up to the Pont de Maisons-Alfort. Cross the bridge and turn right, opposite La Perle du Maroc restaurant, to continue along the Avenue Joffre for a little way. You can see the riverside path below, but it soon comes to an end, so persist along the avenue until you see an opening with steps going down to the path, next to a picnic table.
From this point the path is very rustic, with two pontoons over the water from where there is a spacious view of the Marne.
On the map the riverside path is called the Promenade Paul Cézanne but you will come across both upper and lower versions of it en route. Generally, I have found that it is more rewarding to take the path closest to the water.
En route you will pass some striking bald cypress trees, with their knotty roots clamped into two sandy little beaches.
You will soon pass a footbridge to the Ile du Moulin Brûlé, an island painted by Paul Cézanne in 1894.
The island has been turned into a park, accessed by another bridge further on. I recommend the less frequented side overlooking the navigable part of the Marne on your right, where you might see some huge working barges sliding silently past.
Not long after the detour to the island you will see that the riverside path ahead is barred by a fence around a petrol station which is being demolished. Turn left at the fence, go up onto the road and follow it round the building site to the right to rejoin the path a little further on.
Soon afterwards you will reach the impressive automated lock and dam of St-Maurice.
Although the path is more frequented here, that didn’t bother a cormorant which was methodically drying its wings near the dam.
Soon after the dam you have the option of taking a non-signposted shortcut to the métro station at Ecole Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort, a total walk of 4 km. But I strongly recommend continuing along the Marne to its confluence with the Seine at Chinagora, returning along the river to take the same shortcut to the station, another 1½ km.
To find the shortcut, continue along the river for a little way and then take the wooden walkway uphill, marked with the yellow PR sign and a red and white GR cross. When the wooden walkway ends, turn left, go down steps and take the pedestrianised street opposite, the Allée de l’Amourette. This leads through the listed Art Deco façade, which is all that is left of the old Suze distillery, to the métro station on the left.
Suze is a slightly bitter aperitif made from the roots of the yellow gentian flower which grows in the Jura. It became enormously popular in the 1920s and the family-owned distillery, which originally produced absinthe, was located at Maisons Alfort from 1875 to 1974. Its façade was modernised in 1934, to harmonise with the nearby new church of St Agnès, built mainly at the expense of the dynamic owner of the distillery, Fernand Mouroux (1863-1956). Its curved bell-tower is said to be in the form of the iconic Suze bottle. The façade of the distillery was designed in the same Art Deco style, in the form of a frieze showing the names and coats of arms of all the cities where Suze was produced. It looks rather like the entrance to a proud, old-fashioned railway station.
© Wikimedia Commons
To follow the Marne to its confluence with the Seine at Chinagora, continue along the footpath. After the next bridge, the Pont de Charenton, the setting becomes completely urbanised. There are three possible routes along the river at this point, the towpath, the footpath above it and the road, but it is more rewarding to follow the towpath all the way, past ducks and the occasional fisherman, until it ends in steps leading up to Chinagora.
Continue around the building until you reach the tip of the headland, with the Seine on your left and the Marne on your right.
Chinagora was built for its Chinese owners in 1992, its architecture inspired by the Forbidden City in Beijing. I first went there about 15 years ago and, like some of the French visitors on Tripadvisor, I felt that I was no longer in France but in China. The languages I heard around me were Mandarin and English, although the restaurant had a small sprinkling of French locals.
It is now under new Chinese ownership after having been closed for several years and the first floor restaurant is open daily after 7 pm, but I haven’t yet tried the food. It used to be good, and the views of the Seine on one side and the Marne on the other are unique.
Continue round to the left for a view of the Seine, looking south.
The quickest and most scenic route to the métro station from Chinagora is to retrace your steps along the Marne, perhaps taking the footpath this time to make a change.
After the Pont de Charenton you will see two sets of steps on your right. Take the second of these up from the Promenade Paul Cézanne, then go down more steps to follow the Allée de l’Amourette facing you. You emerge through the façade of the old Suze distillery onto a main road, with the Ecole Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort métro station on your left and La Nonna pizzeria next to it, open daily.
RER A trains to Boissy St Leger from Châtelet-Les Halles run every eight minutes and take 17 minutes to St Maur-Créteil. Details
Métro line 8 trains from Ecole Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort leave every few minutes and take 24 minutes to Bastille. Details