Bonjour La Tristesse of the Parisian Banlieue

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Hiking near Paris

The Parisian Banlieue

– a term covering anything from just outside of the city limits to villages and small towns a one-hour railway journey away – has a bad  reputation, not all of it undeserved.

But for every town over which a pallor of tristesse – actually, the bitterness of exile – seems to hang, there is also at least one charming little place, particularly if you leave the immediate neighbourhood and stray out into the “Grande Couronne”, the outer suburbs of Zones 5 and 6.

The problem with these charming little places is this: they feature two or three quaint little streets, a farmers market, an old church, a medieval lane with a couple of half-timber-framed buildings, a museum of something droll but largely uninteresting – cigarette holders, mouse traps, that sort of thing – and when you have seen it all and taken photographs from all angles, it is not even time for lunch. What are you going to do with the rest of the day?

Here is my suggestion:

Take a walk

"A place in a Parisian banlieue Crecy La Chapelle main train station"

Crécy-la-Chapelle to the east of Paris (45 minutes by rail from the Gare de l’Est including a change of trains at Esbly) is exactly the type of place described in the previous paragraph. It has a certain historical interest (it was a substantial commercial centre in the Middle Ages), provides quite a few picturesque views which have attracted many painters over the years (including Corot who stayed here for a while), and its small network of canals have earned Crécy the sobriquet of “la Venise briarde”, the Venice of the Brie (yes, this is the area where all that cheese comes from).

"A Gothic church belfry in Crecy La Chapelle a part of the Parisian banlieue nearby"

Sights include the eccentrically shaped belfry, a 19th century Gothic folly constructed to accommodate the ancient town bells (called  “the suppository” by the painter Dunoyer de Segonzac), the more authentically medievalist Passage Guet and some splendid views across the town’s river, the Grand Morin – and when you have seen it all, you still have plenty of time to explore the wider neighbourhood of the old town.

"Part of the Grand Morin river in the Parisian banlieue of Crecy la Chapelle"

 Follow Rue Dam Giles to the end of the town, across the Grand Morin river, and turn left, following the red and white trail markers along the main road and eventually on a right turn into the forest.

"The town of Crecy la Chapelle seen atop a hill"

On top of the hill, continue straight before turning right at the end of the field. Walk into the near-by village and follow the yellow trail markers into a left turn.

Now, you just follow these balisage trail markers for roughly an hour until you find a stately home blocking your way. This is as far as we want to stroll away from Crécy: now it is time to return.

"Horses grazing on the grounds of stately home in Crecy la Chapelle"

Turn left before the driveway of that stately home, continuing across the busy main road all the way to the river. Turn left here, past the very picturesque mill on the other side, and follow the winding river that will slowly lead you back to the main road.

"The Grand Morin river in Crecy la Chapelle"

Cross the road and look for the balisage on the other side. The trail will now lead you on fairly steep climb up the hill – but out on top, you will be rewarded by a majestic view.

"The view after a long steep uphill walk in Crecy la Chapelle hiking trail"

If only.

On the upside, however, you have now almost made it back to town. Cross the field ahead of you, using the path right down the middle, and at the end of the path, you will already recognize the outskirts of Crécy that you have left a couple of hours ago. All you have to do now is to descend back into town.

"An old water mill in Crecy la Chapelle"

Depending on how much time you have until the next trains leaves for Paris (these trains run hourly only: check departure times just after you arrive if you want to avoid long waiting times), you can sit down at an outdoor table in one of the cafés on Rue du Marché (it’s not quite the Boulevard St. Michel but it will do) or pick up a Brie at the local cheese shop for your dinner – if you can wait that long. Remember: it’s long journey home.

Bon appetit!


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10 comments to Bonjour La Tristesse of the Parisian Banlieue

  • RB Photography

    I’m a big fan of just walking around with no real plan. Sure you make certain you do the main attractions, but there are usually some hidden gems in every city, town and village just waiting to be disovered

  • I can see why you like walking around Crécy-la-Chapelle! I do like exploring small villages like this and this bucolic beauty may have just made it to my list for my next trip.

  • Most people coming to Paris are either first-time visitors or are there only for a few days. Understandably, they have no time to explore outside of the usual Parisian offerings. But for those who’ve been several times, it would enrich their knowledge of Paris if they did one or two day trips out.

  • We never ventured outside of Paris during our two trips there. You’ve certainly shown that these quaint towns are worth a visit. What a lovely walk and such a wonderful view.

  • You certainly have to, Deej, particularly if you intend to spend more than 4 days in Paris.

  • On my next visit to Paris, we really need to spend more time exploring these areas. It would be nice to see what’s outside the city for once!

  • Taking a walk is most always a good idea, especially in such a pretty area like around Crécy-la-Chapelle (even without any grand view from the top of the climb).

  • That’s the right attitude, Jeremy. So many surprises to discover.

  • Jeremy Branham

    Definitely a great walk! I think any towns like this, regardless if it’s Paris or somewhere, need to be explored. I had a great walk like this in Versailles where we wandered far away from the grounds and into the countryside. Love little towns like this. It may not take a lot of time to see them but exploring and hiking is part of the fun.

  • That looks like a particularly lovely hike and is it ever green. I’m just starting to see buds on the trees now but it was 25C today so we’ll be catching up.

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