Hiking the Paris Boondocks

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Hiking near Paris

The Paris Boondocks in Santeuil

"Rapeseed fields along Santeuil hiking trail near Paris"

After last week’s trip to the foret domaniale near the ancient royal castle of Versailles, (a tourist hotspot as hot as any in or around Paris), we travelled this time to the Paris boondocks of Santeuil, a place so obscure that the ticket vendor at the local transport authority booth had never heard of it.

Where are you going?” he inquired and was only ready to believe that such a place existed after we had spelled it out to him and he had managed to locate it in his computer system.

Yes, fellow hikers: today, we are heading out to the boondocks. The low hanging fruits have all been picked. Most of the Paris hiking trails in the immediate vicinity have been ticked off our list. From now on, we will have to travel a little further out for our hiking, with travel times upwards of one hour.

For the overseas visitor, such an excursion only makes sense if they see the journey itself as part of the experience. Do not pass the time on the train with your nose buried in your newspaper. Look out the train window at the little towns that fleet by, which range from the genteel to the slightly shabby and the downright intimidating. (Five out six “Parisians” live in one of those suburban settlements rather than in the city proper)

Enjoy the way the landscape changes: from the urban to the rural, passing through a twilight zone of scattered satellite towns.

Observe your fellow travelers, suburbanites on the way to work or a shopping trip, and study the state and the interior design of the coaches themselves, drawing your own conclusions from the differences between these suburban trains and the generally far better maintained rolling stock of their central Parisian counterparts.

Always bear in mind that this is a part of Paris that visitors do not normally get to see. I would not go as far as saying that they are not meant to be seen, but it is fair to point out that tourists are not exactly encouraged either.

"Through the rapeseed field in the Paris boondocks of Santeuil"

And bear in mind that venturing out a little further also has its rewards. Beyond the outer suburban ring of increasingly large residential homes in increasingly isolated hamlets lies la France profonde, “deep France”, the rural heart of the nation. You will be surprised how profonde France can be, little more than an hour away from the capital.

Having said that, both Madame Easy Hiker and myself really really enjoyed our trip. More than we should have, probably, given its obvious shortcomings. Shortcoming such as the trail’s fair share of asphalt. And, for long stretches, a lack of variety in scenery: it’s rapeseed and corn fields, mainly, followed by more rapeseed and corn fields.

So what made Santeuil so great?

For one, we were happy for something else than yet another foret domaniale, which is what the converted royal hunting grounds with neatly divided and numbered sections of trees are called in French.

Santeuil is the real countryside, and it is beautiful– albeit in a slightly understated, Constable kind of way. Think The Haywain, not Snowstorm In The Alps. Turner would not have found anything of interest around here.

"The Paris boondocks in the Santeuil countryside by the hiking trail near Paris"

It also helped that it was a glorious spring day: sunny and warm, with everything in full bloom, the yellow rapeseed fields, the cherry trees along the way, the flowers in the grass. But I am quick to admit that the same trip may be far less attractive on a cloudy day in late September.

If you have a sunny spring day to spend to go hiking in Paris, go to Santeuil. You will not regret it. It provides better entertainment than the Champs Elysees, even though it may not have the PR – and you will also get a nicer tan. (Because most of the trail is exposed to the sun.)

And this is how you to go hiking the Paris boondocks.

Take the Transilien train from (the central Parisian station of) St Lazare to Gizors. (Look up the schedule on the Internet. Outside the rush hours, trains leave only about once every hour.)

"Direction to the town of Us on the Santeuil hiking trail near Paris"

Leave the train at the station Santeuil Le Perchay, walk towards the railway crossing at the end of the platform and turn left out of town. After a few hundred meters, you will reach an intersection where you should turn left in the direction of a town called Us. (Insert your own joke here.)

At the outer edge of Us, there is a point where several roads and footpaths meet, called Les Closeaux (the name is indicated on the bus stop).

"Bus stop before start of Santeuil hiking trail near Paris"

Take a sharp left turn here, down to (and eventually across) the railway tracks, not the 90 degree left turn into town. From here on, you can also use the white-red balisages as an additional means of orientation.

Once you have walked into the forest, continue in a northern direction, eventually passing the town of Santeuil on your left (in the distance).

"Village of Santeuil near Paris seen from hiking trail"

Take a sharp right turn at the large rapeseed field and another sharp left after about a quarter mile. Follow the balisages to and eventually through the village of Brignancourt – where you will realize how far you are away from Paris – and cross the railway line.

Stay on the road, following the yellow balisages from here on. When the road – having straightened out after a long, sweeping right curve – makes another, sharper right turn, you should leave it, turning left into on a field path (look for the yellow balisages!) which will lead you, past the water tower you can see from afar, back into Santeuil.

Altogether, the walk should take you roughly three hours.

A few words of advice:

1 – Purchase everything you need for your hiking trip, including sandwiches and water, in Paris before you leave. There will be no shops or restaurants anywhere along the trail.

2 – Check the train schedule for your return to Paris immediately after your arrival in Santeuil. Don’t think that you can easily pass a couple of hours or so in the town centre of Santeuil. There is no café and only one restaurant, which was, predictably enough, closed when we arrived (on a Saturday afternoon).

"St Peter and Paul church in Santeuil France"

Santeuil may look inviting from the station, with the church picturesquely perched on top of a small hill, but believe me, there is not a lot to see. The time between your arrival at the station and the departure of the train will  have to be spent sitting on a bench by the river. Thank God it was a dry, sunny and warm day.

Otherwise, that, too, would have been a different story in a cold September drizzle.

Did you enjoy the read? Want to be first to read more of the good stuff? Why not subscribe by email or follow us on Facebook?

4 comments to Hiking the Paris Boondocks

  • Now that the weather is becoming friendlier for hikes, we would certainly be doing more.

  • Another wonderful hike! The countryside does look very beautiful. Hope you find many more fun hikes in the boondocks.

  • Well, we are now short of destinations that are just a hop from the centre of Paris. But then again, it would be one way of getting to know Paris’ closest “neighbours” of villages and hamlets, thus a little bit of real France, all on a day’s journey.

  • Inspiring pics for a different, off-beaten-track hike, and the train journey sounds interesting too. Hope you’re not running out of trails already though! :)

Leave a Reply