Hiking the Road Less Travelled for an Adventure

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Hiking trails near Paris

 The Road Less Travelled

Pontoise and Auvers-sur-Oise are two of the prettiest and most visited small towns in the Ile de France, the area around Paris.

"The Cathedral of Pontoise, a road less travelled and a suburb of Paris"

As it happens, they are are also fairly close to one another, virtual neighbours as it were, connected by a short (less than 10 km long) stretch of the river Oise. Our idea was to visit both in a single daytrip, with a scenic riverside walk in between. What could possibly go wrong?

"Inside the town of Pontoise, a suburb near Paris"

Pontoise is a 45 minute railway journey away from Paris. (Three different lines of the suburban rail network go there, spoiling you for choice.) The town has a pretty little historical centre around the medieval Cathedral and features some other buildings from the same period, Pontoise’s heyday when it was virtually a border town between France and the aggressive Duchy of Normandy, with nothing to prevent France from suffering the fate of its Anglo-Saxon near-neighbour but the fighting spirit of King Louis VI, charmingly nicknamed “The Fatso”, Louis Le Gros (although, perhaps, not to his face)

"A road less travelled leading to the rebuilt castle of Pontoise near Paris"

This was also the period when Pontoise castle was built on top of the hill that still looms over the town. Of the castle itself, however, only the foundations remain. The building you can see today looks relatively modern, and it is a bit of an anticlimax to arrive there, after a climb up the old serpentine. (The castle’s two ancient towers have only survived in Pontoise’s coat of arms.)

"The town of Pontoise near Paris seen from atop a hill"

After descending back into town, with the bridge across the Oise now in front of you, it’s decision time: which side of the river is it going to be?

Bear in mind that you will be stuck with the consequences of your decision for the rest of the walk because there is no bridge across the Oise between here and Auvers.

The left (or near) side looks very busy. As far as the eye can see, you will be forced to make your way on the sidewalk of a very busy street – a street with a number, no less (the D4, since you ask), rarely a good sign.

The right side, on the other hand, looks relatively peaceful and tranquil. Idyllic, almost. There is nothing to warn the visitor of what is to follow.

Reader, we took the road less travelled – and it made all the difference indeed.

The path starts well, and for the first mile or so, we cast pitiful glances at the other side of the river, congratulating ourselves for our decision to shun the busy highway.

Gradually, however, things begun to change. First, there is a disused factory, partly overgrown, an enchanted industrial castle.

"Ruins of an old military building along the road less travelled of Pontoise hiking trail near Paris"

Followed by something that looks more sinister already, something with a connection to the last war – or the one before. An ammunition dump, perhaps?

Finally, you arrive at a river boat loading facility for a warehouse that stretches half the way to the horizon. If you continue, however, you can soon see that there is an undergrowth where the port facility ends, and the temptation to plough on rather than turn around becomes overwhelming.

"A warehouse along a hiking trail near Paris"

Initially, this path, too, starts well, until …

Well, this site is not dedicated to “adventures for beginners” for nothing, which is why I don’t want to spoil your own encounter with the unknown. Just a few tips:

1. Duck under the low-hanging branches. And when you stand up, make sure you are not hitting another low-hanging branch. Actually, anybody over 4 feet tall is well advised to pretty much crouch all the way to the clearing.

"Easy Hiker ducking under trees on the Pontoise hiking trail"

2. The crater-like holes in the soil and the uprooted bushes on your left may suggest that the land you are about to cross is in use by the French army as a shooting range, but this is not the case. Nobody will shoot at you. You are safe!

"Muddy part of the Pontoise hiking trail near Paris"

3. Don’t lose heart when the workers of the near-by warehouses, when seeing you on the other side of the fence, look at you like some creatures who have just flown in from the planet Zorc.

4. Do not climb on top of the hill they have made of all the excavated earth. You will not like what you are about to see. (Sometimes, it is better not to know what lies ahead. Trust me.)

"A mountain of waste along the Pontoise hiking trail near Paris"

5. The walk between the green fence on your left and the waste management facility on your right may seem a trifle long, admittedly. And desolate.

But it will not be endless. At some point in the future, there will be light again in your life. Joy, happiness and the laughter of children! This may also be a good time to remind yourself of all the good things that have happened to you so far in your life.

6. At the very end, with the “open gate to freedom” already in sight, don’t provoke the dogs of the trailer park that you have to cross. And when their owners stare at you: don’t stare back.

The good news is that the worst now lies safely behind you. There. Feel better already?

"Easy Hiker walking on a grassy shoulder of a busy traffic roade on the Pontoise hiking trail"

The bad news is that we still have to make it back to the river, and the shortest – the only? – way is by the grassy shoulder of the road on our left. Yes, I know it’s a busy road. But, hey: accentuate the positive!

See it like this: you are experiencing the type of France, the “real France”, that few tourists ever get to see, the France of industrial parks, of warehouses and of trucks that – Vrrroom! – speed by within an inch of your left foot. You should be grateful!

Turn left into this busy road, through the tunnel underneath the railway line, and follow it for about a mile, before – just after the sharp bend to the right – turning left into the direction of Mery-sur-Oise.

"The view over the river of Auvers sur Oise from the hiking trail"

The landscape immediately takes a turn for the bucolic. Just before the small village ends, take another sharp left down the stairs, and after a hundred meters or so you will be back at the river where you turn right.

No more bad surprises after this, I promise. As a matter of fact, walking on, this is where we ended up.

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5 comments to Hiking the Road Less Travelled for an Adventure

  • I’ll keep you posted, Dave. Thanks for dropping by.

  • Dave

    After finishing the article, I wondered why I did. Enjoyed the photos but the subject matter left me a bit confounded. Guess I’ll drop back later to see if things pick up, Michael.

  • Haha! I should mention that phrase then more often, Dave, because we do always try to take the road less travelled, in our holidays and sometimes in life decisions too.

  • This is one of the prime reasons I recommend Easy Hiker to people wanting to go hiking in Europe.

    Great info and practical advise. And anyone who mentions “the road less travelled” get’s a +1 in my book!

  • Any post that mentions either Frost and Van Gogh are good in my book and both is a bonus. Look forward to hear more about the earless one in the next installment.

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