In the comments to my previous post about Greater Paris, Alon Levy traces the Parisian fear of the suburbs to Baron Haussmann, who in 1865 demolished much of the proletarian city to make room for bourgeois housing.
But before that the suburbs were something of a refuge for the wealthy and powerful, particularly Louis XIV, who was besieged in the Palais-Royal when he was still a child. Partly in reaction to that experience, he never wanted to live in Paris again, and built Versailles to house the court instead.
The Revolutionaries aimed to reverse that by bringing Louis XVI back to Paris at gunpoint, but it wasn’t until Haussmann’s boss, the “people’s Emperor,” Napoleon III, that there was a monarch who really seemed happy to be living in the city. However, the legacy of the court at Versailles lingered on in the form of a favored quarter stretching from Versailles roughly to Neuilly.
For those who have rarely visited Greater Paris and seen its magical neighborhoods, I have prepared a selection of some of my favorite places outside the Paris city limits.
- Versailles: if you’ve been anywhere outside Paris besides the airport, you’ve probably been to Versailles. If you haven’t, you should go. Of course it’s full of tourists, but it’s also full of history. It’s just as important to French history as the Eiffel Tower. If you really don’t want to take the palace tour, you should still go and see the extensive grounds and possibly the Trianons, and if you go on the right day you can visit the Tennis Court. RER C to Versailles-Rive Gauche.
- Saint-Denis: The final resting place of the kings of France, it was desecrated during the Revolution, but has been mostly restored (minus the actual remains). Metro 13 to Basilique de Saint-Denis or RER D to Tramway T1.
- Sceaux: Want Versailles without the pretension? Louis XIV’s finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert built his own mini-Versailles a few miles away, and now it’s a departmental park. Despite the impressive topiary, it feels much less like a museum and more like a place to picnic. RER B to Bourg-la-Reine or Parc de Sceaux.
- The Coul?e Verte: This was once the path of the train from Paris to Chartres via Gallardan. After the line was abandoned in 1953, the government planned to put the A10 highway in the right-of-way. Fortunately, that plan fell through, and the route was instead used for the TGV Atlantique. It is now mostly decked over, and this greenway travels on top or next to it from Massy all the way to the city limits at Montrouge. It passes through all kinds of nice neighborhoods where you could stop for a lemonade. The best part is that it goes right by the Parc de Sceaux, so if you have a bicycle you could take a trip out and back. There’s a V?lib’ station at the trailhead in Montrouge, but it could get expensive if you linger. RER B or C to Massy-Verri?res, or Metro 13 to Ch?tillon – Montrouge.
- Saint-Germain-en-Laye: One of the locales of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, this old royal chateau now contains the National Museum of Antiquities. The village is also charming, and the forest is a wonderful place for a walk. RER A to Saint-Germain-en-Laye.