First, a little background about how I came to find all these magical places in Greater Paris: some thanks is due to SUNY Stony Brook, which ran the study abroad program. They put us up in the Cit? Universitaire and gave us the option of studying at either Paris-IV Sorbonne or Paris-X Nanterre. That gave us experience with the RER, and those of us who went to Nanterre got at least some familiarity with the suburbs. So I already knew that it wasn’t some inhuman Corbusian wasteland.
Further credit goes to my friend Jeff, who visited me in Paris and mentioned that the Paris Peace Conference actually resulted in five treaties, each one signed at a different monument in the suburbs. When he got back to the States, he mailed me a list of the locations, which I took as inspiration for some exploratory walks.
Finally, the RER announcement boards themselves told me that there was a station called “Parc de Sceaux,” and I figured that a park big enough to have its own train station was worth a visit. (This is also true of the New York Botanic Garden and Prospect Park.)
Here are five more places that you might like in Greater Paris:
- La D?fense: It all started with a monument to the defense of Paris against the German siege in 1870, which just happened to be situated on the axis defined by the Champs-Elys?es and the Tuileries, on the border between the suburbs of Puteaux and Courbevoie. Add to that the modernist horror of the Tour Montparnasse about five miles away, which provoked the Parisians to ban highrises from the city. The regional planners decided to put their new highrise business district here, and created a major commuter rail and bus hub under it. They also put all the pedestrian infrastructure on a platform completely separate from all the car and transit infrastructure. RER A, Transilien L or Metro Line 1 to La D?fense.
- Noisy-le-Grand: I’m trying to remember who it was that suggested I visit this section of the new town of Marne-la-Vall?e: possibly Andrew, one of the grad students in the Stony Brook program. In any case, the postmodern architecture of the office and apartment buildings is positively trippy, and it’s got an interesting mall right over the train station. RER A to Noisy-le-Grand Mont d’Est.
- Forest of Fontainebleau: This park, formerly royal hunting grounds, surrounds a number of villages including Fontainebleau and Barbizon and one of the largest royal palaces. The forest has inspired many artists and writers over the years, including several of the Impressionists. Transilien R to Fontainebleau-Avon or bus from Melun.
- Ile des Impressionistes: My friend Marie-Laure introduced me to this small island in the Seine, which was also a popular destination and subject of the Impressionists. It has a park, a restaurant and a museum containing replicas of paintings that feature the island, including Renoir’s Lunch of the Boating Party. RER A to Chatou-Croissy.
- La Malmaison: This is one of the less-known royal residences in the Paris area. It was bought by Napoleon’s wife Josephine in 1799 when he was First Consul, and subsequently enlarged into a mansion. When he divorced her in 1809, it became her primary residence until her death from pneumonia in 1814. It is now a museum to Josephine and the Empire. Bus 258 from La D?fense.