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Secret spots for French flâneurs: Paris from above

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Every city on earth is made for walking, but some are better for it than others. On the top of my list of places to explore à pied is Paris, of course.

I can just amble, or pick up the pace and stride to my heart’s content while admiring the views and urban architecture; even people-watch or poke my nose into shops. I’m amazed and uplifted; never tired, never bored.

This is especially true when I walk ‘in the sky’, almost above the rooftops, along the re-purposed elevated railway tracks by the Promenade Plantée (planted or tree-lined walkway) or Coulée Verte (greensward). Other cities have taken their cues from Paris.

New York City has its High Line

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Since I’m a native New Yorker, permit me a few words about my home town. Beginning in 1934, New York’s High Line trains carried freight to factories and warehouses on the city’s West Side. By the 1980s, however, trucks were doing the heavy lifting and the tracks fell into disuse, given over to a tangle of weeds. Reclamation efforts began in 1999, inspired by Paris’ example, and the public park opened in 2009. In 2012 an estimated 4.4 million people (according to The New York Times) promenaded along the 1.5-mile-long corridor.

Above Paris rooftops

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But back to Paris.  The Promenade Plantée is twice as long as the High Line, running nearly three miles through the 12th arrondissement along what was once the Vincennes railway line. Abandoned in 1969 (and replaced, in part, by the RER’s A Line), it was reclaimed by the City of Paris in 1986 and by 1993 inaugurated as a walkway, designed by architects Philippe Mathieux and Jacques Vergely.

The best place to pick up the path is just east of the Place de la Bastille. You’ll climb a few steps to the elevated portion, along the Viaduc des Arts, roughly paralleling the Avenue Daumesnil. (There are shops in the arcades below.)

Within seconds, you are some 30 feet above the city, winding alongside – and even through – modern buildings. You can also admire older architecture from the late 19th century before coming back down to earth at the Jardin de Reuilly.

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The vegetation is varied; an assortment of trees, bushes and flowers alongside garden sculptures, fountains, and the occasional tunnel. It’s an ensemble that alternately invites walkers to sit awhile or feel dizzyingly lost in space.

There are occasional special events along the Promenade Plantée. You might take in ‘Art en balade’ in late June, an open-air exhibition featuring the work of about 50 artists.

As you walk, consider taking along a copy of Patrick Modiano’s ‘Dora Bruder’. It’s the author’s poignant exploration of time, memory, and Paris history during the Occupation – including parts of this neighborhood.

Do you have a favorite walk in Paris? A favorite book about the city?

Image credits:
1. Promenade Plantée by Katchooo on flickr
2. New York City’s High Line by Ronnie Hess
3. Promenade Plantée by Peter Pearson on flickr
4. Promenade Plantée by karigee on flickr


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1 Comment




  1. Alex Mealey
    7 years ago

    Love this tip about where to flâner when in Paris!
    I look forward to having somewhere new to explore when I return!