Paris off the beaten track (for French flâneurs): la Petite Ceinture
Come a little closer; I want to let you in on a secret – a secret about Paris.
It’s easy to think that Paris is only about the big name attractions like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre. But there are still secret places to discover in Paris – especially if you are happy to walk.
All Francophiles know that Paris is a great destination for walking. But did you know that the French capital also boasts a number of elevated secret walking paths that are worth seeking out for both their beauty and history? One of these is the gorgeous La Promenade Plantée in the fourth arrondissement. And I’m keen to share another special one with you today: la Petite Ceinture or the Little Belt.
La ligne de Petite Ceinture
Before the Paris Métro, there was la ligne de Petite Ceinture (the Little Belt train line). Operating as the first public rail transportation service in Paris, la Petite Ceinture was built over a 17-year period, from 1852 to 1869.
Running in a 35km loop or ‘belt’, the line followed the 1840s fortifications of Paris, and linked the major railway stations of the day. At the height of its popularity, at around the time of the Universal Exposition in 1900, la Petite Ceinture was transporting between 85 000 and 90 000 passengers a day.
However, Paris was undergoing great change at this point in history and the construction of the Métro soon displaced la Petite Ceinture as the city’s primary rail passenger service. As a result, the Little Belt closed in 1934.
While parts of the line have been reused for the RER line C service, most of it was never used again. As the disused railway was left untended, vegetation took over. Today however, steps are being taken to transform la Petite Ceinture into an interesting walking trail.
A new walking path for French flâneurs
In late December 2013, a 1.3km section of la Petite Ceinture reopened, this time attracting flâneurs rather than passengers. Located in Paris’ 15th arrondissement, the elevated promenade can be accessed from the Balard métro station. Stairs, as well as new elevators, allow visitors to reach the trail.
Once on the promenade, walkers are treated to a very different view of Paris. In stark contrast to the manicured gardens of the Jardin du Luxembourg or the Tuileries, the wild growing plants and flowers sit at the edges of the trail, which still contains the original train tracks in many places.
The path also allows walkers to take in the architecture of the area. Classic Parisian buildings butt up against newer apartment blocks but everything looks quite different from behind. Once you’ve explored the walking path, I can certainly recommend a wander around the surrounding streets to see all the same buildings from the front!
Back on the trail, don’t miss the opportunity to see one of the original la Petite Ceinture stations and the disused tunnel. Both pieces of history give you a real feel for what the railway might have looked like in the early 1900s.
A walk along la Petite Ceinture is sure to appeal to travellers who want to experience more than a superficial view of Paris, while discovering some of the city’s hidden industrial past.
Do you have any favourite secret walking paths in Paris? If so, we’d love for you to share in the comments below.
All images © Scott Gould.