A trip on the Petite Ceinture – Photo Story
by Linda Mak
Hands up if you’d like an outdoor underground adventure within Paris!
Recently we went on a little impromptu adventure that the kids loved and reminded us of all those trespassing adventures we ourselves took as kids. The sign next to the locked gate into the Petite Ceinture said something about works in progress to landscape and clear a path for public access in the not too distant future. But we decided let’s just take a quick look right now.
Slipping through a gap in the fence right next to the gate, and feeling a little bit nervous, we set off down the railroad tracks whistling the Lollipop song from ‘Stand By Me’. However, no steam locomotive was about to come barreling down these tracks making us run for our lives. We were on the Petite Ceinture, the Little Belt, an abandoned railway circuit around Paris that was once used for cargo and passenger transit. Will someone stop us? Will we get attacked by dogs? Will we awaken a tunnel troll? How long will it go for? And how will we get out on the other end?
What started off as a short city park stroll ended up being a two-hour slow walk along the tracks and thru mysterious tunnels, surrounded by nature, urban renewal and plenty of graffiti, both old and new.
The first tunnel we went through was short enough so we could still feel the light on either side. All along its walls, you could see where generations of graffiti artists, had honed their craft.
Along one embankment the graffiti was so old it was covered by decades of moss and lichen. Those 80s B-boys can relax into middle age, knowing their tags are still there for those willing to look close enough.
Soon we came to a tunnel that was so long, in the middle it was total DARKNESS and we could not see our hands in front of our faces. This was somewhere in the 14th arrondissement and we started wondering about the catacombs, and all those skeletons resting nearby.
But halfway thru this tunnel, the light of our iPhones caught a glint of light. To our right was a short tunnel decorated with foil stars and glitter, with a large arrow pointing up. When we walked inside the nook, the hole went straight up to darkness. It was either an intimate subterranean disco for two or the escape hatch for cross-galaxy time travellers. This tunnel opens up spectacularly underneath Parc Montsouris, but there is no exit here.
Our ‘little look’ turned into, ‘how far can we walk along this?’ and ‘could we walk all around Paris in a circle?’ We had plenty of street art to look at and ended up walking from the 15th, thru the 14th and finally left the tracks at the 13th.
Two weeks later, itching for more tunnel exploring, we went to the northern side of Paris to the 19th arrondissement and walked a little bit of that side of the belt between the Canal de Saint-Denis to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Ways to get there:
In the 15th arr.: The gate where we entered the Petite Ceinture is now sometimes open on weekends, hours are not posted. It’s to the right of the South/West entrance of Parc George Brassens. For less of an adventure, and better for kids on bikes or scooters, there is an established pathway (with boardwalks and elevators) with an entrance at Rue Olivier de Serres, directly to the West of Parc George Brassens. The path goes for 2 kilometres west towards Parc André-Citroën . The City of Paris has announced plans to turn more of the Petite Ceinture into a recreational green space and you can find out more here.
In the 19th arr.: You can enter and exit easily by using a small path that enters the railway tracks on the North East corner of Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.
Wear good walking shoes. The terrain is varied.
Bring a flashlight; some tunnels are long and dark. It’s also good for looking at the street art found deep within the tunnels.
You might need to scale a fence or crawl thru a hole to get out. We did. This requires some physical strength to be able to hoist yourself over a two-meter fence, or it’s a two-hour walk back to where you started.
For more Paris adventure ideas during this vacation, check out our 75 tips for Summer article that is out now and check out all our Summer weekend in Paris tips, we’ve written five so far and there is a long summer ahead.
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