Thursday, 28 February 2008

The Marne River

Now that you've gotten outside of Paris proper and need a bit of fresh air and green trees, is it natural to take a walk along one of the rivers. The river Marne comes from the east of Paris and merges with the Seine river just outside of Paris. It is 525 km long and large enough that there are both cargo and house boats sailing on it. The river goes through parts of the champagne area and when it reaches the suburbs of Paris it becomes a green space in the middle of a city.

There are walk and bike paths along the entire river through the suburbs, grass and trees, parks and restaurants, sports clubs, boating, locks, bathing, camping and so on. The bridges which crosses the river are often both interesting and historical. The rivers of France still plays a vital role for culture, leisures and business. They are yet important means of transportation through the country and it's interesting to see a large barge sail past heavily loaded with cargo. The house boats are fascinating and a real alternative to the usually steep rents in the Ile-de-France region.

The river banks become places of gatherings for the locals during the summer. Young people date, elder plays petangue, mothers take their children for a walk, families meet to picnics, the healthy exercise and there's always life and a good chance to see typical French life. You can easily find a romantic spot for an hour of relaxation before you again face the challenges of exploring Paris.

Outside of the suburbs the river becomes the centre for the towns, often with a strong historical touch and plenty of charm and soul. It is not hard to find old city walls, historical bridges, monasteries, old narrow cobblestone streets, warehouses and so on. It is easy to see that the river played an important role throughout all history.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Chateau de Champs-sur-Marne

If you need to get away from the crowds in Paris for a while, you should leave the city and visit the suburbs instead. Here you'll find many less known tourist attractions and experiences. Unlike places like Versailles you avoid the big crowds and long lines to get in. It can often be just as impressive and it is usually a lot cheaper or completely free.

Chateau de Champs-sur-Marne is one of the well kept secrets. The castle itself isn't very big or old, but the park and gardens surroundings are wonderful no matter when you visit them. The gardens are considered one of the finest in the entire Ile-de-France region. I've only seen Versailles as more impressive alone due to it's size.

What makes Chateau de Champs-sur-Marne better in my mind is that you can actually walk through the entire park and see everything over the course of a few hours without having to strain yourself. I have visited Versailles twice and still not seen all there is to see in the parks alone. Another advantage to Chateau Champs-sur-Marne is that it is free to visit and there's usually not many people.

The park is a sort of miniature of the big gardens at Versailles, so you'll get a nice idea of how the great French gardens are. The beautiful classical French garden is from 1710. There are a lot of geometric patterns, special tapestries, a beautiful view over the park towards the Marne river, fountains, statues inspired by different ages, an English inspired park, buildings and so on. There is a lot to explored without it becoming too much.

You feel it as if you've stepped back in time and all that's missing is the great gowns and wigs. And if you're lucky, you'll see rabbits jump through the vegetation, just something for the kids.

Worth knowing:
  • Chateau de Champs-sur-Marne was completed in 1706. The park is considered one of the finest in the Ile-de-France region.
  • The castle has been location for many films, eg Dangerous Liaisons (1988) which received an Oscar for best d├ęcor, and Marie-Antoinette (2006)
Practical information:
  • The castle is temporary closed for maintenance, but the park is open most of the year during daylight hours and entrance is free.
  • From Paris take the RER A towards Disneyland.
  • Get of at Noisiel and take bus no 220 towards Bry sur Marne.
  • The stop is named "Maison de Retraite", 6th stop from Noisiel.
  • The bus-ride costs two normal metro tickets (t+ tickets, which are the same as you use in the metro in Paris).
  • A ticket from Paris to Noisiel with RER costs 4,10€ one way.
  • The travel time is about 45 min.