In a place where a million surprises are just waiting to be unearthed, half the fun of touring this great city is stumbling across something totally new, which can often be achieved just by venturing a stone’s throw from the typical tourism draws.
As part of our #rediscovertravel campaign, we’re encouraging visitors to France to try the road less-travelled. So be adventurous, and tour through deserted passageways, underground routes and un-tread trails with our guide to secret Paris.
Walk along an abandoned railway line
Coulée verte René-Dumont, previously known as Promenade Plantée, is a true urban curiosity. Built upon a disused railway line, the space has been transformed into a magnificent tree-lined walkway. This secret Paris rail trail takes you over arched bridges and through underground tunnels, offering a glimpse of some wonderfully untouched parts of the city. With such varying inclines, including some as high as three storeys, a roam along its 4.7km length offers a different way to see the sights than a stroll down the more familiar cobbled streets.
In the first section above Avenue Daumesnil, you’ll stumble across the Viaduc des Arts, which is made up of artists’ workshops set into the track’s arches. Further along, through maple tree corridors and bamboo trellises, you’ll discover another track-turned-park: the Petite Ceinture or ‘Little Belt’. Find the promenade towards the east of the city by walking down Rue de Lyon by Opéra Bastille and onto Avenue Daumesnil.
Visit the Palais Garnier – setting for the Phantom of the Opera
Because the popular Galeries Lafayette department store is nearby, few on the tourist trail venture into the Palais Garnier theatre for the scenery alone. However, those who do are in for a secret Paris treat. The incredibly colourful 2,600 square foot ceiling was painted by master of modernism Chagall in 1964, and is well worth a look. Besides, even if you don’t have tickets for a show, you can always still tour the exhibitions and galleries within. As you stroll around the astounding baroque-style structure, be sure to make a stop at the Rotonde du Glacier, a bright domed space with a ceiling painted by Clairin, as well as illustrative tapestries and marble carved busts.
Perhaps the most celebrated part of the theatre is the sweeping marble staircase in the main gallery, which was a key set in Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. It’s a little known fact too that there is a sort of lake beneath the building, just as there is in the famous fable – though these days it’s mostly used by the fire department to train for night dives. There are also secret doors and walkways found throughout the theatre, which can be discovered on the fascinating guided tours.
Explore the hidden corners of Montmartre
With beautiful scenery, a bustle of cultures and plenty of things to see and do, it’s little wonder that Montmartre is a huge tourist draw. But beyond the parish’s famous Sacré-Cœur church and bohemian scene, there’s an area that few tourists know. Take a step back in time from Rue du Mont Cenis and tour the winding streets, untamed gardens and follies of secret Paris which inspired the 19th-century impressionist art movement.
The oldest building in the district, the 17th-century Maison du Bel Air, holds the lesser-known Musée de Montmartre and gardens, a celebration of artists who worked in the area including Renoir, Steinlen and Utrillo.
Further down the hill, Paris’s only remaining vineyard awaits. Planted in the early 1930s to protect against urbanisation, the winemakers still hold a party every year at harvest time for locals and tourists alike.
If this has inspired you to #RediscoverTravel, take a look at our adventure page, which forgoes the typical tourist draws to find you something new and exciting for your next escape.
What will you discover? Let us know with #RediscoverTravel