A walk along the Promenade Plantée, Paris

P1040054The Promenade plantée or Coulée Verte follows the route of an old railway line that has been converted into a green walk.  It links the hustle and bustle of the Place de la Bastille, at the centre of Paris, with the calm of the Bois de Vincennes, just beyond the Boulevard Périphérique.   It was inaugarated in 1993 and inspired the recently opened High Line in New York.   The western end of the walk is built on top of the Viaduct des Arts, making it effectively a green roof.  I was told by a local resident who witnessed the construction, that the beds are about two metres deep, allowing the larger trees and shrubs to thrive.  I visited on a cold grey November day, but there was plenty of colour provided by the last of the autumn leaves.

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The Bastille end of the garden is not easy to find.  Follow the Opera building from the Place de La Bastille down Avenue Daumesnil until you find this flight of steps which will carry you up to the green walkway.  There is also a lift.
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This first part of the walk has been designed using a combination of a more formal French style (trellis and clipped box hedges) with a more natural style using perennials, shrubs and small multi-stemmed trees.
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The bridges cannot be planted except for trees in planters, but this gives the chance for walkers to look down on the activity and architecture of the city below.
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A Cotinus has turned a fabulous shade of orange, and complements the brick in the building behind. This social housing complex in rue Abel was designed in 1912 by the architect Emile Blois but was only completed in 1923.  By the 1920’s this style of architecture was being much criticised by the likes of Le Corbusier.
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All along the walk, the mahonia were in their prime, but were unscented.  I got a bit scratched trying to sniff them!
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One of the things I love about Paris is the number of house sparrows; they seem to have disappeared from London parks.  Here a holly bush is helping feed the town birdlife.
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At rue Rambouillet, the walk is overlooked by this imposing building by Spanish architect Manuel Nuñez-Yanowski.  The addition of Michelangelo’s sensual slave sculptures give it a monumental feel.  (The originals are in the Louvre.)
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The Jardin de Reuilly provides a welcome green space in the centre of the Reuilly-Diderot quarter which was created in the 1990s.  A pedestrian bridge continues the promenade plantée over the lawn.
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The park is flanked to the west by a tree-lined avenue with traditional Parisian street furniture.  The tree species is an ornamental Hazel,  Corylus colurna, which has fabulous ornamental seed pods.
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The promenade plantée, now at ground level, continues along Allée Vivaldi.  This avenue and surrounding buildings were built on the station platforms and railway sidings of Reuilly SNCF staition.  The station building is still standing (this is the view from Avenue Daumesnil) and is now used by local community groups.
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The promenade plantée continues through this pedestrian tunnel which has been made less intimidating with the addition of some rather odd rocks and fountains.  I think the intention is to copy the late 19th century idea of grottos, such those in the traditional Paris parks such as Park Monceau or the Buttes de Chaumont.  It’s rather odd, but brightens what could otherwise be a long oppressive tunnel.
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When you pop out the other end of the tunnel, the atmosphere has totally changed.  Now we are in a railway cutting with high walls.  The planting is wilder and more natural in style.
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The tunnel under rue Picpus
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The view looking down from the bridge – rue Picpus.  The nearby Cimitière Picpus contains the tomb of General Lafayette and the grave pits of people guillotined during the French revolution (1789–1799).
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The atmosphere changes once again and the path divides.  The right fork takes you to the Square Charles Péguy, a small local park. At the very back are community allotment gardens which run alongside the abandoned railway of la petite ceinture (the little belt) which circled Paris until the late 1960’s.
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The left fork running along rue Montempoivre leads to the end of the promenade plantée where a spiral staircase takes you up onto the bridge carrying the périphérique, the Paris ring-road.
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The railway line runs on under the périphérique but is blocked at this point.
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At the top of the stairs turn right and follow the ring-road until you arrive at the Bois de Vincennes.
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P1040162Le Palais de la Porte Dorée is a magnificent art-deco building which now houses the Musée de l’Immigration and an aquarium.  It was built as the Museum of the Colonies for the International Exhibition of 1931.  The facade is covered with a fabulous bas-relief of animals and people from Asia, Africa and Europe.
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The gardens have recently been redesigned by botanist Lilian Motta who used a palette of plants from each continent to reflect the history of the building.

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Practical Information

Starting from La Place de la Bastille (12th arrond.) the metro station Bastille is on lines 1, 8 or 5.  For picnics there is a good food market on Avenue Richard Lenoir, just off Place de la Bastille, on Thursday and Sunday mornings.  You are allowed to spread your picnic-rug on the grass in the Parc de Reuilly or there are benches all along the promenade.  At the Bois de Vincennes end, the nearest metro is La Porte Dorée.  You can go into the museum entrance hall to see the art-deco interiors, mosaic floor and murals for free, though exhibitions are ticket-only.  There is a small café in the museum and several restaurants around the metro entrance at La Porte Dorée.

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