Ex pilot Bob Lyons revisits the village of Roissy, the town that hosts the world thanks to France’s biggest airport – Charles de Gaulle, being in its back garden…
The rural village of Roissy en France, located right at the north east corner of Paris, has a particular charm and prestige all of its own. The correct translation of the name means ‘Roissy in the pays de France’ rather than a more general reference to its location. It is roughly 21 kilometres from central Paris and takes about half an hour to get there on line B of the RER from the Gare du Nord.
The village nestles on the edge of the enormous Charles de Gaulle airport yet somehow keeps itself to itself. Roissy seems able to completely ignore the dynamic, business like world activity going on around it just next door at the Paris gateway. The edges of the village are home to over 20 top flight international hotels providing over 5000 rooms. These hotels are used by visiting aircrews from all over the world as they arrive in Paris for their short stay. They are always pretty much full each day but residents and visitors would never be aware of it. You will find, as you stroll around the hotel complex, that there is little sign of life other than shuttle buses transporting guests to and from the airport. Crews from all corners of the planet are staying here. Their multiple languages, local diets and personal service requirements are all easily taken care of by cosmopolitan hotel staff.
Charles de Gaulle airport, in Roissy’s back garden, employs around 90,000 people in different jobs and disciplines. The airport, France’s largest, is a world class and vast installation. It is home to the most sophisticated air operations, engineering, security and catering services equal to anywhere else in Western civilisation. Walking through the village you would never know it was there other than from the sights and sounds of arriving aircraft from all over the world. Many French people still call it Roissy airport.
Things to do in Roissy en France
Roissy en France is tranquil, well cared for and very French. Wander through the streets and enjoy the shady green parks and the old church. The town hall or Mairie is grand and imposing and is home to the local tourist office. It lies at the centre of a leafy garden that displays unimposing monuments to mark the contributions made to French aviation over the last century. If you have an interest in air travel they are fascinating. There is a famous and prominent air museum at Le Bourget just a few kilometres along the road. The streets are quiet with little traffic and sustain a few shops and restaurants. A bustling, lunch time establishment in the centre is called the ‘Brasserie le Village’. I remember visiting it myself quite a lot with my colleagues many years ago. It was where we all began to fall under the charm of France as we began our new experience in life.
The village has a permanent residential population of around 2500 and is covers an area of about 14 square kilometres. There are many private homes, both new and old, that add so much to the French charm of Roissy. Many of the houses lie along well cared for green avenues. The air is clean and fresh despite the airport close by and life goes on at a contented and happy pace.
Strangely, Roissy en France was the centre of the action of two fictional erotic novels by the French writer Pauline Reage. Both are well known; the ‘Story of O’ and the sequel, ‘Retour a Roissy’. The first of these was made into a controversial film. Both of these books are written in the curiously French and enigmatic style of the author. One can perhaps imagine that the centre piece of these novels was based on the now ruined ancient chateau lying close to the Mairie in the central garden.
I was in Paris recently and decided to visit Roissy for old time’s sake. When you get to CDG airport on the RER, take the number 95 bus for a five minute journey. The village had not changed much with the same shops, restaurants and sights just as they were when I first began to stay so many years ago. The apparently lifeless hotel complex was still there pursuing its quite separate existence from the local residents. I visited the ‘Brasserie le Village’ and it was thriving with a strong, lunchtime collection of local French customers. There was no sign of any visitors from the global airline industry. Life was going on as usual in Roissy en France, just as it always has, despite the somewhat covert little elements of its background.