Get off the beaten track by getting on the beaten track! Take a walk on the wild side on the abandoned railway tracks of Paris, known as the Petite Ceinture.
Take a trek on a track
The first urban railway in Paris ran on a line that encircled the city, carrying steam trains through the arrondissements, the districts of the City. Long before the metro arrived, the track ran over tiny metal bridges, and through streets at an underground level. Stations were built and the train line generally transformed the life of the city. It was called the Petite Ceinture, which means the little belt in French, it went around the waist of the inner city of Paris.
As technology developed, the steam trains were replaced and that first innovative railway line stopped being the city’s favourite urban line in carrying passengers in 1934. For a while after the line was used for carrying freight before falling out of use or being updated for new trains. Many of the old stations, including the first elevated station in Paris, were destroyed or abandoned and the tracks became over grown.
Corridor of wildlife in the city
A few years ago, a group of volunteers proposed to the track owners SNCF, the French railway company, to open up part of the abandoned lines to the public.
The old railway tracks had by now become a sort of corridor of wildlife in the city. Buildings had gone up around the track, the city had developed over the years but the tracks were still there, largely hidden behind overgrown vegetation.
SNCF agreed and today several kilometres of track is accessible to the public to enjoy walking on in the heart of the city. It’s not an unbroken line as some of that development took place over the top of the tracks but in certain parts you can find what feels like the country in the city. As most of the 32km (almost 20 miles) of the Petite Ceinture tracks wind through the city over bridges or low down in cuttings or in tunnels, they are for the most part unseen or hidden at street level. Nature has reclaimed the space and it has become a haven for wild flowers and animals, and some parts have been rejuvenated, old stations and arches becoming great bars and cafes.
Walk the Line
Take the Passy district in the 16th arrondissement. Here you can walk on a track that feels like a skinny finger of forest. Trees shade the soft path, there are a few traces of track left to remind visitors of its heritage but on the whole it feels just like being in the middle of the countryside even as you glimpse cars passing by in this rather upmarket residential district. Birds flit, bees buzz, keen runners enjoy the fresh air, railway green benches enable you to enjoy the peace and tranquillity. Find out how to walk the line in Passy: paris.fr
Discover this unexpected artery of countryside in the body of Paris: www.petiteceinture.org
Petite Ceinture in the 15th, 13th and 12th Arrondissements as well as the Bastille area.
More Unexpected Paris features
How employees at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris turned detective and discovered a hidden secret at the Paris Opera House
The French Evolution of the 13th Arrondissement – the biggest city planning project since Haussman
More info about what to do and see in Paris: Parisinfo.com | UK.France.fr