La Petite Ceinture de Paris is one of the quirkiest strolls in the city. If you like off the beaten path sights and the romance of abandonment, la Petite Ceinture Paris is for you.
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
La Petite Ceinture (the Little Belt) was a 32 km railroad line that circled Paris, developed during 1852-1869. Originally built to transport material goods from depot yards to the core of Paris, la Petite Ceinture became since 1862 also a service for passengers. At the height of its activity, there were steam trains charging in each direction six times per hour.
La Petite Ceinture’s decline started with the construction of the Parisian Metro in 1900. As a result, the passenger service stopped in 1934, when the metro reached its maturity. At the end of the 70’s, with the disappearance of the slaughterhouses of Vaugirard, the cattle station of La Villette and the relocation of the Citroën factories, the freight traffic fell drastically and La Petite Ceinture stopped operating.
Today only four short sections are converted into green spaces and opened to the public. Armed with good shoes, tons of curiosity and a sense of adventure we are going to explore these public spaces and much more: we are going walk on the rails and discover the backyard of the City of Lights.
Unfortunately it is not possible to travel along la Petite Ceinture (PC) without any interruption because some kilometres in the west are reused by RER trains and some tunnels are sealed. To do the tour presented below we are going to combine bike rides with short or long walks on the rails.
LA PETITE CEINTURE PARIS 12 (PC 12)
Official entry Point : 21 rue Rottembourg, 75012 Paris; M. Michel Bizot, L 8; Vélib post #12.010
This short section (200 metres) was developed to accommodate a shared garden and a nature trail. Along the nature trail we can discover the city’s biological diversity: grassland, coppice and afforestation.
This part of la Petite Ceinture is linked to the Promenade Plantée so if you are around don’t miss the opportunity to explore this cool green walk !
LA PETITE CEINTURE PARIS 13 (PC 13)
Official entry Point: 60 rue Damesme, 75013 Paris; M. Maison Blanche, L 7; Vélib post #13.110
This section, located between the parks Charles-Trenet et Moulin-de-la-Pointeopen, opened only in January 2016 so it is a very new thing for Parisians. Along 500 metres, the old railway line is the common thread of an unusual landscape formed by flora and fauna typical of industrial wastelands. In addition, there is also a chill-out area with grassland and some chaise longues that should host some performances or events in the near future.
LA PETITE CEINTURE PARIS 15 (PC 15)
Official entry Point: in front of 99 rue Olivier de Serres, 75015 Paris; M. Porte de Versailles, L12 ; Vélib post #15.111
In the 15th District La Petite Ceinture served the Citroën factories (Parc André Citroën today) and the slaughterhouses of Vaugirard (Parc Georges Brassens). On this leg, the old railway track was never deferred. In addition, the development carried out by the City Council consisted in keeping the historic installations while preserving the flora and fauna (more than 220 species of plants and animals) installed spontaneously on the site.
Along the 1,3 km walk we can see an old station, a couple of wooden chalets and some train signs. As you can see on the pictures, La Petite Ceinture is also a playground for graffiti artists and any flat surface is completely covered with colorful paintings. Finally, some information panels located here and there, help us to appreciate the existent flora better: grassland, coppice, wastelands and afforestation.
If you can only do one part of La Petite Ceinture, we suggest you to choose PC 15.
LA PETITE CEINTURE DE PARIS 16 (PC 16)
Official entry Point: 36 boulevard de Beauséjour, 75016 Paris; M. Ranelagh, L9 ; Vélib post #16.021
This 1,2 km section links Porte d’Auteuil to La Muette. Deferred in 1993 and completely abandoned, it was quickly colonized by a wild nature which makes a formidable “ecological corridor” for plants and animals.
This walk is especially pleasant in summer time and probably the most interesting one for nature lovers. In addition, some information panels guide the visitor through the incredible diversity of this ecosystem : grassland, wetland, limestone slopes, afforestation.
While this is a beautiful section to see, I never had the feeling of exploring La Petite Ceinture when walking through this section because there are no rails or original installations left. It just looked like a small beautiful forest to me.
LA PETITE CEINTURE PARIS 16 TO PARIS 18
Back to our bicycles we leave Paris 16 direction to Paris 18. On the way, we can see another section of La Petite Ceinture, along rue Navier (Paris 17). On this street there is an abandoned train station but also in-ground platforms bounded by solid poles and a couple of tunnels. Here everything is covered by obscure graffiti. The ensemble is phantasmagorical and a little bit disturbing. We did not find an entry point to go down to the rails but I am not sure I would like to explore this part closer!
LA PETITE CEINTURE PARIS 18: LUNCH TIME AT LA RECYCLERIE
We reach Porte de Clignancourt (Paris 18) at lunch time. Here we find the old train Station of Ornano which after years of abandon was converted into a very cool community space but without loosing the “old train station” feeling. La REcyclerie (83 boulevard Ornano, 75018 Paris) is a kind of canteen /restaurant but it is also a urban farm, a cultural space and a “do it yourself” reparation workshop. For the moment, we are only interested in their food and we order their generous brunch (there is also a vegetarian option).
One of the station’s old platforms belongs to la REcyclerie and this is where we can find the urban farm, a small garden and a terrace. On the opposite platform there is a shared garden managed by a local association. Unfortunately the access to the rail tracks in this section is opened only in few occasions, usually related to Nature festivals or events.
LA PETITE CEINTURE PARIS 18 TO PARIS 19
Access: the fence along rue André Danjon, 75019 Paris can be opened or climbed on some points; M. Ourcq, L5 ; Vélib post #19.016
This is not an official section and we are not supposed to be here. But this part is super cool! Furthermore in this section we are truly exploring Paris’ backyards, walking on the rails and enjoying some street art and a little bit of nature. We can even walk above the Canal de la Villette and enjoy this area from another point of view.
LA PETITE CEINTURE PARIS 19 TO PARIS 12
Access: inside Parc Buttes Chaumont. Right after the bridge which crosses the rails, on the left side, there is a little path going downhill. You can reach the rails through a hole on the fence which follows this path; M. Botzaris, L7 bis; Vélib post #19.025
This is the most adventurous section. Same, this is not a public section but the rails that we can see from the park are so tempting! Along this section there are three long tunnels to cross so take a pair of good shoes and a torch.
The first metres of this section are very cool. After some hesitation, we decide to walk into the tunnel. The air is strange inside so if you have breathing problems avoid going further. We don’t suggest going alone either.
When we exit the first tunnel (1.2 km) we are in Paris 20. There is a cool area with some urban furniture and street art. I am happy that a group of teenagers are walking not far from us because the tunnel was scary. Some metres further we enter the second tunnel (1.3 km) which goes below Père Lachaise Cemetery!
After the second tunnel there is another old train station, above on the street level. Today La Gare de Charonne (1867-1934) is a modern concert hall called La Flèche d’Or (102 bis rue de Bagnolet). You can see how it looks from the rails on the slideshow below.
The railway line crosses all Paris 20. The last train station in this district has some cool graffiti around. As you can see on the pictures we are not alone: some locals, street artists and vagabonds are frequent in this area.
Finally we are back to Paris 12, where we started. We exit la Petite Ceinture at Villa du Bel Air, happy to have completed the tour.
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