If you’re going to Paris and want to discover fascinating places off the tourist trail, Annabel Simms can help you. The British ex-pat author has published An Hour from Paris.
The book is filled with suggestions for interesting sights and strolls within 60 minutes ride from the French capital’s main railway stations. So how did Annabel pick the places for her guide?
“They won’t see any other tourists I hope! The sites aren’t necessarily remote but they won’t be on the list of tourist destinations that most people in Paris would aim for. There has to be more than one reason to go on the walk. It could be historical interest like a château or an abbey. It has to have a café or restaurant and ideally it’s got to offer a pretty walk, preferably by river.”
You’d think that would be enough but Annabel has additional criteria. “The walk should be in the direction of another train station. So you can leave by walking to a different station from the one you arrived at.”
Annabel says she’s tried to uncover destinations where you won’t hear English spoken. “That makes the destination feel exotic,” she says. “I have had little boys running after me in the street practising their English shouting ‘hello Madame.’ They have been thrilled to hear English being spoken because they don’t usually,” says Annabel. “For every walk that’s featured there are ten walks I’ve undertaken that didn’t make the book. They weren’t good enough,” laughs Annabel.
Annabel has lived in Paris for 20 years and says that she regularly retraces her steps in order to update the guides and ensure that information is accurate. I asked her which of the small towns would most likely give visitors to the Paris region an experience of the real France on a daytrip.
Annabel offered me an instant suggestion. “There’s one little town called Crécy-la-Chapelle. It is surrounded by three moats. It’s got what we might consider little towers today but they were quite big in the 11th century. There were originally thirty of them but today there are just seven remaining. They have been put to the most incongruous uses. When I visited, someone was using the mediaeval shell of one of the towers to shelter washing, she laughed. “What gets me is that this sight is just a few miles from Disneyland. You can’t imagine a bigger contrast. Apart from being picturesque I like it because it is unselfconscious – and it has a market.”
Annabel has another favourite place and a visit involves a 40-minute train ride from central Paris and then an exhilarating speedboat ride to reach the featured restaurant. “You walk ten minutes from the railway station to the River Seine and then it gets interesting,” she says. “You press an electric bell to summon a speedboat which picks you up and whizzes across the river. The boat can only take about six people. You are transported to a 1950s-style restaurant. It’s just charming,” she enthuses. “The food is good and everybody I’ve taken wonders how on earth the business is surviving and making money.”
So if you’re in Paris and you want some peace, quiet and a taste of the France away from the tourist crowds, you’ll find suggestions in Annabel’s book, An Hour from Paris, which is available on Amazon.