The streets on the northwest side of Gare de Lyon tend to be pretty busy. The cars are noisy, and every other pedestrian wears an anxious, late-for-a-train expression and drags a suitcase on wheels behind them, like a recalcitrant child. How great it would be to be able to rise above the city streets, and extricate oneself from the overheated hub of petrol fumes and travelling busyness. Unexpectedly, the Coulée verte René-Dumont allows you to do just that.
It used to be known as the Promenade plantée, and it is an elevated walkway, which runs for almost 3 miles from close to Bastille almost as far as the Bois de Vincennes. The route follows the old Vincennes railway line and, for the western section, closest to Gare de Lyon, the path runs across the Viaduc des Arts, which towers 10 metres above the surrounding streets.
It is with some sense of slight trepidation that I follow a group of chatting Parisians up an unassuming flight of concrete steps beside the tall viaduct. Above there is no indication of what to expect––the stairs look like ones, which could just as easily lead to a mugger’s alley as a tourist pathway.
Happily, at the summit of the steps, everything becomes clear. A long, leafy avenue stretches ahead. Far from being threatening, there are women and prams; young couples holding hands; older people sat on benches. It is hard to believe that you are standing directly above the same congested streets from a few seconds before. You could have left Paris altogether and be walking along a rural footpath.
The Promenade is planted with a wide variety of flowers, trees and shrubs––don’t ask me to name them; although I am pretty certain I spotted a small grove of bamboo at one point. Some sections of the walk pass through modern developments, where the path twists beneath luxury flats; in other stretches, long vistas open up, revealing the wide, traditional Parisian boulevards below.
Although you are unlikely to find the Promenade exclusively to yourself––indeed, on my visit, it was just as busy as the streets below––it is an unexpected delight within a busy metropolis.
It offers the combination of thoroughfare and green space, which was the original dream of London’s Garden Bridge Project––a project, which seems destined never to be realised.
© E. C. Glendenny
Travel writer, E. C. “Easy” Glendenny, always enjoys stretching her legs.