Close Encounters: Secret Daytrips a Half Hour from Paris

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Close Encounters: Secret Daytrips a Half Hour from Paris
Life in Paris has always offered an abundance of choices—culture, history, gastronomy, art, shopping—explorations of all kinds. Whether you’re a resident or visitor, there is always something to do— with more than 100 museums, 450+ gardens and parks, galleries, myriad cafés and restaurants, theatre, music, cinema, dance, boats, bookstores, monuments, churches, markets, shops, and just the pleasure of being a flâneur. But … let us not forget the hidden treasures within a “stone’s throw” of the city (a half hour stone’s throw, that is). Meet British author and long-time resident of Paris, Annabel Simms, who expands our world (literally and figuratively), as she gives us the gift of 10 secret daytrips within a half hour of Paris. Our choices just got exponentially richer. In Simms’ new book (Half Hour from Paris), she shares off-the-beaten path daytrips that provide a pleasant walk; interesting local and historical information; a touch of nature, including what flora and fauna one might encounter; where to stop for a café/restaurant break (that also has worthy food or unique artifacts); and how to get there and back (without necessarily retracing your steps). She has not only researched the historical and cultural background of her destinations, but she has also traveled every step. She tells you exactly how to find your way; what days of the week or time of year are best for visiting; and the opening hours of the tourist office, cafés, and places of interest. She even includes a French/English glossary of words that will come in handy for daytrip traveling, as well as a chronology of French rulers (which, no matter how long you’ve been in France, can be a useful reference). Her popular previous book (An Hour from Paris) described 20 different destinations in the Ile de France region, all easily accessible by train within an hour from the city. In both the half-hour and the hour books, she promotes the ease of public transportation (not everyone needs, or wants, a car– she notes correctly). She provides detailed maps of trains and RER lines, schedules, journey times, Navigo zone, and ticket prices. The 10 adventures she suggests in the new Half Hour from Paris include medieval walled towns, markets, little-known museums, châteaux, formal and wild parks, riverside pleasures, and picturesque towpaths. Parc de la Poudrerie (remains of a gunpowder factory hidden in a 137-hectare woodland park) Lagny sur Marne (medieval market town with 12th century abbey church) Meaux (medieval town with a gothic cathedral near the peaceful Canal de Chalifert) La Ferté sous Jouarre (once the millstone capital of the world, with early Christian tombs) Neuilly Plaisance (guinguette by the Marne river and walk by the Canal de Chelles) Igny (on the River Bièvre with a house/museum dedicated to Victor Hugo) Chateau de Vincennes (château, Bois de Vincennes, and the Jardin Tropical) Parc de Bagatelle (château, roses, irises, waterfalls and peacocks on the edge of Paris) Malmaison (home to Napoleon and Josephine, near Bougival, a favorite haunt of the Impressionists) Marly le Roi (château, park, and walk in the footsteps of the Impressionists) Not only does Simms do a thorough job of exploring and providing her exploration notes so you can follow a guided path, she is also good at finding the hidden treasures in these obscure spots. Who else would have discovered the remains of a medieval stone-bas relief of the town patron saint in the toilettes of a local café (the Café St Furcy in Lagny sur Marne), or a well-preserved 13th century bas relief hidden behind a small locked door near the tomb of St Agilbert deep in the crypts of La Ferté sous Jouarre? Simms embraces nature wherever she travels, finding wood anemones, mandarin ducks, red squirrels, and a giant sequoia (native to California) in the expansive Parc de la Poudrerie. While the rose garden of the Bagatelle is well known, especially during the June rose competition, Simms notes that the more-than-330 varieties of irises in May are well worth visiting. She also suggests sitting on the grass among the summer spread of wildflowers and watching the strutting peacocks and friendly ducks. She follows the network of rivers surrounding Paris, just as traditional Parisians did years ago, to escape the pressures of the city—from strolling on the towpaths to spending a Sunday afternoon eating, drinking, dancing, and socializing at a riverside guinguette. Most of all, Simms relishes experiencing the “Frenchness of France, where the slower pace of life…

Lead photo credit : Parc de la Poudrerie. © Annabel Simms

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Meredith Mullins is an internationally exhibited fine art photographer and instructor based in Paris. Her work is held in private and museum collections in Europe and the U.S. and can be seen at or in her award-winning book "In A Paris Moment." (If you’re in Paris, a few rare, signed copies are available at Shakespeare and Company and Red Wheelbarrow.) She is a writer for OIC Moments and other travel and education publications.


  • Annabel Simms
    2018-12-18 11:14:51
    Annabel Simms
    Hello Carolyn I was very happy to read your feedback on An Hour From Paris. It was reprinted in 2017 and is available from WH Smith, Shakespeare & Co and the Abbey Bookshop in Paris and Barnes & Noble in the US, as well as from, and Happy continued exploring! Annabel


  • Carolyn Chase
    2018-12-16 16:37:19
    Carolyn Chase
    I LOVE her previous book and have taken many of the trips. I make a point to always bring it with me and take at least one trip using it as a guide to get there and back. I'm looking forward to the new one, but can we get the original reprinted??? Many friends have asked where to get it!