As much as I am in love with this city, every now and again I start to crave some fresh air and a break from the stress that is city life. Visitors may also want to get away from time to time, perhaps for a taste of French country living, or perhaps to explore a bit of history beyond the city. When this happens, I strongly recommend Annabel Simms’s An Hour From Paris, a guidebook featuring a dozen incredibly easy, unfailingly delightful sojourns just an hour away by public transportation.
The visits include the picture-perfect medieval town of Provins, the château where Dumas brought to life The Count of Monte Cristo and the views favored by the Impressionists on their summer escapes along the Seine.
Last Friday I took advantage of some serious downtime and followed Annabel’s guide to the town of Conflans Ste. Honorine, for a 15-kilometer stroll along the banks of the Seine. Getting there was easy. I purchased my ticket at the metro station and headed to Charles de Gaulle Étoile, where I changed to the RER A. Twenty-three minutes later I was in the countryside, walking along the Seine as industrial barges, cruise barges and pleasure craft meandered by. There was even a barge church where one could attend mass.
There were wild swans, ducks and herons to entertain me as I made my way into Conflans, with its riverside cafés, barge museum and ancient fortified wall. There was a barge cruise boat in town, with several groups of visitors exploring the steep, narrow streets.
I had just arrived and was itching to get going, so I ignored the restaurant suggestions and did not stop for coffee before heading—past barge communities, a mushroom farm, a series of lovely homes and some serious quiet—to the next town, with its 12th-century church and stunning views. There were wild blackberries that I could pick along the way, and I ran into a family hunting for mushrooms. But mostly I was alone, and it was so peaceful that I jumped out of my skin when a startled duck made a large splash as it zipped out of my path.
Again, I didn’t follow the guidebook and got lost in the steep, hilly streets of Herblay, looking for caffeine that was never to be found. I could have stopped there and taken the train back to town. But I decided to go the additional two kilometers to Frette in hopes of finding coffee. Instead, I ran across a collection of dance schools and a guinguette, one of the riverside cafés where locals go to eat a bit and dance a lot.
I never did find my coffee, but I ended up having such a refreshingly green day that I no longer required a high-octane dose of caffeine to get me through the afternoon. Annabel did that for me. Thank you, Annabel!
Editor’s note: Booking your trip to Paris? Consult our Travel Club.