Who says Paris says incessant traffic, hordes of tourists, constant noise. This frenetic atmosphere appeals to diehard city dwellers, who see in this city an extraordinary concentration of professional, artistic and cultural opportunities. But when it comes time to get some fresh air, to reconnect with a more natural environment, it is rather difficult to find the ideal place. Paul is in charge of recruitment for a cosmetics company based in the center of Paris. He lives close to his work and several weekends a month, he does not hesitate to take his bike to go in search of the most beautiful natural spots around the capital. He presents to us, in this article, the 5 most beautiful places for an exotic nature weekend about 1 hour by bike from Paris. Let him speak.
1. The National Domain of Saint-Cloud
One of the natural corners that struck me the most around Paris is undoubtedly the Domaine National de Saint-Cloud. You get there in about fifty minutes by bike from Paris (of course, it depends on where you are in the capital). Once immersed in the 460 hectares of the natural domain, you quickly forget the traffic jams and other human masses. It takes a good day, or even two, if you want to fully enjoy the many gardens and forests. These gardens were created in 1577 but it was only around 1660, and thanks to the know-how of André Le Nôtre, that they grew in size and were transformed into real masterpieces.
Strolling through the gardens, you can admire the evolution of the art of gardening over the centuries, passing from perfectly pruned French gardens to more wild and bucolic English versions (Jardin du Trocadéro). I really like to sit near the Trocadero pond, in sunny weather if possible, and enjoy the pleasant sound of the wind in the trees. There are a multitude of paths, more or less winding, which cross and uncross. We are constantly surrounded by extraordinary flower beds, century-old trees and small ponds and fountains that bring a little freshness and serenity.
The gardens of the Estate are classified as historical monuments and obtained the "Remarkable Gardens" label in 2005. Enough to guarantee a breath of oxygen that is certainly invigorating.
For the night, accommodation is not lacking in Saint-Cloud, but special mention to Villa Ananda Huo for the beauty of the rooms and its garden. The welcome is incomparable and the owners have a special place for your bike, which will also spend a night well sheltered.
The next day, why not take part in one of the workshops offered by the Estate, or visit the educational farm for a dive into the world of agriculture?
A little extra: from the city center, by going to Saint-Cloud by Porte Maillot, you are sure to ride most of the time on cycle paths.
2. Saint-Germain-en-Laye and its national forest
I admit that for Saint-Germain-en-Laye, we are a little over an hour from Paris by bike, but there too, I had a real crush on this forest. At first glance, it may be a normal forest. But by exploring it more in depth and by looking at the history of the place, we realize that it is a real journey to the heart of a rich nature and a prestigious past.
The journey from Paris is rather linear and we alternate between cycle lanes and road crossings. So watch out for traffic, especially towards Chatou and Le Vésinet.
Once there, it is not difficult to park your bike. You can either take advantage of the many places reserved for bicycles present everywhere in the city, or leave it where you plan to sleep.
The royal forest of Saint-Germain-en-Laye extends to the north of the city and takes us directly to the plant world, far from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was a place of hunting very popular with kings, and in particular Louis XIV. Today, you will certainly no longer come across hunters on horseback (the forest is still very frequented by horsemen!), but the atmosphere remains quite solemn. There are two entrances, but I strongly recommend the one through the Domaine national de Saint-Germain for its magnificent view of the gardens of the Château de Saint-Germain.
Once in the forest, you find yourself facing a multitude of trails that will offer more or less long hikes. I chose the 18-kilometre path of oratories which passes through remarkable places such as the Maison d’Education de la Légion d’Honneur. Biodiversity is very rich, both in terms of flora and fauna. We come across many beeches, ashes, chestnuts and even oaks. A short break at the Etang du Corra allows you to observe many birds and insects.
Just like in Saint-Cloud, accommodation is plentiful in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. For a natural and luxurious night, you will find some Relais et Châteaux with magnificent gardens and a definitely relaxing atmosphere.
3. Rediscover the Bois de Vincennes
The name is so famous and so familiar that one would almost forget to consider it an interesting idea for a stay. And yet! The Bois de Vincennes is clearly one of my unmissable natural spots to go to by bike when I feel the desire for greenery.
Located barely about forty minutes from downtown Paris, the Bois de Vincennes is very easily connected to the capital by the many cycle paths that line the route. And it should get even better, with the government planning to invest billions of euros in cycle paths in France.
The Bois de Vincennes and its 995 hectares offer enough space and activities to occupy an entire weekend. It may also be an opportunity to explore in detail this place that we only sometimes fly over.
The Floral Park is certainly worth a visit, but it is best to go there in spring or summer to fully enjoy the blooms of hundreds of species of flowers and shrubs. One has the impression of finding oneself in the middle of a palette of a thousand colors that even the greatest painters would envy. The paths are large and well maintained, allowing you to stroll and daydream in broad daylight.
Then, there is no shortage of activities: boat trip on Lac Daumesnil, visit to the zoological park, trip to the Jardin d'Agronomie Tropicale for a trip around the world, or even discovery of the very beautiful gardens of the Ecole du Breuil.
On the many paths of the Park, you come across monuments dating from different periods: the Sculpture of Perseus and Andromeda or the Monument to Beethoven.
And who says Vincennes says horse racing. Why not spend a morning or an afternoon meeting the best racehorses in France? I didn't because I preferred to focus on the Park itself, but for horse lovers, the Hippodrome de Vincennes is certainly worth a visit.
4. The Forest of False Reposes
To the south of Marne-la-Coquette, just over an hour's bike ride from Paris city center, the Forêt de Fausses-Reposes is slightly less well known than those of Saint-Cloud and Vincennes, but it is ideal for a nature weekend close to the capital.
I like to come there because it is perhaps the least frequented and the one that best meets my need for nature alone. We are obviously never alone, but the many paths in this forest make it possible to quickly lose the few people who precede and follow us!
The Forest of Fausses-Reposes is also a former hunting reserve adored by kings. It concealed stags, wild boars and hares a few centuries ago. Today, there are very few left, but the many hundred-year-old trees have been preserved, to the delight of walkers. This very dense and bushy vegetation protects the paths from the sun, and offers an ideal escape in the event of extreme heat or heat waves. Chestnuts and oaks represent the major part of the trees but there are also other more discreet species.
The royal heritage of this forest is very present: there are a large number of star-shaped crossroads (used mainly in hunting with hounds) as well as several hunting lodges. Some are also under protection to counter degradation linked to time and people.
The Forest of Fausses-Reposes is known for its magnificent viewpoints, facilitated by the rather hilly relief of the place.
On the edge of the forest and the Etang Neuf, the Hotel le Corot allows you to spend a poetic and restful night, in a dream setting. The whirlpool baths facing the lake and the forest will certainly relax the calves that will have worked well during the day. This hotel is a true haven of peace for a successful nature getaway.
5. Versailles State Forest
Versailles and its castle are certainly places that need no introduction as they radiate throughout the world. However, I will not focus on the castle and the nearby gardens, but rather on the state forest of Versailles, a little further south. This forest is a far cry from the manicured gardens of the chateau. It has a natural, wild side, which certainly contrasts with the frenzy of Paris and the masses of tourists storming the castle.
The Versailles forest is just over an hour by bike from Paris, and half of the route is on cycle paths. On the way, we cross the forest of Meudon which can be an interesting stopover for a few hours before reaching Versailles.
The forest of Versailles has many hiking trails through wooded, rural and sometimes hilly landscapes. Many ponds and rivers border these trails, such as the Etang de la Minière, and you will appreciate plunging your feet there to cool off after several hours of walking. This rather humid environment serves as a breeding ground for many species: birds, frogs, insects. I always think of taking my binoculars to observe all this little world.
With the hiking trails alone, there is enough to do for a weekend. But it is quite possible for you to explore the national forest one day and devote the other to visiting the Gardens of Versailles, or to take a tour of the Grand Canal, which is also conducive to immersion in the heart of nature.
Close to the national forest of Versailles, Huttopia's pretty Versailles campsite can serve as the perfect base. You can come there with your tent or rent nature accommodation (chalet, hut, Canadian tent) to extend the "nature" experience to the end.
From experience and after years of exploring the surroundings of Paris by bike, I can say that there are many exceptional natural spots in which to spend relaxing and exotic weekends. Those that I have just suggested to you are about 1 hour by bike from downtown Paris, which allows you to go on an adventure almost leaving your home! In the future, facilities for cyclists will be more and more developed, which will allow everyone to cycle in complete safety. Many of these places are already known to Parisians, but in the end (and I was one of them!), few really took the time to discover them over an entire weekend. That's exactly what I encourage you to do: forget what you think you know and soak up the unique atmosphere of each of these places.