Saturday 19 September 2015

Paris La Défense/Nanterre Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 6.4 km (4 miles), terrain: one small hill at beginning, gain 50 meters

Paris Running Routes:
Best Paris Running Routes: Overview
Seine island of St. Louis, St. Paul, botanical garden  
Left bank and Luxembourg Gardens 
Paris' green heart: Bois de Boulogne   

Canal St. Martin  
Rock formations of Parc Chaumont  
Seine loop with Champs Elysees and Eiffel Tower  

Seine riverside run 
Bois de Vincennes 
Versailles Palace Gardens 
La Défense/Nanterre 
Saint Germain 
For more running routes, see Route List

This run through modern La Défense and Nanterre shows you a very different side of Paris and the French soul. You wouldn't know it from most of Paris, but the French have a love of things futuristic, and of modernistic architecture: just land at Charles de Gaulle Airport and wander through the terminals. The old Terminal 1 is a vision of the future as imagined in the 1960s: shaped like a circular space station, with passengers transported through tilting glass tubes through the central hole. Or take a look at Centre Pompidou, with its revolutionary exposed pipes and conduits.
La Défense is full of architectural surprises
La Défense and Nanterre fit the mold, with flamboyance in abundance, embodying the current French vision of the Brave New World. Glass towers of every shape jostle for position to capture visitors' imagination.

La Défense is Europe's largest purpose-built business district. It began in the 70s but most was built in the 80s and later, and it's still growing. It's based on a very good idea: a modern city needs modern office buildings, but we want to protect our heritage, so move the skyscrapers to the edge of town. So a whole new business area was erected west of the city, continuing the axis of the Champs Elysees westwards.

A wide pedestrian open space, full of trees, fountains, benches and bistros forms the central axis of La Défense. Dominating the axis, the Grande Arche provides a gargantuan, modern interpretation of the Arc de Triomphe, visible on the eastern horizon. Grande Arche is itself an office building.
In La Défense
And Nanterre, just west of La Défense, continues the axis and includes lots of extravagant modern architecture, too. A lot of it is apartments, rather than offices. The most striking project in Nanterre is the collection of social-housing towers known as the "Cloud Towers". Each tower is a bundled collection of cylinders of varying colors, giving them a cloud-shaped footprint. With their muted-color tile facades, they look like they have been blasted in a nuclear war, which just might be an improvement. They would be the perfect backdrop for the next Mad Max movie.

And -- perfect for us runners -- Nanterre is centered around a nice park, Parc André Malraux, a lunch-hour favorite running route for workers from the nearby office buildings. So, if you put all that together, you've got the basis of a very interesting run! I was lucky enough to be back working in the area this past week, and got to try out this great route.

The Route
So lets head to the east end of La Défense, at the Esplanade de La Défense metro station. The station steps come up just west of a square pond full of artsy poles. You're in the pedestrian area that stretches westwards towards the lurking silhouette of the Grande Arche
Start of the run at the Esplanade
The way there goes gradually uphill. You can take the sidewalks to the left, right or center. The map here traces the northern walkway on the right.
Along the pedestrian area
Just enjoy the sights, watch out for the many pedestrians if you're here during the rush hour or at lunchtime. 
Lunchtime Boules players at La Défense: hey this is really Paris!
When you come to the Grande Arche and the 1-kilometer mark, cross to the left and continue running westwards along the arch's southern side.
At Grande Arche: continue along the left side of the arch!
NOTE: Or head up the steps to get a view from under the arch: it's worth it!

Now turn left when you get past the Arche, heading into the group of modern glass office towers around the Cours Valmy. The tall Société Générale building is right in front of you.
At the Société Générale building: keep right!
Circle the building around the right side, heading down the ramp to street level below. You now turn right and follow this circular street, Boulevard Aimé Césaire, into Navarre. You are rounding a cemetery. Unfortunately two cemeteries and some unbuilt wasteland separate the Grande Arche area from Nanterre, but the last bit of wasteland is now finally being developed, so soon you might be able to run directly past the arch into Nanterre to the west, without running next to the traffic on Aimé Césaire.
View back towards Grande Arche from Nanterre
When you come to the park-like pedestrian area in Nanterre at the 2-km mark, turn left and continue running west past offices and apartments until you come to the main exit of the RER train station.

At the station, turn left and run through the opening in the buildings to the south and through a little market square, towards the entrance to Parc André Malraux
Park entrance
The entrance is marked by a line of green/white columns. Just past the gate, turn right and follow the path along the park perimeter. At the 3-km mark, you'll go by two little hills that they piled up here with dirt from the artificial lake, so you can do some hill-work by taking the trails upwards, if you prefer.
The biggest hill in the park: used for hill-work
After circling the second hill, head to the south edge of the park and head eastwards, following the south shore of the little lake.
Parc André Malraux
Keep running past the playground to the eastern end of the park, towards the Cloud Towers straight ahead. You can't miss them.

At the towers, the path circles northwards again (to the left), going by another little hill. But now take the eastern exit of the park and run along Allée de l'Arlequin past the northern row of towers.

NOTE: For some added distance, you could just loop the park again at this point. That's what all the local runners do. At lunchtime, the park is totally full of runners, when the weather is good.
The Cloud Towers after a shower
Just before the last Cloud Tower, take the Chemin Vert pedestrian trail, continuing eastwards. It will go under Avenue Pablo Picasso and then head past more conventional-looking apartments on Rue Hoche. You are just a block south of the Société Générale building again.
Cloud Tower entrance
At the 5-km mark, a raised pedestrian bridge will take you over a freeway, the Boulevard Circulaire and back into La Défense.

Turn left to head past a mall, Les Quatre Temps, and the round UGC cinema into the main square in front of Grande Arche, where you run down the steps and turn right and head back downhill to the start.

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