My French friend Christine Chapon is one of the best, most consistent female runners I know. Over the decade that I have known and run with her, she has won her age division or placed overall at many trail races and cross-country meets for our local running club. She also volunteers tirelessly for Students Run Oakland and various running events.
A couple of times each year, Christine disappears for weeks at a time to visit her parents in France, where she originally is from. The last time she came back, I asked her to write about her favorite run around Paris. The story and photos below detail the route that takes her past landmarks of her youth, as well as landmarks of the city. It’s not your typical Paris running guide, but it’s authentically Parisian!
Returning home from wherever you live requires switching modes. For me it means being just another French person, trying to leave behind my American way of life, and readjusting to the culture there without criticizing. More than anything, it means readjusting to an intense family life with my mother being extremely ill with Alzheimer’s. Being back home in France does not make me a tourist there, even though I appreciate completely how privileged I am to able to stay in places like Paris or Provence.
If I cannot be a tourist in Paris, I can at least become a tourist if only for one hour a day and take advantage of my runs to savor this beautiful city where I have so many memories and create new ones!
Twenty-five years ago, running in Paris was clearly an anomaly. Parisians would give me strange looks and at best would give me the mocking encouragement “Vas-y Jazy” (the name that crowds used to chant at famous French middle distance runner Michel Jazy in the 1960s). Now I am just one of many runners who from time to time get a nice supportive comment by a passer-by.
Running early in the day in Paris, when traffic is quiet and there are few pedestrians, is to me the best way to savor the city. Depending on my mood when I step out from my parents’ apartment on Avenue Felix Faure, in the 15th (Métro Lourmel), I will either go for a “tourist run” or “memory lane run.” The tourist run goes past many of Paris’s landmarks. What a luxury to see the sunrise on the Eiffel Tower from Place du Trocadéro without the tourists and the zillions of souvenir vendors. It is also really neat to watch the commerçants setting up their food display. Click here for a map of one of my favorite “tourist” loop runs, which is almost 9 miles long.
My “memory lane” run is a celebration for me past the buildings, streets, houses and monuments of significant persons and events associated with times spent in Paris either when I was living there or visiting now. I inevitably run into at least one great thing to admire, whether it is a façade adorned with sculptures in a rococo, baroque or neoclassic style, or the entrance of a subway station or the display of a vegetable stand. Click here for a map of this route, which is about 10 miles long.
The route takes me past my former high school, Lycée Camille Sée, across the street from the Square Saint-Lambert, a small city park where I used to play hookie and years later took my son and his cousins to the Guignol, a classic 19th-century French puppet show. Several squares offer Guignol shows, and if you are traveling with young kids it is worth taking them to see it.
Then I run past the Pasteur Institute, Rue du Dr Roux, 15th, where I was a grad student and had the privilege to study biology with the mentoring of wonderful scientists. If ever you are in the neighborhood, check out the Pasteur Museum, quite a monument to le “Savoir” Louis Pasteur with the Neo-Byzantine chapel where he is buried.
The route I used to bicycle from the Pasteur Institute back to my apartment, which I like to run now, goes past the Montparnasse Cemetery (Cimetière du Montparnasse), where many notable French intellectuals are buried. Along Boulevard Pasteur going toward the Gare du Montparnasse, the view of the Eiffel Tower is spectacular. Last winter the guard of the Cimetière du Montparnasse solemnly forbade me to enter, saying, “This is a cemetery, madame; you don’t run here, it is not respectful.” I could not convince him that I would take a respectful walk and thus sadly had to turn away and could not pay a visit to Gainsbourg, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras and so many more who are buried there.
Place Denfert Rochereau is a large square at the end of Rue de Froidevaux. Its impressive lion statue is a replica of the Lion of Belfort sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, well known for the Statue of Liberty and whose studio was located here in the 14th arrondissement. Across the street is the entrance of the Catacombs, 19 meters deep of caverns and halls filled with thousands and thousands of bones. I could not believe my eyes when I entered the caverns and felt a bit queasy at the sight of the pile of bones, artistically organized.
From Place Denfert Rochereau, I run down Boulevard Blanqui where my brother and I shared an apartment in the 13th. Nearby is the old neighborhood of La Butte aux Caille (5 Place Paul Verlaine, 13th), with its wonderful Art Nouveau swimming pool from 1922. It was the first building that had different pools for swimming and bathing, and the water is pumped from a natural spring. It’s one of the few pools in Paris where you can swim outdoors during the summer.
Nearby, Rue Broca, located between Boulevard Arago and Bd. du Port Royal, is an area worth running because of its old houses, Haussmannian buildings, the hospitals Port-Royal and Broca, and the Manufacture des Gobelins museum that supplied Louis XIV and other kings with tapestries. Just a few minutes away is Place Mouffetard, with tons of touristy restaurants and the beginning of the Latin Quarter. Rue Broca is a street I associate with wonderful memories of my dear friend La Petite Catherine, who left this world two summers ago and whom I miss very much. Her apartment on Rue Broca was like her, small but elegant, situated in one of the typical moldy small Parisian buildings with crooked staircases and tiny courtyards.
When I have completed one of my “memory lane” runs, I return home filled with souvenirs and then am ready to tend to my family! My sincere thanks go to my husband, Alan, for being supportive of my running and all my trips to France over these many years.
Thank you, Christine, for sharing your Paris memories and recommendations! For more information on routes around Paris, download Blaze Travel Guide’s Paris running guide, or read this post on the BootsNAll blog.
One of my favorite sites, RunAbroad.com, profiles races in Paris and other parts of France, but Christine cautions that to compete in a race in France, you must submit a medical certificate that certifies you’re healthy to run, so be sure to check the documentation requirements before you register.