La Defense, the last stop in the Western direction on Metro line 1, was planned as a business park in 1989. With its iconic Grande Arche, it has become a tourist attraction in its own right.
The area also boasts “Europe’s largest shopping centre,” on 11 hectares of parks and gardens, with elaborate fountains and 60 modern sculptures, including the works of Calder, Miro and Richard Serra. The arch itself is a giant hollow cube spanning an open space large enough to accommodate Notre Dame Cathedral. Two panoramic lifts make the 110-metre ascent to the “Toit” in 66 seconds. Make the ascent to visit the computer museum, where over 200 pieces are displayed, documenting the computer’s evolution since World War II. Exhibits include an early computer so large you are invited “to come inside”, as well as the first desktop and first laptop. There is also a reconstruction of a teenager’s bedroom of 1980, complete with the equipment that he would have needed to download one song in 24 hours.
The Grande Arche itself is a prolongation of the “historic axis” that starts at the Louvre pyramid, continues through the Carrousel Arch, the Place le la Concorde, and the Arc de Triomphe. From the viewing terrace in front of the arch you can take in a spectacular vista that includes not only the axis, but the Seine valley, too.
Le Toit de la Grande Arche is open seven days a week from 10:00 to 19:00 from October through March and until 20:00 during the rest of the year. There’s a “water ballet” at the AGAM Fountain Monday to Friday from 17:00 to 19:00 and Friday and Saturday at 20:30. Download an audio guide to La Defense to your MP3 player from www.ladefense.fr.
There is something undeniably exotic about emerging from the Metro right at the foot of a castle; you need only cross a drawbridge over a wide stone-lined moat to enter the grounds of the Chateau de Vincennes. Now the last stop at the Eastern end of Metro number 1, this was the residence of French kings until Louis XIV moved the court to Versailles. It is complete with a medieval keep and dungeon and its own Sainte Chapelle built to house a fragment of the crown of thorns now kept in Paris. The Chateau began as a Royal hunting lodge in 1150 and was enlarged and modified over the centuries. The picturesque 50-metre high tower was constructed in 1337, making it the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe. Take a tour of the dungeon, one of whose prisoners was the Marquis de Sade. The Chateau is now the headquarters of the French Historical Service, which maintains a museum in the dungeon.
The Chateau is open every day from 10:00 to 17:00.
For details, visit www.chateaudeincennes.fr. Metro Line 1: La Defense-Chateau de Vincennes