Bois de Vincennes, Paris

A trail through the park

Bois de Vincennes is one of the two enormous parks that bookend central Paris. I had never given much thought to them since the city center is so engaging, but they recently appeared on my radar because the Paris Marathon, which I’m running in April, winds thoroughly through both. The course actually looks like an abstract barbell, with the long, straight section running along the scenic Right Bank and the two bulky ends circling said parks. Although the route through the city center is familiar enough, I knew I’ll be logging significant time in this unknown-to-me Paris, so I set off toward the eastern park, Bois de Vincennes.

Bois de Vincennes is so far to the east it’s at the end of a metro line. It’s a vast patch of woods designed in the English landscape style and full of trees, trails and fit cyclists. At 2,458 acres, it’s three times bigger than Central Park and four times bigger than Hyde Park. Yikes. In past lives, it served as hunting preserves for kings and a military exercise area.

Sprawling woodlands that surely look even better in summer

The park was so big that my husband and I didn’t bother staying true to the generous 10-kilometer loop in the marathon route. As a matter of fact, the walk was getting to be so long that we hopped on bicycles. We did not want to end up spending the night in the woods, though there was evidence that plenty of people do.

In addition to 17.5 km of bike paths, 19 km of horse trails and 32 km of car-free roads, the park has four lakes, a velodrome, a hippodrome, a zoo (closed until 2014), a botanical garden and a Buddhist temple.

The unexpected, huge monolith

The most unexpected sight was the zoo’s 65-meter tall monolith, home to a herd of mouflons (goat-like animals).

Château de Vincennes

We didn’t have time to go inside the Château de Vincennes, but it looked very grand. The chateau used to be the second home of 14th-century kings.

I’ll have to wait until my next visit to check out the easternmost park, Bois de Boulogne, where the marathon ends.

To get there, take the metro to Château de Vincennes, or just walk or bike.

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