La Défense

DSCF1398I’m guessing that the majority of tourists who visit Paris never venture out to the business district called La Défense located on the city’s west side.  If you do happen to go there (I recommend it), you’ll find yourself in a large, modernistic, automobile-free, open space amidst a forest of high-rise towers interspersed with low-rise apartment buildings.  At the very end of the long Esplanade are two shopping centers – the CNIT and Les Quatre Temps – containing a myriad of stores, restaurants, a massive supermarket called Auchan and a multiplex cinema.

La Défense is my backyard.  I live on the other side of the river and often walk to Auchan on Saturdays to do my grocery shopping.  I then walk back home with a very full knapsack on my back.  It’s a pleasant walk.  Walking is part of my exercise regime.  I don’t own a car.DSCF1399DSCF1400DSCF1405Now I know many people who say they loathe La Défense because of its concrete slabs and dehumanizing uniformity.  They say the place is devoid of charm or soul.  I happen to disagree.  I find a poetic expression in the design of the urban space here.  I think the planners have done an excellent job in humanizing the concrete landscape with the presence of outdoor art installations, grassy squares and benches, fountains (one which vigorously splashes up and down in tune with classical music played loudly on speakers), whimsical sculptures, seasonal markets, a summer jazz festival, etc.  A few years ago the Christmas decorations were sensational, but I’ve noticed in the last few years (since France has entered into recession) the municipality has cut back on such extravagances.DSCF1417The best part is the absence of cars and lack of crowds; the entire space is dedicated to pedestrians.  I suggest that you get on the metro (the number one central line) and get off at metro stop Esplanade de la Défense, which is only 5 stops from Charles de Gaulle-Etoile station on the Champs-Elysées.  Then stroll the entire length of the Esplanade. You’ll be rewarded with a stunning symmetrical view of Paris behind you and the vista of La Défense with its cube-shaped, Danish-designed La Grande Arche in front of you (below.)  You can take an outdoor elevator up to the roof for a fantastic view.  If you walk around to the back of the Grande Arche, you’ll find an unexpected long, narrow, wooden footpath, similar to a jetty, that juts over a graveyard and the suburb of Courbevoie.DSCF1424Here below is the CNIT building full of shops (Habitat, Decathlon, FNAC, a very good organic food and cosmetic shop on the lower level, Monoprix, etc.)  The CNIT is also a conference center.DSCF1421DSCF1411DSCF1414DSCF1412DSCF1408USEFUL INFORMATION – there are several hotels on the Esplanade: the IBIS, NOVOTEL, SOFITEL, HILTON and FRASER SUITES HARMONIE that sometimes offer special rates (depending on the season) lower than central Paris rates.  From La Défense, it takes 10 minutes to reach the Champs-Elysées on the metro.

FINAL WORD – I would advise against walking around this area at night.

8 thoughts on “La Défense

  1. Hi Juliette,
    I hope this note finds you well and happy. I am really enjoying your blogs. I find this one especially interesting, such a marked difference from the Paris we saw. You have a good eye with your camera and I look forward to seeing a new blog arrive in my inbox.
    Keep well.
    Love Lisa

  2. What a bizarre blog post! La Defense is one of the ugliest and least successful bits of contemporary planning in Paris, and I just can’t imagine anyone recommending that tourists visit this lifeless, sad, wind-swept mess of any area that most Parisians deeply displike.

    • Well, as I said in my post, I know many people who loathe La Défense…you’ve just confirmed that you’re one of them. I, on the other hand, happen to like it. I don’t think that the photos I posted portray a sad mess of a place. In fact, I was just going to add another sentence mentioning that cars and a 4-lane highway run underneath the Esplanade which allows for the pedestrian space above to be utilized. I think that’s intelligent urban planning, no? As for the large towers, where else in Paris could they have been erected?

  3. The only place in Paris that is uglier than La Défense is Beaugrenelle, which was built around the same period. I work at La Défense and would never recommend it to tourists. There are so many other car-free areas to stroll in.

    By the way, that sculpture is a Miró. Also, the CNIT is a convention center than also happens to be a shopping mall, not the opposite. It was one of the first buildings built in La Défense.

    • Geez, am I the only person who doesn’t find La Défense ugly? I did not know that that colourful sculpture was a Miro; thanks for the info. Where are there other car-free areas in Paris to stroll in? Les Invalides? Les quais? La Villette? the parks?

  4. aha, wow what an attack at La Defense! I’m with you Juliet, I think La Defense is a gem and I am happy not many people like it because it gives us who enjoy it more freedom to do so.
    Like you said, no crowds, slower tempo suprisingly, real no car pedestrain zone and not a single closed, car free street. Finally it is so so much cleaner than Central Paris, the centre
    is so often, so filthy, smells of urine, full of homeless people, rubbish on the pavements and streets. I guess a lot of people like that.

    I wish more people would hate driving a car in Paris as much as they hate La Defense,
    so the ones who like to use a convertible once in a while would enjoy emptier streets.

    Mmmm that would be nice.

    I also love how Canary Wharf in London struggles with the same dogmas.
    Making it another tourist free, grand place to work, live and enjoy.

    Great blog Juliet!

    Jakub

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