We Went Climbing Mont Valerien
All right, Mont Valerien may not be much of a mountain, but one cannot dispute that, semantically, it belongs to the same family as Mont Blanc (whereas the Butte Montmartre and the Butte de Belleville in Paris are mere “hills”).
And it is, with an altitude of 162 metres the highest elevation in the Ile de France, the region around Paris, whose profile admittedly recalls the flatlands of Holland more than it resembles the Alps.
And when I say “climb”, I have to qualify that too: not only because you can leave your ropes and ice anchors safely at home, you had probably guessed that much already, but also because the direct object behind the word “climb” implies that we reach the very top of the mountain – which, unfortunately, we cannot, not because the access routes were so treacherous but because the summit is surrounded by a fortified wall that keeps you safely on the other side of it.
I was well aware that a fortress named Fort Valerien had been built on top of the eponymous mountain to defend Paris after the French capital had been so easily overrun at the end of the Napoleonic Wars – what I did not know was that it was still in use by the French Armed Forces. So due to their continued presence, all you can do is walk once around the fortress, on a path which is part park trail and part urban promenade.
In truth, this is not the greatest walk that you can do in or around Paris. There are, however, three saving graces that still guarantee you an interesting and richly rewarding afternoon.
First, the views from Mont Valerien’s slopes, specifically of the near-by area of La Defense, Paris’s business district …
… but also of more distant landmarks.
Secondly, there is the Memorial pour la France Combattante, a monument erected in the late 1950 to commemorate the over thousand members of the French Resistance who were imprisoned at Fort Valerien and eventually executed during the German occupation of France (between 1941 and 1944). The monument is the first stage post on your walk around Mont Valerien.
To get there, take a suburban RER train (line U) from La Defense in the direction of La Verrière and leave the train at the station Mont Valerien-Suresnes.
Walk up the hill behind the station, turn right into Rue du Calvaire and continue straight across the intersection into Avenue du Professeur Leon Bernard until you see the monument on your right hand side.
The Memorial, opened by General de Gaulle on 18 June 1960, the 20th anniversary of his radio speech of defiance on the BBC (“the flame of the French resistance will not be extinguished”), has been built on the grandest of scales, featuring 16 sculptures by 16 artists, a huge Croix Lorraine, the Resistance movement’s symbol, and an eternal flame over the aforementioned quote from de Gaulle’s famous speech (“Quoi qu’il arrive, la flamme de la resistance ne s’eteindra pas”).
Enter the walking path on the far side of the monument and continue your walk around Mont Valerien, with some charming views over the suburb of Rueil-Malmaison on your left hand side, making your way to the front walls of Fort Valerien.
Continue on the path underneath the Fort until, leaving the best for last, you arrive at the true highlight of this walk – where you can pause for a reflective and poignant moment.