Cities > Paris > 7 Things Tourists Don't Do in Paris, but You Should...

5) Admire the Camemberts

The postmodernist Arènes de Picasso in the Noisy-le-Grand suburb of Paris

Arènes de Picasso, Noisy-le-Grand

Although a settlement in the area goes back to the 6th century, Noisy-le-Grand — which might translate as "Great Walnut Grove" from Latin — in its current incarnation essentially traces its origin to 1965 when it was combined with a new town called Marne-la-Vallée as a suburb of Paris.

Marne-la-Vallée is a large area and a portion of it is within the gigantic administrative district of Seine-Saint-Denis. Seine-Saint-Denis is larger than the formal city of Paris altogether, but still within the Paris Metropolitan Area.

Noisy-le-Grand is just one small section within Marne-la-Vallée and this section, in turn, happens to be within Seine-Saint-Denis.

This distinction is important because some areas in Seine-Saint-Denis are genuinely dangerous with crime rates more than twice the Paris average. Likewise, Noisy-le-Grand does pop up in articles about Parisian suburbs where protests and riots occur from time-to-time, so it is important to be aware of the immediate political climate before considering a visit. However, the crime rate and salaries in Noisy-le-Grand, specifically, almost are identical to the Paris average. A decade or so ago it was much more dangerous than it is today.

Nevertheless, now is a good time to remind you that travelgasm.com, and the author thereof, are not legally responsible for you in any way in Noisy-le-Grand or anywhere else — and you always should be vigilant about your safety — but if you visit during the morning, you're statistically about as safe in this area as you are standing in front of the Eiffel Tower or Notre-Dame. Visiting at night would be a bad idea as would visiting during times of political unrest.

Specifically, the portion of Noisy-le-Grand that travelgasm.com suggests is worth the trek is the postmodernist Arènes de Picasso. Designed by Spanish architect Manuel Nunez Yanowsky and inaugurated in 1984, this architectural style is considered reactionary to the bleak simplicity of Corbusian Modernism reflected by earlier developments like Les Olympiades. Arènes de Picasso is a housing project, and it was intended to inspire its occupants with its beauty in the hope of encouraging positive behavior. Results are mixed, but it was a noble idea.

Locals reportedly sometimes refer to the two wheel-shaped buildings in the Arènes de Picasso as the "camemberts" — after the soft cheese — so at least the architecture has inspired some creativity. Personally, we think that because of the illusion of a hole in the middle they look more like Asian coins.

On the world's search engine, Arènes de Picasso actually is noted as a tourist attraction, which is surprising for a housing project, but it only had a handful of reviews at the time we first wrote this piece. Likewise, it was essentially unknown on the big tourist advisory websites.

There is a second unique housing project in Noisy-le-Grand, Les Espaces d'Abraxas, which was very briefly shown in the film Brazil (1985) and more substantially in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (2015). Designed by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill and inaugurated in 1983, it also is interesting, but the walk from the train station is particularly poor with the choice of either going along an unpleasant street and through parking garages or via grimy alleys and what felt like a partially abandoned office park. Les Espaces d'Abraxas has yet to be considered a tourist attraction and had a grand total of zero reviews on the world's search engine when we first posted this article. However, we aren't comfortable enough with the walk to consider it safe to visit.

The local government in Noisy-le-Grand should be praised for their significant efforts to improve this district. Perhaps most notably the 2008 renovation of the Place Allende from a derelict lot for cars into a beautiful wetland park now dubbed the Jardin des Sources courtesy of landscape architect Péna Paysages is a massive improvement. The 2015 renovation of the courtyard in the Arènes de Picasso itself — formally the Place Pablo Picasso — likewise is substantial.

It is hoped that the walk in other directions from the train station will be improved as well, and it later will be pleasant to go to Espaces d'Abraxas just as it is to go to Arènes de Picasso now.

Until that time, we would strongly suggest limiting your exploration to the route on our map below which takes you from the train station, through the connected Les Arcades shopping mall, down the Allée Pablo Neruda, through the Jardin des Sources, and into the Arènes de Picasso.

To eat conveniently in Noisy-le-Grand, there is a variety of global fast food in the Les Arcades shopping mall connected to the train station as well as along the lake front Promenade Jules Vallès. We stuck with the Brasserie Les Fontaines Café on our visits because a brasserie always is the safest choice in Paris. However, if you're feeling more daring, you might consider the nearby O'Tacos franchise. O'Tacos promises to provide the original concept of French-style tacos. Love it or hate it — and online reviews seem highly polarized — it is hard to deny that it is original.

How to Get Here: Take RER Line A to Noisy-le-Grand - Mont d’Est station. Take Exit 1 (Les Arcades) to go directly into the mall. Go upstairs and leave the mall by "Porte 14" for the most pleasant walk to Arènes de Picasso.


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  • Writing & Photos By Brock Kyle. All Rights Reserved. Published 19 June 2017. Feedback.