This year, the Parisian summer has been glorious.
This is not true. This is an abject lie.
This year, summer has not arrived in Paris. Back in April, it was unseasonably warm. We hit 35°C, dizzyingly, which lasted for a couple of days before exploding into black thunderstorms, and ever since then the weather has struggled to get itself out of second gear, delivering us a drizzly, grey season with temperatures barely hitting 20°C. The post-Covid freedom gave the atmosphere a hint of hysteria – terrasses were full, despite the weather, because nobody really knew when we’d get to go out again. The Covid Vaccination Pass came into play, along with the inevitable Covid Vaccination Pass Mass Protests. I snuck down to the south for a weekend, for the first time since I moved, just to get a hit of that precious, precious sunshine. This week, I had a week off work, and miraculously, the sun broke through the clouds and the temperature hit 23°C (hey, don’t knock it), allowing me to get some Vitamin D and exercise.
And it was worth it. Let me backtrack a little – I recently started a new job, about which I am excessively excited. It’s a project that is under renovation, and… the renovations are taking a little longer than expected. So last week, we were all given a week off. Having being working pretty much solidly since I moved back up to Paris (sometimes in two jobs simultaneously; frequently in combination with studying), this felt almost miraculous. Until now, the general rush and hurry of it all combined with the grey and drizzle of the typical Parisian weather has meant that I haven’t really had a chance to go and explore the surroundings.
But this week I could! After spending Monday mostly dealing with things I hadn’t had time to deal with yet (why are post offices only ever open while I’m working?), I drove up to Etretat on Tuesday and visited the famous cliffs and the Bénédictine Palace (combining my two favourite things: ostentatious architecture, and liquor), then spent the Wednesday doing this hike.
La Roche-Guyon is a little village clustered around a central castle, located in the Val d’Oise about half an hour’s drive from Paris. It’s right inside the edge of the Vexin natural park, and despite its proximity to Paris, it feels exceedingly countrysideish. The village of la Roche-Guyon is quaint and adorable, with limestone cliffs and a majestic castle with the ruins of another, cancelled castle sitting above it on the hill like the fanciest of top hats.
In these little villages, all sunny August days feel like Sundays. There’s nothing pressing to do; people are there to visit the castle or play pétanque or (if they are me) hike 15km while complaining about it, and the slow speed of life is a far remove from the bustle and beep of Paris.
The impressionists came here, too. Renoir, Cézanne, Monet all painted various aspects of la Roche-Guyon (Monet’s home in Giverny is just around the corner); it’s a fairly picturesque spot. Weirdly, and possibly sacrilegiously, there was something about the glow and swell of the fields that reminded me of England. The Yorkshire dales, to be precise. Just something about the quality of the light, for just a second. But the village itself is resolutely typically-French, and anyway I was too busy actually doing the damn hike to really think about that for more than a few minutes.
The hike was beautiful – sparkling with sunshine through the dappled forests, then through open fields filled with cows who looked at me in bewilderment, then more woods with an arboretum and a hilarious woodpecker, then more fields and haystacks, then up to a view over the gleaming blue Seine and the surrounding golden-green countryside, then the adorable village of La Roche-Guyon, then a tiny meandering trail through forests back to panoramic river views back through the woods, up and down and up and down, then finally back through the main forest and back to the car. By the end of it, my legs were fairly pissed at me – 15km is quite a lot for a lazy person, and the ups and downs at the end hadn’t helped – and actually ever since I did this hike my calves feel like they’re going to burst. I really need to get more exercise.
But you should do this hike! If I can do it, anyone can – this is basically the theme of my blog; I am lazy and indolent and have bad knees, I am not one of those hikers who happily straps on a backpack and sets off for five days through the Alps, I enjoy sitting down and drinking cocktails and wearing very high heels and blaming the cat for the fact that I refuse to get up – so this can be a green light. Seeing the freshness and beauty of the Seine is interesting too; I am so used to the Seine being a few kilometres of grimy, brown water full of chugging boats and poisoned fish and probably corpses and discarded murder weapons, I don’t know, that it’s unusual to see it as a real, living river. One day maybe I will go to a place before it hits Paris and swim in it.
I mean technically I once already swam in the Seine. When I was nineteen or so someone dared me to get in, and I went down the steps in my dress and dipped all the way into the river and came up the steps again, and it was 3am, and it was ridiculous and my dress never got rid of the smell so I ended up throwing it away.
But this is not what I am talking about, I am talking about one of those hot days where all you want to do is strip off and jump into the water; not that we have really had any of those hot days here this year, but again, irrelevant, and I am losing my train of thought. The moral of the story is that the impressionists were absolutely correct to paint this region, and you should visit.