Warmer days are on their way, making it the perfect time for a trip around the Bois de Vincennes, whether it’s for the first or the hundredth time. Here are some little-known facts which will help you see Paris’ iconic green lung in a new light. Saddle up your trusty mount and prepare for a walk on the wild side!
Starting point: Station n°12032 Porte Dorée
Finishing point: Station n°41301 Bois de Vincennes – Gare
Distance travelled: approx. 8 km
Journey time: approx. 1 hour – fairly level route
By the wood’s edge…
©Parigot on Wikicommons, Porte Dorée
What would you think if you were told that the ‘Porte Dorée’ (translated as either ‘golden gate’ or ‘gate by the wood’s edge’) had nothing to do with the colour of a certain statue but referred to the location of the former Picpus gate? In fact, this gate was indeed sited on the edge of the wood!
Erected in 1931 at the top of the main staircase of the Palais de la Porte Dorée, this statue is reminiscent of Marianne (the national personification of the French Republic) with her liberty cap and scales, symbolizing freedom, justice and equality. However, all is not as it seems! In reality, the statue is an allegory of French colonial power, standing for the might and influence of the French Empire as it then was. Now she stands guard outside the National museum of the history of immigration, not to mention the aquarium, both of which are housed in the Palais de la Porte-Dorée. History certainly features many unexpected twists and turns!
Opposite the main entrance to the Palais de la Porte Dorée, go past Square Van-Vollenhoven along Avenue Laperrine – watch out for pedestrians – continue along Avenue Charles-de-Foucauld until you get as far as Place du Cardinal-Lavigerie, in front of the green gates behind which the Foire du Trône funfair is sometimes held (this year, it will be open from Friday April 1st to Sunday, May 29th).
Go through the green gates and straight down the central avenue until you get to the other side, where there is an opening in the fence onto the Route Domaine Pérignon.
NB: if you can’t get through this way you can follow the fence along the Route de Reuilly (on the right-hand side of the fence) until you reach the cycle lane on Avenue de Gravelle then turn left up Route de la Plaine and left again onto Route Domaine Pérignon (N.B.: all these routes are tarmacked).
Kid’s play: the pelouse de Reuilly
Although this area of open green space is well-known to local residents, having been the venue for the Foire du Trône fairground since 1964, when it moved from its former home on the Place de la Nation, it was already a hotspot for walkers as far back as the 1930s. For the 1931 Colonial Exhibition, a ‘fun fair’ was situated on this location. At the time, although this kind of attraction was principally aimed at adults, children were also keen to get their thrills from the roller coasters.
©Replica of the temple of Angkor Wat for the Colonial Exhibition of 1931, Scan by CPA, Editions Braun, on Wikicommons
This area of lawn also housed a huge replica of the temple of Angkor Wat. The central dome was 55 metres high and the entire building had a surface area of 5,000m² – the size of a football pitch!
Turn left up Route Domaine Pérignon towards the lac Daumesnil lake. Once you reach the lake, go round its eastern side (on your right).
Stepping back in time: the Great Pagoda
©The Great Pagoda, Vincennes_bea75012 on instagram
Take a good look at this iconic building in the bois de Vincennes. Did you know that it was originally built as the ‘Cameroonian Pavilion’ for the Colonial Exhibition of 1931? You’ll notice that the roof is made from 180,000 shingles made from Sweet Chestnut wood and split using an axe. It was designed by architect Louis-Hippolyte Boileau (who also designed the Hôtel Lutetia) and Léon Carrère.
Between 1933 and 1971, the building housed the Museum of wood crafts and industries. In 1977, it was converted into the international Buddhist centre.
What really stands out about it? Well, behind its heavy doors lies the largest statue of Buddha in Europe, nine metres tall, entirely covered in gold leaf. The building also houses relics reputedly belonging to the Buddha.
Take the Route des îles beside the pagoda and follow it in the direction of the lake as far as the île de Reuilly. Then turn right onto Promenade Maurice Boitel and cycle a short distance until the ‘Big Rock’ of Vincennes zoo comes into sight on your left.
In the shelter of the rock: the Vincennes zoo
Enjoy the view from our favourite vantage point facing the temple of love on the Île de Reuilly island. In 1934, the Museum of Natural History built this zoo, which at the time was genuinely pioneering. It drew its inspiration from Hamburg zoo, which was the first zoo to feature ditches instead of fences, giving visitors the impression that the animals inside were able to roam free. The zoo now consists of 5 biozones replicating different ecosystems and containing around 180 species and over 2,000 living creatures.
©The Vincennes zoo’s rock, by Kari Nousiainen, on Flickr
An interesting fact about the 65 metre-high rock which has become a symbol of the park is that it was initially built for aesthetic reasons. It was designed to hide the plant room, which looked rather out of place in a setting which was trying to seem as natural as possible.
Leave the lake behind and go up the small path towards Avenue de Saint-Maurice. Cross over on foot at the traffic lights. Keep the lake on your right for a short distance before turning left along the tarmacked Route des batteries. Continue along Avenue des tribunes. Turn left along Allée des buttes until you reach the large grassy ‘roundabout’ from where you can see the château de Vincennes. Take the third exit onto Route Saint-Hubert and keep straight on. Be very careful as you may come across learner cyclists on the two paths you cross over: when you’re travelling in a group, it’s dangerous to have to make an emergency stop! Continue straight until the Mortemart roundabout. Take the third exit onto Route de Mortemart. Cross Avenue du Tremblay. Keep straight on along the Route du bosquet Mortemart. Cross over the stream and take a right onto Route des merisiers. Then turn left onto Avenue de la belle Gabrielle.
Take a right onto Avenue des châtaigniers (Nogent-sur-Marne), opposite the entrance to the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale (the Garden of Tropical Agronomy), then take the first street on your left, Avenue de la source, as far as Avenue Georges Clémenceau. On your right you’ll find Vélib’ station n°41301 Bois de Vincennes – Gare.
A side-trip: the Garden of Tropical Agronomy
After having returned your Vélib’, retrace your steps and stroll around the Garden of Tropical Agronomy (Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale) located at 45 Avenue de la Belle Gabrielle. Here you’ll find an ornamental Chinese gateway (Paifang) and many realistic replicas including a Khmer bridge and the Esplanade du Dinh square…a real voyage of discovery awaits!
©The Garden of Tropical Agronomy by arthistoryshutterbug, on instagram
 A kind of roof tile.