April 18, 2024

Parisian panache: six of the most spectacular Métro stations in Paris | Holidays in Paris

ohminimalism is one aspect of the Paris Metro. Most of the stations are white underground vaults with no surface construction to spoil the beauty of the streets. Station entrances are sometimes depicted with art nouveau iron flowers of any genus (except perhaps a triffid), and these – the creation of Hector Guimard in the early 1900s – represent the flamboyance synonymous with the elite.

The theatrics in some stations reflect a society that gives high status to engineers (the UK has no real equivalent to the elite engineering school École Polytechnique) and encourages them to make bold statements. This type of crowd can be seen in the Eiffel Tower and the Pompidou Center. It will also be reflected in the huge new stations of the Grand Paris Express scheme which, between now and 2030, will double Métro mileage. But here are some fine examples on the existing network.

City, Line 4

Cité is illuminated by old-fashioned bright globes.
Cité is illuminated by old-fashioned bright globes. Photo: Pierre Bonbon/Alamy

There could be no question of building railway bridges in the heart of Paris, so Line 4 had to go under the river, waterproofed in large tanks called caisson. Saint-Michel and Cité stations comprise three caissons: vertical ones at both ends for access and a lateral one for the platforms. At Cité, the lateral caisson forms a curiously distorted version of the traditional Métro globe, illuminated by antique globes. One of the vertical caissons is alarmingly out of use; the other like a big riveted metal bucket, with rusty water dribbling down the sides, and primitive stairs going up in a crisscrossing Escher-like way towards the ticket hall. There is an elevator, but most travelers better to walk up, shoes and boots hitting, Parisians (many of whom live in apartments in tall, old buildings) used to climbing stairs.
Nearby Ha Noi 1988 serves Vietnamese food in a flower-decorated room with a terrace overlooking the Seine (or at least the tops of the plane trees rising from its banks). The Pho du Chef is especially recommended.

Arts and Crafts, Line 11

'You are in Captain Nemo's submarine, which has sunk deep.'
‘You are in Captain Nemo’s submarine, which has sunk deep.’ Photo: Zoonar GmbH/Alamy

Métro panache is reflected on the Line 11 platforms at Arts et Métiers, the furthest forward of the 20 or so themed or “cultural” stations. The dome is covered with panels of riveted copper, with portholes where models of machines dreamily float. You are in Captain Nemo’s submarine, which has dived deep, if the lighting is anything to go by. The design – surely accepted by most tourists as some inexplicable myth – was created in 1994 to commemorate the centenary of the museum the station serves.
Nearby A technology museum as aesthetically pleasing as an art gallery. In the steam engine section, look out for the narrow burnt tramlines on the wooden floor – once used to transport heavy exhibits.

Mirabeau, Line 10

Paris Metro sign at Mirabeau station.
Hector Guimard’s art nouveau signs. Photo: UlyssePixel/Alamy

Among the defining features of the Metro are its track loops that include multiple stations: a method of providing intensive service to a given area. One such occurs at the east end of Line 10, and it is at Mirabeau that Line 10 splits to begin the loop. Here, you can only board trains coming off the loop and heading back towards town, but you can also watch trains coming from home and go on to the bend, and as they do these they climb, because they have just come from under the river. What you can see from the single platform is the track directly in front of you (where a train will eventually come to take you off the loop), and beyond that is a track on a steep ramp. Trains bound for the loop wander up that ramp without paying any attention to the station and, since they are tilted, you can see sparks flying under them like fireflies.
Nearby Less than 10 minutes from Mirabeau lies rue Jean de la Fontaine, lined with swirly art nouveau apartment blocks. Hector Guimard owns the numbers 14, 17, 9, 21 and 60. His masterpiece (which earned him the metro gig) is number 14, Castel Beranger, whose iron front gate is a scribble of whiplash curves. It’s easy to imagine the triffids of Métro Guimard pouring out of here to take Paris by storm.

Gare d’Austerlitz, Line 5

The theatrical highlight of Line 5 – and perhaps the entire MmetroMétro – is its river crossing.
Line 5 theater highlight. Photo: Hemis/Alamy

The theatrical highlight of Line 5 – and perhaps the entire Métro – is the river crossing between Gare d’Austerlitz on the Left Bank and Quai de la Rapée on the Right. The overground trains arrive after Saint-Marcel; they then enter, through a skylight, to the attic of the Gare d’Austerlitz main line station, where the Métro station of that name is located. Trains leave the attic through another skylight, to cross the river on the elegant single-span Viaduc d’Austerlitz. As they head down towards the Quai de la Rapée station, they wander idly around the Paris morgue, otherwise known as the Institut Médico-Légal, which does its best to look anonymous on the riverbank. This downhill stretch is called “the toboggan”, and after you’ve ridden it once, you might want to return to Gare d’Austerlitz to do it again.
Nearby Botanical Gardens Jardin des Plantes (free) and the academically important hothouses (for which admission is charged) have such old-world elegance that it seems a shame visitors aren’t wearing white linen suits or chilled parasols.

Bir-Hakeim, Line 6

Aerial metro line Pont Bir-Hakeim 6 and the buildings of the Passy area.
Line 6 Metro from the air Pont Bir-Hakeim and the buildings of the Passy area. Photo: Hemis/Alamy

Line 6 emerges from a tunnel at Passy on the Right Bank for a spectacular run of elevated stations, starting with the river crossing on Pont de Bir-Hakeim, which commands views of the nearby Eiffel Tower. It’s worth getting off at Bir-Hakeim station to look at the bridge you’ve just crossed. The lower deck is a road and a path; the upper deck, which carries the Métro, rests on large staircases like an avenue of iron trees – which becomes more like an enchanted forest at night, when the lanterns hanging from it are lit.
Nearby Saucisson and pomme purée are among the food available in Comptoir Principal, at prices that are below the norm for this part of town. It’s a corner location, with a view of the Eiffel Tower on one side and Line 6 trains rolling over its ornate viaduct to the other on a terrace table at the top.

Gare de Lyon, Line 14

Line 14 is the showpiece of the current network, and its stations resemble the sets of a science fiction film featuring a large tropical garden.
Line 14 is the showpiece of the current network, and its stations resemble the sets of a science fiction film featuring a large tropical garden. Photo: Michael Dwyer/Alamy

Opened in 1998, Line 14 is the pinnacle of the current network, with its stations resembling the sets of a science fiction film, and they are big – roofs on the future. Going up the glittering stairs at Gare de Lyon, you see in front of you a very austere concrete hall, and to the right, behind a glass screen, is a large “tropical garden”. It is allegedly flooded by regular automatic “thunderstorms”. I haven’t seen one of these, but I assume trained Line 14 commuters take them in their efforts.
Nearby With its gilded interior and frescoes depicting heat-dazed Riviera scenes, the Bleu Train – accessed from the Gare de Lyon concourse via a grand staircase – is certainly the most impressive station buffet in the world, and perhaps the most expensive. But outside the main “gold room” is a cozy bar, like a railway carriage, where a glass of wine is not as expensive as you might expect.

Andrew Martin traveled to Paris on Eurostar. A book, Metropolitan: An Ode to the Paris Metroit will be published at Corsair (£16.99) on August 10

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