The Guinguette Auvergnate — located in Villeneuve Triage—is the perfect place to take visitors to Paris, who never fail to be charmed by its friendly relaxed atmosphere, the view of the Seine from its windows framed by potted geraniums and the unpretentious cooking from the Auvergne, the home region of the patron. If they are lucky, they will see their fellow-diners waltzing to the strains of the accordion, ‘just like a Renoir painting’, as a friend once whispered to me. I have arrived as late as 3 pm and still been fed, as Sunday lunch here can last up to 5 pm.
It is a short train ride from Paris practically to the door of the Guinguette, but if you want to show your visitors an under-appreciated aspect of the Paris suburbs, you could start from another station at Choisy-le-Roi, even closer to Paris. From there, you can take them on a pretty 3-kilometre walk along the river, ending with lunch at the Guinguette.
The Guinguette Auvergnate is smaller and less well-known than the ones on the River Marne and attracts a mainly local clientèle. The reason for its survival is probably the geographical isolation of this part of the town of Villeneuve-St-Georges, with the Seine on one side and the huge gare de triage, the largest in Europe, on the other. (A gare de triage is a railway station specialising in the redistribution of freight wagons.) They don’t hold dances here every Sunday, but the convivial family atmosphere is truly part of the esprit guinguette. It is standard etiquette to nod and smile at fellow-diners, murmuring ‘Bonjour/Au revoir, messieurs et dames’ as you arrive or leave.
I discovered the Guinguette by a lucky accident. I went inside what looked like a simple rather old-fashioned café to ask for directions after taking a wrong turn along the river one Sunday afternoon. The long dark interior was surprisingly full of couples and families lingering over coffee and a game of backgammon and immediately reminded me of a boat, a quietly buzzing, happy, laid-back sort of boat. Light poured in from the windows overlooking the river and I glimpsed people dancing at the far end of the room, which led to a terrasse where more people were sitting outside in the sunshine. Charmed, I complimented the patron on his establishment. ‘Ici, c’est un petit coin du Paradis,’ came the reply. Pause, swelling of chest. ‘Et moi, je m’appelle Dieu.’ (‘This is a little corner of Paradise. I’m called God.’)
I have been back many times since and can confirm that the Guinguette Auvergnate is indeed a little corner of paradise, if your idea of paradise is a French 1950s timewarp. The menu offers traditional family dishes, varying with the season. I have tried the souris d’agneau au thym (roast knuckle of lamb with thyme) and the saucisse d’Auvergne Aligot (Auvergne sausage with a purée of potatoes, cheese and garlic) and they were good value. It is worth asking for the kir Birlou, an aperitif made with white wine delicately flavoured with a mixture of apple and chestnut, an Auvergnat speciality that avoids the over-sweetness of most kirs.
Suggested 3.3 km walk from Choisy-le-Roi station to the Guinguette Auvergnate
Take the steps down from the platform to the main station exit, marked ‘Sortie Centre Ville’.. There are red and white GR and red and yellow GRP signs (see p. 239) all along the route to the Guinguette, starting from the station. Turn right into a little road which follows the railway track until you come to a pedestrian crossing just before a bridge. Cross the road here and take the steps up to the old station building surmounted by a clock, still bearing the words ‘Chemin de Fer d’Orléans’ above a pretty decoration of coloured tiles. It is now a ‘Maison de la Jeunesse’.
Turn right onto the main road across the Seine, the Pont de Choisy, and stay on the right-hand footpath. Then take the steps down to the right, which lead to the Quai des Gondoles, the riverside footpath. It continues past modern flats and then the gardens of 19th-century houses. However, you may find, as I did, that the route is closed for half a kilometre because of building work being carried out on the river bank. It may be open again by the time you read this. If not, follow the detour left, marked ‘Piétons,’ at the Rue des Fusillés and turn right at the Boulodrome onto the Avenue de Villeneuve St Georges, a secondary road with not much traffic. When the road becomes a little bridge, crossing water on the left-hand side, turn right, back to the riverside path, which now continues through a small park.
From this point onwards, and especially after the railway bridge, the walk becomes surprisingly rural and peaceful. There are benches at strategic intervals and people picnic here at the weekends but it does not attract crowds. Weeping willows grow by the water’s edge and tiny shingle beaches shelter waterfowl and the occasional silent fisherman. I have seen violets in spring and wild blue and purple convolvulus in autumn. From time to time a huge working barge slides past, but the only sound is likely to be the planes from nearby Orly or a water-skier from the Port de Plaisance further along the river.
Eventually the path goes past a football ground with a church rising behind it, and then passes a boules pitch. It comes to an end in a little road which leads to the Avenue de Choisy. Stay on the right-hand side of the Avenue, continuing past the defunct ‘Hotel de la Gare’ and the ski nautique at the Port de Plaisance. You will see the blue and green sign for the RER station at Villeneuve Triage just ahead of you on the left. The Guinguette Auvergnate is the café-restaurant on the right, almost opposite the station.
Distance from Paris: 16 km (9½ miles)
Depart: Châtelet-les-Halles/Gare de Lyon
Arrive: Villeneuve Triage
Journey time : 15 minutes from Gare de Lyon
Length of visit: Half day
Carte Orange Zone: 4
Single ticket: 2.80€
Alternative depart: St Michel-Notre Dame
Arrive : Choisy-le-Roi
Return from : Villeneuve Triage
Journey time: 14 minutes
Carte Orange Zone: 3
Single ticket : 2.10€
Distance from Choisy-le-Roi
to Villeneuve Triage: 3.3 km (2 miles)
Population (Villeneuve St Georges): 30 687
RER D trains from Châtelet-les-Halles or the Gare de Lyon to Malesherbes or Melun, stopping at Villeneuve Triage, leave every 15 minutes, at up to 25-minute intervals on Sundays, and return every 15 minutes on weekdays, every 20 minutes or less on Sundays. The last train back to Paris is at 12.19 am.
RER C trains to Massy-Palaiseau, Dourdan-la-Forêt and St Martin d’Etampes, stopping at Choisy-le-Roi, leave St Michel-Notre Dame every 10 minutes.
Car: Porte de Choisy, then N305 to Choisy-le-Roi, and cross the Pont de Choisy onto the Avenue Villeneuve St Georges towards Villeneuve St Georges.
When to go
A day with some sunshine at any time of the year is the ideal weather in which to enjoy the play of light on the river. The Guinguette is at its most relaxed on Sunday afternoon. Go on the second or fourth Sunday of the month if you want to see people dancing.
La Guinguette Auvergnate, 19 Avenue de Choisy, 94190 Villeneuve St Georges Triage, tel 01 43 89 04 64, www.guinguette-auvergnate.fr Open for lunch every day except Monday and for dinner on Friday and Saturday all year round, and on Thursday evening in the summer. Dancing on the second and fourth Friday of every month from around 8 pm and on the second and fourth Sunday of every month from around 2 pm. See the website for the latest programme.
Weekday menus from 12€, 18€ at weekends, or à la carte. Plats du jour around 12€, wine from 12€ a bottle, 50cl pichet 4€. Admission to the dance floor without eating but including a drink is 10€.
Excerpted from “An Hour From Paris.” Buy the book.