A southern suburb of Paris, Massy is a new town laid out for commuters in the 1960s.
Before it was developed this area had been a remote rural getaway for people like the Romantic writer Chateaubriand and Colbert, the powerful Minister of Finance under Louis XIV. You can visit their old homes, which both have delightful grounds and are kept as museums.
Paris is always within touching distance, and the RER will get you to the Notre-Dame Cathedral in exactly 30 minutes.
This route runs straight through the south of the city so we’ll give you a few ideas for the left bank of the Seine that are just a quick ride on public transport.
Lets explore the best things to do in Massy:
1. Église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine
The ancient pilgrimage route, the Way of St James, passed through Massy on its long journey to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
In France many people begin their 1448-kilometre trek from the Tour Saint-Jacques in Paris.
Traditionally pilgrims would have stopped in Massy to worship at this church, which took heavy damage during the Allied bombing of Massy in the Second World War.
The only part of the original structure still here is the 13th-century bell-tower, preserved now as a monument next to a new church that went up in the 1950s.
2. Opéra de Massy
Massy has the only opera house in the Île-de-France Region outside of Paris.
And despite the name, the venue puts books all kinds of performers so it’s worth checking the calendar before you come to Massy: There’s dance, theatre, literary recitals, music as well as operas like Tosca, Turandot, Faust and Così fan tutte in the last few years.
It’s a cathedral-like venue that opened in 1993 at a cost of 172 million Francs.
And if you want to know more you can book a guided tour with Massy’s tourist office, literally going behind the scenes, visiting the rehearsal stage and orchestra pit.
3. Local Sights
Massy isn’t brimming with blockbuster landmarks, but if you find yourself in the suburb you could pass a fun morning poking around.
Before it was built up after the war Massy was a rural getaway for some well-to-do Parisians like the historian Fustel de Coulanges.
Another was the vaunted surgeon Jacques-René Tenon who helped advance hygiene in the city’s hospitals and whose stately mansion at 66 Rue de Versailles is still standing.
The Château du Haut and La Cimade are two other such residences, both private but deserving your attention from the outside.
In the 20th century Massy was furnished with some striking modern sculpture, and one to seek out is Raymond Moretti’s Arbre de Lumière from 1989.
4. Centre Culturel Paul B
If the Opéra de Massy is for high culture, the Centre Culturel Paul B is a stylish new performing arts centre where you can discover fresh musical talent.
New artists share billing with touring bands, all in a laid-back, hip environment.
Whether you’re into jazz, indie, hip hop, world music or any genre of rock it’s worth finding out what’s in store.
The venue has been devised with acoustics in mind and has a large auditorium that can hold just shy of 1,000 punters.
There’s also a more intimate club stage for 400 where you can discover up-and-coming artists from this cosmopolitan part of Paris.
5. Parc de Sceaux
The local suburb of Sceaux was chosen by Louis XIV’s minster of finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert for his residence.
His château was later demolished to be replaced by a Louis XIII-revival mansion during the Second Empire.
But the park around it follows the same plan as when it was landscaped by the prodigious André Le Nôtre who made his name at Versailles.
The park has rigid geometry, topiaries trimmed to precision and the same sort of overwhelming scale that you get at Versailles.
Avenues intersect the lawns and disappear into the distance, while the Grand Canal is more than a kilometre in length and fed by the Cascades, a terraced fountain descending from the château.
6. Musée du Domaine Départemental de Sceaux
That château and its outbuildings are a single museum, with art from the Paris School and majestic architecture.
The Pavillon d’Aurore is one of the few fragments of Colbert’s original 17th-century château and was decorated by the brilliant Charles le Brun, who also worked on Versailles.
The orangery preserves the sculptures that decorated the grounds in Colbert’s time.
And the newer 19th-century house is an art gallery with paintings, ceramics and furniture.
There are over 400 landscapes from the 1800s by the likes of Georges Michel, Albert Lebourg and Constant Troyon, and some 950 early photographs by Eugène Atget, Félix Martin-Sabon and Charles Lansiaux.
7. Maison de Chateaubriand
Known at the time as the Vallée-aux-Loups, this property was a retreat from the Parisian political scene for the writer-turned-politician François-René de Chateaubriand.
He moved here with his wife Céleste in 1807 and was very attached to the house and its gorgeous park.
Inside the home where he also wrote his memoirs, there’s an exhibition about his work, some personal effects and paintings from the era.
The 56-hectare grounds reflect Chateaubriand’s passion for travel and botany, featuring 500 species of trees and shrubs.
Also part of the property is the idyllic Île Verte, home to a succession of cultural figures from the poet Jules Barbier to painter Jean Fautrier.
8. Marché International de Rungis
Set your alarm and get over to the suburb of Rungis, where the largest wholesale market on the planet does business.
The numbers involved at this 234-hectare complex are almost mind-bending: 13,000 people work here each day, when some 26,000 vehicles enter the site.
You can guess that this isn’t somewhere to do your grocery shopping, but rather a titanic, finely-tuned machine that helps put the food on Parisian restaurant tables.
You can book a guided visit as an individual or in a group, and the first tours start at 04:30, so it’s one for the early risers.
9. Paris Catacombs
No more than 20 minutes on the RER is an ossuary where the bones of some six million Parisians are stacked in decorative arrangements.
And while these tunnels and galleries lined with bones and skulls may seem frivolous in a creepy sort of way, they came about as an answer to a crisis gripping the city in the 1700s.
Because of cave-ins and plain lack of space Paris was unable to bury its, so the cemeteries were cleared, and historic burials were moved to these former quarries in what is now the 14th Arrondissement.
10. Tour Montparnasse
Queuing for the Eiffel Tower and then jostling to enjoy the view from the platforms is one of the downsides to visiting Paris.
So if time is at a premium, or you want a view of the Paris skyline that actually includes the Eiffel Tower, the Tour Montparnasse is the answer.
The view from the top of this 210-metre skyscraper may well be the best in the city, not least because this hulking black slab of a tower isn’t part of it.
By day the vistas are uplifting, and at night, when the Eiffel Tower is illuminated, they’re as romantic as can be.
11. Musée National du Moyen Âge
Heading towards the Seine from the south the RER will take you past the oldest part of Paris.
The Hôtel de Cluny started out as an opulent townhouse for the Aboots of Cluny and was extended into a palace at the start of the 16th century.
It’s a fusion of Gothic and Renaissance design and the ideal stage for this medieval treasure trove.
There’s gilded Limoges enamel, Visigothic votive crowns, volumes of illuminated manuscripts and rooms lined with stained glass.
But the tour de force is the Lady and the Unicorn, a sequence of six peerless tapestries woven around 1500.
12. Latin Quarter
Traditionally a Bohemian part of Paris, the Latin Quarter has a youthful ambience for its many higher education institutions like the unequalled Sorbonne.
If you’re wondering why it’s called the Latin Quarter, the name comes from the widespread use of the Latin language in this area, as this was the tongue of academia up to the 18th century.
Gentrification has smoothed out some of the edges since the quarter’s golden days in the 50s and 60s.
But if you’re fascinated by 20th-century culture you can come to walk the same streets and visit the same haunts as Picasso, Camus, Sartre and Hemingway.
13. Jardin de Luxembourg
A treasured spot on the left bank, the Jardin de Luxembourg is a park plotted in Renaissance times by Marie de Medici, widow of Henri IV. The palace that it accompanied is now the seat of the French senate, while the park is strewn with sculptures and has monuments from Marie de Medici’s time.
The sight you need to see is the long, rectangular Medici Fountain, dating to 1631 and restored during the rule of Napoleon and again under Napoleon III. The garden is also known for its famous green chairs and more than 100 statues by artists like Bartholdi who designed the Statue of Liberty.
14. Île de la Cité
Packed onto one fabled island on the Seine are many of the city’s most historic and photo-friendly monuments.
And you can be there in under 30 minutes on the RER. Begin with the Notre-Dame Cathedral, built in the high middle ages and possibly the most beloved piece of Gothic architecture in the world, raised to mythic status by Victor Hugo.
Another National Monument is the Conciergerie a medieval palace converted into a prison where men and women condemned during the Revolution awaited their fate.
Gaze at the 13th-century stained glass windows in the Sainte-Chapelle, and cross the Pont-Neuf, the oldest bridge in the city still standing.
Being on the southwestern outskirts of Paris you’ve got a unique chance to get to the Palace of Versailles by car without the headache of traffic.
If you set off early you can make it in about 20 minutes and will be free to spend the whole day immersed in the magic of a royal property without rival There’s so much in this complex that you could spend three whole days pottering around the palace, grounds and pavilions and outbuildings without seeing the same thing twice.
If you’re inspired by Louis XIV you can make for the Hall of Mirrors, The King’s Apartment and Private Apartment, the gigantic Grand Canal, André Le Nôtre’s parterres and his luxurious pleasure palace, the Grand Trianon.