ANALYSIS: Is youth crime in France really ‘out of control’?

A few days ago the body of 14-year-old Alisha was found in the river Seine under the A15 motorway viaduct at Argentueil north west of Paris, writes John Lichfield.

ANALYSIS: Is youth crime in France really 'out of control'?
The river bank where the body of Alisha was found. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

From the beginning, there was no mystery about how she died. A tearful local woman informed the police earlier that evening that her son, aged just 15, had punched and kicked Alisha and thrown her, still alive, into the river. The boy’s girlfriend, 15, also a school-friend of the dead girl, had helped to roll her, half-conscious, down a concrete slope into the freezing water.

The two youngsters were on Thursday mis en examen (a formal accusation) for assassinat – assassination or pre-meditated murder. Investigators have pieced together, easily enough, the story of a teenage love triangle, social-media bullying and revenge porn. Neither of the alleged attackers, according to police, has shown much remorse.

All the usual clichés about violence and “savage youth” in the multi-racial banlieues (suburbs) are pouring out on social media and in right-wing websites. But the boy, who has admitted to the murder, is a computer geek, not a gang member. All three teenagers went to a private, technical school with a very high teacher-pupil ratio.

Argenteuil is an unlovely but comparatively quiet and hard-working part of the Paris banlieues. A century and a half ago, it was a pretty village on one of the great bends in the Seine west of the capital. Between 1871 and 1878, its residents included the great impressionist painter, Claude Monet.

Some of Monet’s most celebrated canvasses were painted in Argenteuil, including the famous image of a woman and child gathering poppies in a sloping meadow with grass and flowers up to their waist. I visited Argenteuil a few years ago to write a “before and after” feature  on Monet’s landscapes. The poppy slope is now covered in concrete blocks of flat from the 1970s.

Claude Monet’s painting La Seine a Argenteuil. Photo by Ed Jones / AFP

Over that hill is another relatively peaceful Paris suburb, Conflans-Saint-Honorine. 

A 15-year-old girl admitted to police last week that she had lied about her presence at a civics lesson at a lycée in Conflans last October – lies which led to her teacher being beheaded. That story – an Islamist attack on a teacher wrongly accused of mocking Islam – was also partly a social media story.

What does the appalling murder of a 14-year-old girl by two of her schoolfriends tell us about France? 

It will become part of a litany of accusations by the right and far right that “violence is out of control” and that younger generations in the banlieues have become “ensauvagés” (turned into savages) by government softness, family neglect and – according to Marine Le Pen – “mass immigration”.

No matter if the facts don’t actually support the accusations. There certainly is endemic gang-warfare and a low value placed on life in some parts of the French banlieues and inner cities.

But suggestions that there is great wave of violent crime and murder, based on a number of high-profile incidents, do not stack up. The real peaks for murder in recent French history were the late 1940s and then the 1970s to mid-1990s. 

 Until the 1990’s France had over 1,600 murders a year. In most recent years, there have been around 850, rising to 970 in 2019.  In recent years – since Le Pen began her mantra –  violent crime (leaving aside sexual assaults) has fallen from 647,000 incidents in 2012 to 579,000 in 2018. 

 No matter also that the unusual – but very disturbing – facts of Alisha’s murder do not fit the preferred political narrative. None of the youngsters involved were gang members. The young man, who has not been named, is described by a neighbour as “never violent. In fact, the opposite.”

“This boy is kind of a geek. He spends most of his time in the apartment with his games console.”

His mother, evidently a woman with a moral conscience, alerted the police and spoke to media of her distress for the family of the dead girl as well as her distress for her son.

The sequence of events as outlined by Val d’Oise prosecutor Eric Corbeaux appears to be briefly as follows. The boy had a one week love affair with Alisha, the girl he murdered. He then became the boyfriend of the second girl, who was a friend of Alisha’s.

He objected to the two girls remaining friends. He hacked into Alisha’s phone and stole images of her in her underwear which he posted on the class Snapchat account. She protested to the school authorities. He was suspended.

A few days later, a fight broke out in a school corridor between the two girls. The second girl, who has not been named, was also suspended.

Girl number 2, recently turned 15, invited Alisha to meet her on the bank of the Seine to make it up. An ambush had already been planned with the boy by text over several days. When Alisha arrived, the boy stepped from behind a pillar and punched, tripped and kicked Alisha. He and his girlfriend rolled the semi-conscious girl into the river.

The boy went home and confessed to his mother, then fled to Paris with his girlfriend

Despite all the inevitable political claims and accusations, this seems to me not really to be a story about France, or the French banlieues.

Not much poppy-collecting by young people goes on in Argenteuil these days; but not much of it goes on anywhere else either.

This is a story about the social media age and internet age, when young people are invited to know a great deal but understand very little; to be grown up very young without, in some cases, growing up at all.

It’s about a casual acceptance of violence amongst some young people, which is present in France but not just in France. That, in itself, is worrying, whatever the crime figures might say.

Member comments

  1. I think your analysis, in your penultimate paragraph, is exactly right. Thank you for your thoughtful article.

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Ten of the best day trips out of Paris

Whether you live in Paris or are just visiting, you might be looking for ideas for day-trips - here are some of our favourite spots within easy travelling distance of the City of Light.

Ten of the best day trips out of Paris


About 70 kilometres from Paris, Giverny hosts the colourful gardens captured in Claude Monet’s paintings, as well as the famous lily pond that inspired his water lilies series.

Art lovers will be able to walk the grounds of Monet’s home and take a tour of his quarters. The surrounding area is picturesque, with several walking paths to explore. 

How to get there

Public Transport – The train is arguably the easiest way to get to Giverny from Paris. You take the TER from Saint-Lazare station, and the ride is just under an hour (about 52 minutes). Tickets can be as low as €9. However, beware that this will take you to the Vernon station, so upon arrival you will need to take a short shuttle from the SNCF station to the parking lot in Giverny. From Spring to Autumn, you can take a shuttle bus leaving from Paris which goes directly to Giverny. You can see the schedule HERE. If you schedule a private tour, it will likely involve a bus shuttle. 

Car – The drive from Paris to Giverny is typically between an hour and a half to two hours. There are two parking lots available.

Tips – If you are going during the summer, try to get there as early as possible in the morning to avoid the afternoon crowds. You can buy your tickets for the house and gardens ahead of time. There is also the Museum of Impressionism which is well worth the visit as well (although it doesn’t actually contain any Monet waterlilies paintings).


Known as a summer hot spot for Parisians looking to enjoy the beach, seafood, and fresh air, Deauville boasts a 2km beach and a boardwalk known for its art deco beach huts inscribed with the names of celebrities who frequented the Deauville Film Festival.

There’s also many opportunities to get great seafood much as langoustines dipped in butter or moules marinères.

How to get there

Public Transport – There is a direct train from Paris Saint-Lazare to Trouville-Deauville that takes two hours and 10 minutes. Tickets are usually around €30 one way. If you take the bus, there are several private companies (like BlaBlaBus and Flixbus, for example) offering affordable options (usually falling between 10 to €20. The ride is between three to four hours, typically). 

Car – The drive to Deauville from Paris is about two and a half hours. 

Tips – If you drive, beware that parking is quite limited and is usually paid per hour, particularly on public holidays or popular weekends. If you rent a car, be sure to check how many miles you are allowed to drive on the rental vehicle, or you might be hit with extra charges. Keep in mind that Normandy can be a bit cooler and rainier than Paris. It might be good to take some extra layers just in case.

Chateaux in the Loire Valley 

Unesco has designated 280 kilometres of the Loire Valley a heritage site and 22 castles, large and small, are dotted along the Loire river – among the most accessible from Paris are Blois and Chambord.

The former is a bit smaller, but is still worth the visit of its four ‘grand architectural styles.’ Chambord is the largest chateau in the Loire Valley, with speculation that Leonardo da Vinci may have been involved in its design. In addition to castles, hot air balloon rides are a popular way to get a bird’s eye view of the landscape. 

How to get there

Public Transport – There is an SNCF train that takes about an hour and 45 minutes to get to the Blois-Chambord station, which is opposite Blois chateau. To get to Chambord from the station, you can take a shuttle ride (about a half hour). The train ride typically costs around €30 one way.

Car – The Loire Valley is about 100 kilometres south of Paris, it takes about two hours to reach the Château de Chambord, but more like two and a half hours to get to Château Royal d’Amboise. 

Tips – Rent a bike! The Loire Valley is known for its biking paths. Keep in mind to visit castles, you will typically need to purchase a ticket. Most will offer multi-language tours, but be sure to double check prior to booking.

Fontainebleau Castle and Forest

An ideal spot for nature lovers and history lovers alike, Fontainebleau’s castle is one of the largest in France and was the official residence of French monarchs from Louis VII to Napoleon III. On top of that, Fontainebleau is home to the second-largest national forest in France, with lots of hiking and biking trails to enjoy. 

How to get there

Public Transport – Fontainebleau by train is just 45 minutes on the Transilien from Gare de Lyon. The ride is under €10 each way, and is included in the Navigo pass is your pass covers all 5 zones.

Car – By car, the journey is about 70 kilometres, and takes a little bit over an hour. 

Tips – Pack some snacks for your visit to the Château because food options are limited once inside. Also, as Fontainebleau is more rural, it can be tricky to find an Uber or a taxi, so download the local bus timetable. 

Disneyland Paris

Fun fact – Disneyland is actually a more popular tourist attraction than the Eiffel Tower. Each year an average of 10 million people visit the park per year. Despite its name it’s not actually in Paris but it’s not far – just 30 kilometres away and well-connected on public transport.

The park offers tons of fun rides and rollercoasters, and you won’t need much in the way of French language skills to have a good time here. 

How to get there

Public transport – take the RER A toward Marne-la-Vallée Chessy (Parc Disneyland) from one of five stops in central Paris (Charles de Gaulle-Étoile, Auber, Châtelet Les Halles, Gare de Lyon or Nation). It is about a 35 minute ride, one-way tickets cost €7.60.

Car – You can also get to Disneyland by car, the ride is a little under an hour and you take the A4 the whole way.

Tips – Disneyland Paris is home to two parks: Parc Disneyland and Parc Walt Disney Studios. You’ll want to look at the attractions offered at both parks prior to booking your tickets to decide which is more appealing to you. You can also choose a single park ticket or a park hopper ticket. If you want to eat dinner while at the park, it is best to make a reservation ahead of time. You can also consider downloading the app to be able to see wait times for the attractions you’re most interested in or purchase a queue-jumper ticket to skip the lines.

Versailles Castle and Gardens

Visiting Versailles gives you a fascinating look into French history and unforgettable opportunity to gaze at the opulent lifestyle of France’s former monarchs. There is typically a lot of waiting in line involved in visiting Versailles, but we have some tips below for how to minimise that. 

How to get there

Public transport – take the RER C from several stations (Saint MIchel-Notre Dame, Gare d’Austerlitz, Musée d’Orsay, Invalides, Pont de l’Alma, and Champ de Mars) in Paris to the Versailles Château Rive Gauche station. It’s about a 15 minute walk to the palace. One way tickets on the RER are €3.65. You can also take the Versailles Express bus from the Eiffel Tower.

Car – You can drive to the palace, and it takes about an hour.

Cycle – there are cycle paths out of the city to the palace and some places offer a combined bike hire and guided tour of the gardens. 

Tips – Buy a timed ticket – this will cut your wait time. The palace is beautiful and worth visiting, but most people leave Versailles talking about the gardens, especially in the spring time when the flowers are in bloom. Not to mention, entry to the park and gardens is free. There are also events held in the gardens through the summer such as concerts and fireworks displays (which need booking in advance). In summer the palace gets extremely busy so consider a winter trip, or at least try to avoid weekends.


The medieval town of Provins is a Unesco world heritage site with beautifully preserved medieval architecture and 11th century city walls. If you happen to visit during the month of June, you can also enjoy their famous Medieval Festival. 

How to get there

Public Transport – take the SNCF Transilien train from Gare de l’Est on the Line P. A train departs each hour and the journey is about an hour and 20 minutes. The one way journey usually costs about €12. If you have a five zone Navigo pass, it will take you to Provins.

Car – To drive to Provins, you take the N4 and it is about an hour and 20 minutes. 

Tips – If you are going by car, beware that parking in the city centre is limited. You can also look into the Provins pass to get some reduced prices on food and tourist activities.


Have a yearning for some Champage-tasting? A day trip from Paris to the Champagne area is very doable! Reims, founded in around 80 BC, is itself worth the visit, particularly its famous gothic cathedral. The most famous tasting house is Veuve Clicquot, and there are several Paris to Reims champagne-oriented planned day trips and tours. It is about 150 kilometres north-east of Paris.

How to get there

Public Transport – take the SNCF train from Gare de l’Est, the journey is about an hour and 12 minutes, with several direct trains available per day. One-way tickets typically cost around €20, depending on when you book. There are also several bus options, which usually take about two hours. Tickets for the bus can be as low as €5-10 (again, depending on when you book. If you wait until the last second, the tickets for the bus can sometimes rival those for the train).

Car – By car, the journey to Reims takes about two hours and is mostly along the A4.

Tips – When planning your champagne tour, consider whether you’re looking to visit big houses (like Moet) or smaller, family owned ones. There are several, shorter family-run tours that can offer a more intimate experience, but they may not be as involved as the larger house options. While it’s natural to dress up to drink fizz, ask yourself before planning your outfit: will you be visiting the vineyard grounds? Will you be spending lots of time in cooler cellars?

Also, the city is not pronounced ‘reems’ – here’s how it sounds.


If you want to cross a border, Brussels is just an hour and 20 minute train-ride away. Enjoy museums with extensive art collections without the long lines of Paris, marvel at the medieval architecture, drink a delicious Belgian beer, take in one of the city’s many parks, eat some moules-frites and chocolate, and say hi to the European Union.

How to get there

Public Transport – the train from Gare du Nord with Thalys is about an hour and 20 minutes long. If you book early enough, you might be able to find one way tickets for around €50. Depending on the time of day and day of the week, the tickets might fluctuate in price. Peak days and hours’ tickets might be closer to €100 one way. The bus is a much more affordable option, though it is a lot longer of a ride (between three and a half and four hours) – bus tickets are usually around €15.

Car – By car, the ride is about three hours and 45 minutes.

Tips – Try to go on a weekday, that way the train tickets might be a bit less expensive. Taking the train is the best way to make Brussels into a day trip, as the other options are considerably longer. In terms of what to see, we suggest heading straight to the Grand Place, and then moseying around from there – whether that be visiting the City Museum or walking along the Comic Strip Walls.

Thanks to the aforementioned EU, travel between France and Brussels is very straightforward with minimal checks, but remember that you are entering a different country so take your passport with you just in case.

Finally, if you’re willing to travel a bit longer on your day trip, we always recommend visiting Mont-Saint-Michel.

Mont Saint Michel

Another Unesco world heritage site, the abbey on the island, with its spectacular view of the tide coming in and out, is worth the slightly longer trip. If you plan ahead for a guided tour, you could even cross the bay on foot and get to see all of the unique flora and fauna. It is one of the prettiest places in France, and definitely warrants a trip from Paris, or even an overnight stay.

How to get there

Public transport – take a direct train to Rennes (about an hour and a half) and then a shuttle bus to Mont-Saint-Michel (between thirty minutes and an hour). It takes a bit of planning, but with the right coordination you could do the trip in under three and a half hours from Paris. A one way ticket to Rennes typically costs around €35, while the additional bus ticket could be between five to €15.

Car – The drive to Mont-Saint-Michel from Paris is a little over four hours. 

Private tour – Taking a shuttle or private tour to Mont-Saint-Michel is a great way to make the day trip a bit less cumbersome, as it is a long ride. 

Tips – If possible, plan your trip based on the lunar calendar – some times of the month are better than others for watching the tide go up and down.

If you turn Mont-Saint-Michel into an overnight trip, it is also worth including some of the WWII memorial sites in Normandy. Locations such as Bayeux and Caen aren’t too far away from Mont-Saint-Michel.