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A few days later, I track down cataphile Franck Palier, a computer technician from Paris. He’s been visiting the tunnels for more than 20 years and goes underground about four times a month to “explore, take photos, meet friends and because it is forbidden”.

Franck respects the police who patrol, even though he is constantly in danger of being met with a fine and an escort from his subterranean sanctuary. “They are just there doing their job,” he explains.

“Without them the tunnels could become anarchy and if they were there all the time, that would stop cataphiles from enjoying their hobby.”

He is disappointed that a rogue few are giving the rest of the Paris’s cataphiles a bad name. It’s unfortunate for those who are genuinely passionate about a life below the footpaths.

“Some people who visit the tunnels don’t respect them. Some go and break things and leave rubbish everywhere. Others go there and clean up and make things,” he says.

“Personally, I love the tunnels, so I will continue to go, no matter what. Despite it being forbidden, I don’t think I am some kind of dangerous delinquent and I don’t damage things when I am there.”

Back to my night in the shafts, and after more than three hours, Gautron draws the hunt to a close without finding any snoozing cataphiles.

But she will be back, to help the lost, and to continue the search for those who are intent on exploring or partying in the darkness beneath the City of Lights.

Underground adventure: See the catacombs the legal way

Although access to much of the tunnels is forbidden, a small 1.7km stretch, known as the Catacombs Of Paris Museum, is open to the public.

Combined, the tunnels house the bones of some six million Parisians, stacked floor to ceiling. The carrieres (tunnels) are principally made up of two unconnected networks; the first extends below Paris’s 5th, 6th, 14th and 15th districts, while the second smaller area of about 25km lies below the 13th district.

During WWII, part of the tunnels were converted into a bunker with walls, electricity, running water and telephone lines.

In the final days of the war, the French Resistance used them as a headquarters.

Catacombs in numbers

280: The approximate length in kilometres of the hidden tunnel network below Paris

1955: The year Parisian authorities made it illegal to tour the catacombs

60: The amount in euros that people found exploring the tunnels can be fined

200: The largest number of people discovered partying in the tunnels in the past three years

250: The number of entry points to the tunnels throughout the city

Getting there

Take the Eurostar. Trains leave London St Pancras daily from 6.22am. From £69 return. Journey takes about two hours, 15 minutes.



Photos: Tory Groman; Getty; Thinkstock

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In the city of light... and dark, police battle against illegal visitors to the Paris catacombs
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