For me, Belleville is one of the most fascinating and charming parts of Paris. Spanning 4 arrondissements in the north east of the city, it’s home to a hugely diverse population and an eclectic mix of artist’s studios, Chinese supermarkets, excellent and reasonably priced restaurants, and hip new bars, along with the coffee roasting house that supplies many of the new wave of cafés currently reviving the coffee drinking scene in Paris. Once a village on the outskirts of the city, pockets of it also retain the charm of old Paris, with hidden alleyways and courtyards where you can still find the small worker’s houses of years gone by, winding cobblestone streets, and a village atmosphere that’s a world away from the grand boulevards of central Paris.
Belleville and neighboouring Menilmontant were once home to vineyards, then to migrant workers from rural France, and after WW1 welcomed immigrants from Poland and Armenia along with a sizeable Jewish community from Central Europe. They were followed by workers from the former French colonies in North Africa, and Chinese immigrants arrived in the 1980’s, forming a substantial Chinese quarter in the area immediately around Belleville metro. Nowadays these communities co-exist alongside each other, along with a new wave of artists and young professionals, now turning the area into not only one of the most culturally diverse parts of the city, but also one of the coolest areas of the city, home to venues such as La Bellevilloise and the Belleville Brulerie.
Successuve renovation projects over the years have demolished a lot of the old Belleville, but some parts of it still remain, a wonderful example being the Villa Castel (see also main photo) at 16 rue de Transvaal.
Nowadays, the juxtaposition of a jumble of architectural styles – not all of them beautiful – certainly adds to the eclectic charm of the area. Edith Piaf was from Belleville (although the legend that she was born on a doorstep is apparently not true), and some of my favourite French films were filmed here – Jules et Jim, Casque d’Or (her house is also here), Le Ballon Rouge and more recently l’Ecume des Jours, based on the Boris Vian novel.
Belleville is also home to a beautiful park, established in 1988 it’s the highest park in Paris and has spectacular views over the city. It’s also has a community garden and small vineyard. Stop in at the bakery Le Panorama Gourmand at the top of the park (10 rue des Envierges) and pick up a picnic to enjoy with the locals and some of the best views in the city.