Good coffee in Paris. 6: Blackburn Coffee

Unlike other new-ish cafés, Blackburn Coffee is not located in one of the hip parts of the city. Although not too far from the Canal St Martin,  it sits on the rue du Faubourg St Martin in the 10th arrondissement, probably soon to be newly fashionable, but currently in a bit of a no man’s land. This is perhaps what gives it the special, cosy atmosphere that I so enjoyed.

Blackburn Coffee seems to be a café where local people come to meet friends, it’s not only  occupied by quiet types working on their Macbooks, but is also filled with laughter, along with great coffee and delicious home cooked food and cakes. It’s well worth a detour, you’ll get a warm welcome and you may even get to discover a new part of the city…

  • Blackburn Coffee, 52 rue du Faubourg St Martin, 75010  metro: Chateau d’Eau

open Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 – 21:00

website (in English)

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Villages in Paris – Belleville

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.

metros: Belleville/Jourdain/Pyrenées

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Little India in the Passage Brady

The Passage Brady is one of approximately 20 covered passages left in Paris. These were the precursors of the modern shopping malls, where wealthy Parisians could shop whilst being sheltered from bad weather and muddy streets. It was built in 1828 by M Brady, and at 216 metres was the longest covered street in the city at the time (although it was later cut in half by the Boulevard de Strasbourg). In the 1970’s M Ponnoussamy opened the first Indian restaurant there, and it has since become home to a variety of good value Indian and Pakistani restaurants, grocery shops overflowing with fruit and vegetables, incense, herbs and all sorts of fragrant spices and a wonderful health food shop.  In 2002 it was classified as a historic monument.

A bit further down the rue du Faoubourg St Denis you will find the Passage du Prado. It was built in 1785 and is unfortunately very run down nowadays, however it’s still worth a visit for the interesting glass roof added in 1925, with decorations clearly reflecting the arts and crafts movement. The whole area around is fascinating to walk around, it’s a cultural melting pot, although gradually succumbing to gentrification, and is lively and colourful.

  • Passage Brady. 33 Boulevard de Strasbourg/46 rue du Fbg St Denis. metro: Chateau d’Eau
  • Passage du Prado. 12 rue du Fbg St Denis/18 Bd St Denis

Don’t forget to visit the other beautiful covered passages across the city!

Good coffee in Paris. 1: Ten Belles

Gone are the days when it’s impossible to get a decent coffee in Paris. Café culture is something that is so French, it was always hard to understand why the coffee was so terrible, and why the locals – who care so much about their food and wine – never seemed to mind.  Now a burgeoning coffee scene is ensuring that sitting on a café terrace in Paris can be even more of a pleasure than before. Ten Belles is one of the best amongst the new style cafés that have popped up around the city in the past couple of years. The coffee beans are roasted in Paris at the Belleville Brulerie, and you can get cakes, soups and sandwiches too.

The coffee changes with the seasons, and the food and drinks can be taken out, an especially good thing as the café is almost always packed, and the beautiful and now uber fashionable Canal Saint Martin is right nearby. If you want more picnic food, drop into the lovely grocery shop Myrthe right next door.

  • Ten Belles, 10 rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010 Paris. metro: Jacques Bonsergent

Open daily 9:00 – 5:00pm.

Ten Belles Facebook page

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Fred le Chevalier around the Canal St Martin

Recently whilst wandering around the Canal Saint Martin I was delighted to see some new works by my favourite street artist, Fred le Chevalier, and decided it was time for another post. Previously to be found around Menilmontant, his beautiful and poetic drawings can now be seen more often in the Canal Saint Martin area in the 10th arrondissement, also sometimes in the Marais and parts of the 11th arrondissement.

I always find it such a delight to come across one of these drawings, they are pasted on the walls and disappear gradually depending on the weather, offering fleeting moments of gladness when you see one. They seem especially poignant now in the area that was hit so tragically by the attacks in November. ‘Invent monsters to scare away our fears’ is often something he writes under his drawings. Musicians play to a monster with death pinned onto his lapel, a child snuggles up to a great beast.

Fred Le Chevalier-Paris 2Other drawings show benevolent angels looking down on us, or scenes of comfort and peace. Each time I come across one of his works I am reminded that not only that it is possible to confront our fears, but also that art, beauty and joy still surround us every day.

If you are interested in his work you can see more on his Facebook page.

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A walk around the Canal St Martin

The area around the Canal St Martin in the 10th arrondissement is a fantastic place to wander around on a sunny day. The canal, with it’s 4.5km of water shaded by 100 year old trees and overlooked by locks and iron bridges, was inaugurated in 1825 and used for maritime transport, but is now quiet and peaceful. Over the past few years it has become one of the more fashionable areas of the city – try a cold pressed juice at Bob’s Juice Bar, enjoy delicious British fish and chips at The Sunken Chip, feast on good food and great coffee at Holybelly and Ten Belles, or browse for gorgeous art and design books at Artazart. If you’re there in the early evening, enjoy an aperitif and some people watching on the terrace at Chez Prune. Or if you fancy a taste of the country life in the heart of the city, pick up some amazing bread and pastries at Du Pain et des Idees or bring a picnic and relax by the side of the canal.