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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

The real Chinese quarter in Paris – Belleville

Many visitors to Paris will hear that the Chinese quarter is in the 13th arrondissement. Today I took a fascinating guided walk of Belleville (spread across the 19th and 20th arrondissements) and learned otherwise. The tour was part of an initiative called ‘Paris Face Cachée’, or Hidden Paris – organized once a year in February, it puts on guided visits of lesser known parts of the city or in buildings that do not normally allow access to the general public.

Belleville is home to a large Chinese and Indo-Chinese population. It’s not the oldest Chinese community in the city, dating back only around 15 years, but our guide explained it’s now the most authentic within the city, as the Chinese communities both live and work here. This part of the city has always been, and still is, one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the city. Formerly home to the working classes when it was a village outside the city, throughout the 20th century it became home to successive waves of immigrants – Armenians, Greeks, Jews and North Africans – turning it now into a fascinating and diverse part of the city. More recently, artists and young professionals (or ‘Bobos’ as they are known here, bourgeois/bohemians) have begun to gentrify the quarter, but it is so far still managing to hold onto it’s ethnic diversity.

Some of the best places to eat in the neighborhood were pointed out to us during our visit,

along with a supermarket selling everything you could need to rustle up your own Chinese feast at home – Chen Market.

The Chinese part of Belleville is located immediately around the metro. It’s not the most architecturally interesting part of Paris – much of it was redeveloped in the 1970s, but there are still a few vestiges remaining of the old buildings. It is though a fascinating part of the city both culturally and historically, and a wonderful place to stroll around and stop for something to eat.

  • Belleville Chinese Paris
  • area around Belleville metro, 75020/75019/75011/75010

Restaurants: Raviolis du Nord Est: 11 rue Civiale, 75010.  Wenzhou: 24 rue de Belleville, 75020.  Dongfa: 26 rue de Belleville, 75020.  Best Doufu: corner of Bd de la Villette and rue Civiale, 75010.

Paris Face Cachée website (in French)

 

 

Paris Plages

Every summer, from mid-July to mid-August, 3.5km of the busy road running along the Seine in the centre of the city is closed off and transformed into a beach, complete with golden sand, palm trees, deck chairs and petanque players. Introduced by the socialist Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe in 2002, Parisians who were not leaving the city to go on summer holidays discovered the joy of going to the beach in the heart of their city, and since then it has become a Parisian institution and also been the inspiration for many other towns and cities around Europe.

There are plenty of deck chairs and parasols, food trucks and ice cream stalls, dancing and ‘baby foot’, children’s clubs and petanque balls on loan. The atmosphere is relaxed and laid back. On a sunny afternoon it’s a great place for a stroll along the riverside, or take a book and find a deckchair in the shade.

As well as the beach running along the Voie Goerges Pompidou, Paris Plages can be found alongside the canal in the Bassin de la Villette in north east Paris. There are also beach volleyball courts in front of the Hotel de Ville.

  • Voie Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris. métro: Pont Neuf/Hotel de Ville/Chatelet/Cité
  • Bassin de la Villette, 75019 Paris. metro: Stalingrad

Paris Plages (map)

The Parc des Buttes Chaumont and Rosa Bonheur

The Buttes Chaumont is one of the largest parks in Paris and also the steepest – it’s built on the old quarries of Belleville. Inaugurated in 1867 – Napolean III decided to give some fresh air and green space to the people of Paris – it’s a very popular park amongst Parisians, great for running, picnicking, or just relaxing and reading a book. The park is planted with many different types of trees, and is big enough to feel like you are really escaping the city. You can also enjoy a lake with a restaurant located in a restored 19th century pavilion (the 5 pavilions in the park were all opened in 1868) Le Pavillon du Lac – check out their website if you can read French, on Sundays in the summer they organize dances, parties and concerts – a waterfall (with an amazing fake grotto underneath!) and a belvedere with great views across the city.

If you’re visiting the Buttes Chaumont in the afternoon, stop at  Rosa Bonheur and enjoy a drink and some delicious tapas. Named after a 19th century artist, this bar/café – also located in one of the original park pavilions – transforms itself in the evenings into a guingette – a traditional French dance hall, and is a current favourite of the Parisians. On a summer evening the line can stretch out of the park! This time of year though it’s quiet and relaxed in the afternoons and the food and drink is very reasonably priced.

  • Parc des Buttes Chaumont, 1 rue de Botzaris, 75019 Paris. Open Oct – April 07:00 – 20:00, 1 May – 31 Aug 07:00 – 22:00, Sept 07:00 – 21:00
  • Rosa Bonheur. Parc des Buttes Chaumont, 2 allée de la Cascade, 75019 Paris. Open Wed – Fri midday to midnight, Sat & Sun 10:00 to midnight
  • Metro: Botzaris

Villages in Paris – la Mouzaia

Whilst strolling around Paris, you can suddenly stumble across areas that look and feel more like a village in the middle of the countryside than a part of the city. I came across one of these today in the 19th arrondissement, a collection of narrow, sloping, cobbled streets  or ‘villas’  known as La Mouzaia. In a city where most people live in apartments, here you can still find rows of houses, with tables and chairs hiding in gardens overflowing with flowers.

These houses were originally built for workers at the end of the 19th century, the nearby Parc du Buttes Chaumont was at that time a gypsum quarry, and the surrounding area was full of modest houses like these. Most were demolished in the 20th century to make way for apartment blocks, but due to the labyrinth of quarries underneath it was impossible to build bigger structures here, so this small ‘quartier’ was saved.

Surrounded by Belleville and the Buttes Chaumont, once working class and now increasingly fashionable parts of the city, a walk through these streets is a world away from the city around it. The traffic noise disappears, time seems to stand still, and the perfume of flowers hangs in the air. Take the metro to Botzaris, walk along the rue de la Mouzaia and lose yourself among the dozen or so ‘villas’. You can finish your afternoon in the Parisian countryside with a stroll through the nearby Parc des Buttes Chaumont, and a drink (and why not a dance?) at Rosa Bonheur.

  • rue de la Mouzaia, 75019 Paris  metro: Botzaris