Villages in Paris – the Square des Peupliers & rue Dieulafoy

I love the hidden corners of Paris that you can stumble upon and suddenly find yourself transported somewhere else, often to a small French town or village. The Sqaure des Peupliers is one of those places, a few narrow cobbled streets full of birdsong and the scent of flowers. Located in the 13th arrondissement, this tiny triangle of provincial France is a lovely detour in the spring and summer. Built in 1926 on the site of old quarries and the river bed of the Bievre, long since disappeared, grand building projects were not possible, and so a charming quarter of modest sized houses was built.

Nowadays, living in one of these houses is pretty much an impossible dream for most of us, but a stroll through the alleyways is available to everyone and is always a pleasure!

Whilst you are there, you can also see the nearby rue Dieulafoy, This street is very different to others in Paris. It’s lined with tall houses, each painted a different pastel colour, and each almost identical, with strange shaped slate roofs. The architect Henry Trésal designed the 44 identical houses in 1921. At the time they were aimed at middle class buyers, and were equipped with a modern bathroom and an obligatory 2.50m space between the house and the pavement, allowing today for some very pretty gardens. Many of the houses have been modified over the years, but you can still see the unity of the architecture in the street.

If you’re visiting the Butte Aux Cailles it’s well worth taking a few extra minutes to explore these two charming streets.

Square des Peupliers,  & rue Dieulafoy, 75013 Paris. metro: Tolbiac

link to map

 

Villages in Paris – Le village de Charonne

The Village de Charonne in the 20th arrondissement is sometimes referred to as the last village in Paris. Just a few steps away from the busy peripherique ring road, the village was annexed to the city of Paris in 1860 along with Belleville, Vaugirard, Montmartre, Les Batignolles and others – 11 villages and communes in total, finally making up the 20 arrondissements we know today. Prior to this, they were independant villages, often very bucolic, the countryside on the edge of the city.

Traces of many of these former villages can still be found in the city, although most of them are now becoming gentrified. Charonne still retains the feel of an authentic village, although it remains to be seen how long it will be able to sustain that for. The romanesque church of St Germain de Charonne, parts of which date back to the 12th century, sits in what would have been the heart of the village, with the old main street, the rue Saint Blaise, running down from it. Looking down from the terrace of the church you really can feel like you are in a French country village, despite the high rise blocks just a few hundred metres away.

Charonne was a quiet place where rich Parisians had their country houses. The fertile soil was covered with vineyards, and the abundance of wine gave rise to over 200 dance halls or ‘guinguettes’. You can also find the Pavillon de l’Ermitage, a small folly belonging to the Duchess of Orleans – daughter of Louis XIV and his mistress Madame de Montespan – all that remains of the enormous Chateau de Bagnolet. Otherwise there are no major monuments and no reason for any tourists to visit here. Just a charming slice of old Paris, with some of the country houses still hidden around street corners, winding cobbled streets and quiet squares where you can have a drink under the shade of the magnolia trees. But I would visit soon if you can, the clock is ticking and the authenticity of this small corner of French countryside risks disappearing.

metro: Porte de Bagnolet

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Villages in Paris – La Butte Aux Cailles

The Butte aux Cailles is one of the most picturesque parts of Paris. Once a village on the outskirts of the city, with the river Bievre (now filled in) running through it and surrounded by windmills, it housed workers employed in the industries that grew up around the river – mainly tanners and laundries. It’s located in the 13th arrondissement in the south of the city, and a walk around the pretty streets can feel like taking a stroll though a small country town.

The area really feels special in the city. It’s located at the top of a small hill, and does not have a supermarket or any chain stores. The streets are narrow and often cobbled, the area was spared the modernisation under Haussmann that changed so much of the rest of the city, and you’ll find individual houses up here with their own gardens, something extremely rare in Paris. In the spring the wisteria and blossoms fill the streets with colour and the air with perfume. Several artists now have their studios here, and the once modest area is now seeing real estate prices rise faster than almost any other part of the city.

A walk around the Butte aux Cailles is a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon. There are plenty of cafés and small restaurants, lots of street art, and one of the oldest and most beautiful swimming pools in Paris, the Piscine de la Butte aux Cailles– built in 1924 it has both and indoor and outdoor pools.

Butte aux Cailles, Paris, swimming pool

 

Take a look at the drinking water fountain on Place Paul Verlaine, the small square in front of the swimming pool. It dispenses mineral water from an artesian well and you can often see locals filling up their bottles from it. The swimming pool also uses this water – the original Bains Douches built in 1908 used hot water also from the springs and the outdoor pools are still filled with this warm water.

Take the metro to Glacière or Corvisart and walk up the hill. The main heart of the area is the rue de la Butte aux Cailles, this street is picturesque during the day and a lively and fun place to have a drink or dinner in the evenings. Whatever the weather or the time of day, the Butte aux Cailles is one of the most charming areas in Paris.

  • Metro Glacière or Corvisart. 75013 Paris.
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Villages in Paris – the Villa Leandre

On the north east side of the Butte Montmartre, away from the crowds, step off the avenue Junot and all of a sudden you can find yourself transported onto an English street. This small cobbled street is very untypical of both Montmartre and Paris, with its brick houses with steep pitched roofs and their own front gardens. Originally lived in by artists and actors (Michel Piccoli apparently bought No. 10 for Juliette Greco – she never lived there), it’s now some of the most expensive real estate in Paris.

The Villa was built in 1926, most houses have been in the same families for generations. Before it was built, there were windmills at the bottom of the street. Residents tell of how it was lived in by both German soldiers and resistance fighters during the war. Nowadays it’s a calm and quiet haven, visited sometimes by film crews, a world away from the city surrounding it.

  • Villa Leandre, between 23 and 27 Avenue Junot, 75018 Paris. metro: Lamarck Caulaincourt

A walk around Montmartre

Montmartre can be a complete tourist trap. I wonder if it isn’t possibly the single biggest disappointment for many visitors to Paris. Yet Montmartre is beautiful, it’s a village lost in time, the Paris of years gone by, lived in not only by famous, sometimes almost mythical ghosts, but by real people who are passionate about their little piece of Paris, and who love and nurture it. You just have to know where to go, and where not to.

Start at the back of the ‘Butte’ – the hill that Montmartre sits upon. Walk up from Lamarck Caulaincourt and you will find yourself in the heart of the village. See the Maison Rose, the pink house made famous by Utrillo’s painting, pass the Lapin Agile, the (in)famous Cabaret (still in existence today) where Picasso and others would drink and pay with paintings as they were penniless (did you know in 1905 Picasso gave a painting – ‘Au Lapin Agile: l’Arlequin au verre’ to the owner, Frédé, who later sold it for $20 – in 1989 it sold for $41 million and is now in the Met in New York…Picasso is the Harlequin and Frédé is playing the guitar). Don’t miss the beautiful vineyard, and if you want to learn more about the area and it’s fascinating history, pop into the wonderful Montmartre Museum.

I personally think the views of the Sacré Coeur from the back are the most beautiful.

Sacre Coeur-Montmartre-Paris

I have to be honest I’m not a big fan of the Place du Tertre (the Artist’s square with all the painters), but it is interesting to walk through and will take you down the front of the ‘Butte’ towards Abbesses, which is another very interesting part of Montmartre, much more lively and full of wonderful food shops and cafés, including the bakery that won the highly coveted ‘Best baguette in Paris 2015′! Don’t miss Jean Marais’ sculpture of the Man Who Walked through Walls (read the story by Marcel Aymé), the old windmills known as the Moulin de la Galette, originally for grinding flour (Montmartre had many of them in the days when it was a village outside Paris) and later a dance hall immortalised by Renoir amongst others  – check out his famous painting in the Musée d’Orsay. Also stop by the Bateau Lavoir, once the studios of Picasso, Max Jacob, Modigliani, Juan Gris and the birthplace of cubism.

Finish on the rue des Abbesses and the rue Lepic. Fans of the film Amelie Poulain can see the Café des Deux Moulins where she worked and the grocery store Collignon, if you haven’t seen it, make sure you watch it after your visit! The ‘I love you wall’ is also at Abbesses, and is fun to look at – a wall that we normally would associate with being a symbol of separation and barriers is transformed into a place of love and sharing.

Montmartre is one of my favourite parts of Paris. Whilst up there recently I met a 93 year old lady who told me she had lived there since 1933, and that nothing much had changed – except that maybe there were a few more cars! Get some comfortable shoes on (there are cobblestones everywhere) and a street map, and lose yourself in a part of Paris that is different to any other.

  • metro Lamarck Caulaincourt or Abbesses. if you prefer to go up via the Moulin Rouge, take the metro to Blanche.

 

 

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Villages in Paris – la rue Cremieux

Blink and you could be in a village in the west of Ireland. Or perhaps Portobello Road in London. The rue Cremieux in the 12th arrondissement is one of the most picturesque streets in Paris. The street is only 144 metres long and 7.5 metres wide – thirty five houses, no more than 2 storeys high and with a kitchen in the basement, were built in 1857 for local workers, and in 1993 it was repaved and became pedestrian only.

The brightly painted houses and tranquil atmosphere of the street are a world away from the busy Gare de Lyon just around the corner. If the bustle of the city gets a bit too much, step off into the rue Cremieux, and the roar of the city around you could almost transform, just for a moment, into the roar of waves crashing onto an Irish beach.

  • rue Cremieux, between the rue de Lyon and rue de Bercy, 75012. metro: Gare de Lyon or Quai de la Rapée
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The Ile St Louis in winter

The Ile St Louis is particularly beautiful in the winter, more so than in the summer in my opinion. The pale grey and white of the buildings and shutters blends with the grey Parisian skies, and is punctuated here and there by flowers, the black outline of a tree, or a few remaining yellow leaves. Much quieter than in the summer months, you can get a taste of how life used to be here in days gone by.

The Ile St Louis is the smaller of the two islands on the Seine in the heart of the city, and really feels like a separate small town. In fact those who lived there used to say that they were going to Paris, the mainland or even the continent when they left and crossed the bridges into the city. One of the oldest preserved sections of the city (and now boasting some of the most expensive real estate around), the island is filled with magnificent 17th century townhouses, many concealing beautiful courtyards and bearing plaques telling the stories of the nobles and famous residents who once lived there. One main street bisects the island and is filled with shops and cafés, the most famous of course being Berthillon, the ice cream parlour that brings people flocking here in the summer.

If you have a chance, go for a wander around the island. You can take a bottle of wine, buy a baguette and some cheese from the wonderful shop on the rue St Louis en l’Ile and eat it down by the riverside, followed by an ice cream and a stroll through the quiet streets.

  • Ile St Louis, 75004 Paris. metro: Sully Morland or Pont Marie

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