breath of fresh air is not to be taken for granted in this
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, opened during the regime of Napoleon
III, is like no other green space in Paris – nor elsewhere. Built
on the site of a former quarry, its steep contours reveal sloping
lawns shaded by ornamental trees, labyrinthine paths winding past
bridges, grottos and waterfalls.
Visit first thing in the morning as locals practice tai chi, and
on a clear day, ascend one of its hills to steal views of
Sacré-Cœur. Safely away from the tourist bustle of Montmartre, the
sight of its elegant white domes through the haze rivals any
The eastern quarter of 19e – extending beyond Belleville and
Menilmontant – is fertile cultural stomping ground. Among the many
galleries here Bugada & Cargnel and Le Plateau
host a reliable calendar of contemporary exhibitions.
Artistic boltholes seen, it’s time to steep yourself in the
architectural intrigue of these neighbourhoods. The villas
parisiennes are a patchwork of ancient cul-de-sacs and secluded
passages; pockets of the city neglected by modernisation.
Seek out Cité du Palais-Royal-de-Belleville, Cité Saint-Chaumont
and the medieval red-brick gem at 13 Rue de la Villette. Once home
to diverse communities of labourers, traders and craftsmen, these
neighbourhoods today harbour artists’ studios and coveted family
homes, each as eclectic as their architectural heritage. To wander
amongst these streets is to uncover an alternative narrative of the
city, adrift from its popular image.
Le 50, the café behind the excellent Belleville Brûlerie
roastery, makes a cosy pit stop for lunch. On Wednesdays and
Saturdays, the bountiful Marché Villette yields further culinary
inspiration with its countless specialist sellers; rove among piles
of heritage tomatoes, local breads, cheeses and hot deli morsels.
Here, it would be rare to encounter anyone but locals laden with
North of Buttes-Chaumont lies the Bassin de la Villette, a
swiftly regenerating area flanking a section of Canal Saint-Martin.
The stark, concrete expanse of the waterway and its towpaths dotted
with bars, make for a sultry afternoon stroll. Refresh on the
terrace at Paname Brewing Company where there’s a weekly rotation
East from here, the canal narrows and eventually splits at Parc
de la Villette. Venture this far for the Philharmonie concert hall,
a Jean Nouvel-designed building which shimmers with metallic
scales. A loop of its exterior is more than enough to inspire,
though the rooftop can also be visited for free.
Dine on classic fare at Le Bellerive, on Quai de la Seine. The menu is
straight-up French bistro – make a beeline for a waterfront table
and settle down with a carafe. Serious meat-eaters ought to journey
south to Flesh II, the second outpost from Arnaud Champetier and
David Vidal, which draws Canal Saint-Martin crowds with slow-cooked
barbecue dishes and considered decor.
An alternative tack is to be found at Tintamarre, where
creative modern lebanese is served in a bright and minimalist
From here on the evening is yours: people-watch along the canal,
try cocktails at La Méduse (led by Hamza Saïdi from the Mary
Céleste oyster bar in Le Marais), or enjoy music and dance at
Paris’s answer to the Barbican centre.
A day among the backstreets of the 19e is as authentically
Parisian and yet surprisingly somehow un-Parisian. Soak up the
beguiling peculiarity of its heritage, awaken to its contemporary
culture, admire the off-kilter beauty of its streets, and languish
in its mellow tempo, a rare treat in the sparkling City of