The City of Light’s usual sightseeing spots—the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre, the Latin Quarter—are all worth a visit. These highlights, along with the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame, the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Tuileries Garden, have been tourist standbys ever since travelers began crossing the Atlantic to tour the Continent.
But if you push on a bit farther, a whole new world awaits. The neighborhoods of Charonne, La Butte aux Cailles, Canal Saint-Martin and Little Tokyo are home to a rich mosaic of culture, cuisine and parks that even many lifelong Parisians haven’t seen. They can be excellent for exploring on foot and offer visitors a glimpse of Paris life sans touristes. It’s time to put down the outdated guidebook and channel your inner flaneur. Bonne exploration!
Located in the 11th arrondissement, just south of Père-Lachaise Cemetery, Charonne is often touted as the last ancient village in Paris. It was annexed to Paris in 1860, but its roots run deeper.
Today hipsters head to live-music venue La Flèche d’Or (102 bis Rue de Bagnolet; 011-33-1-44-64-01-02; flechedor.fr), housed in a defunct rail station. But a walk along the neighborhood’s streets reveals its more mature charms. Saint-Germain de Charonne church (4 Place Saint-Blaise) was constructed in the 12th century; the site dates from a.d. 429, when it was allegedly a rendezvous point for Saint Germain and Saint Genevieve, the future patron saint of Paris.
Across the street, the cobbled Rue Saint-Blaise is filled with quiet neighborhood eateries, like Café Noir (No. 15; 011-33-1-40-09-75-80; cafenoirparis.fr) and Le Magnolia (No. 29; 011-33-1-40-09-19-79), a bistro tucked behind its namesake magnolia, in the courtyard. Follow the boulangerie-lined Rue de Charonne to Boulevard de Charonne, where Marché Charonne (Blvd. de Charonne and Rue Alexandre Dumas; Wednesday and Saturday, 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m.) remains one of Paris’s most authentic, less touristed markets. Here locals buy everything including jars of honey, flower bouquets, oysters and apples. Trace Rue de Charonne to Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, in the 12th arrondissement, and follow the scent of croissants to Le Square Trousseau, where the tidy Blé Sucré bakery (7 Rue Antoine Vollon; 011-33-1-43-40-77-73) churns out Paris’s second-best pain au chocolat, at least according to Le Figaro newspaper. Its madeleines, éclairs and lemon tarts are pretty good too. Keep walking south toward the Gare de Lyon to find Le Baron Rouge (1 Rue Théophile Roussel; 011-33-1-43-43-14-32), one of the best little bivalve bars in Paris, replete with tiled floors, barrel tables, an oyster shucker and regular mid-morning wine sippers who look as if they’d escaped from an André Gide novel. A five-minute walk away is an access point for the leafy three-mile long Promenade Plantée (promenade-plantee.org), an elevated railway track converted for pedestrian use in 1993, long before New York City’s High Line.
Wine is the star at this cozy neighborhood bistro, which has a thick carte des vins emphasizing French varietals. The menu is filled with classic bistro dishes, like bœuf bourguignon, garlicky escargot and an especially stringy aligot (mashed potatoes with melted Tomme cheese and garlic). 42 Rue Léon Frot; 011-33-1-43-70-59-27; melac.fr; dinner for two, $75*
La Butte aux Cailles
This hilltop neighborhood, whose name translates as Quail Hill, is in the 13th arrondissement. Like a quail, it lurks elusively, between two brassier neighborhoods, Chinatown and Montparnasse, and Paris annexed it in 1860 also. In 1871 it was a political stronghold for the Paris Commune when local communists defied the Versailles troops. During WWII it was an underground hub for the French resistance. The walls along Rue de la Butte aux Cailles are covered in colorful artworks by urban artists, such as Jef Aérosol, Jana & JS and Miss.Tic, known for her female empowerment motifs. One of the best times to visit may be at dusk (or, as the French say, l’heure bleu), when golden streetlamps light its narrow lanes and the bars aren’t yet crowded. A Basque restaurant to try is Chez Gladines (30 Rue des Cinq Diamants; gladines.com). One of the liveliest bars, Le Merle Moqueur (11 Rue de la Butte aux Cailles) is known for its varied rum selection but has only three tables, which explains why the surrounding streets are swelled with cigarette-smoking imbibers. For a taste of something less potent, head to Place Paul Verlaine, where locals refill their water bottles from the naturally fed well. The source also feeds Piscine de la Butte aux Cailles (5 Place Paul Verlaine; 011-33-1-45-89-60-05; admission, $4), a massive Art Nouveau pool with a high vaulted roof, built in 1924 and still open to the public for swimming.
Le Temps des Cerises
You don’t have to use the formal vous here. This everyman’s bistro—named for the song associated with the Paris Commune and arguably the soul of the neighborhood—is adamantly tu. The brusque waitstaff zips from the wood-paneled dining room to the terrace tables carrying plates of pears with Roquefort, crispy boudin noir and braised pig cheeks. 18–20 Rue de la Butte aux Cailles; 011-33-1-45-89-69-48; letempsdescerisescoop.com; dinner for two, $65
Unlike the other neighborhoods, this is a new district that developed on its own through free-market forces. This area was Paris’s premier gay neighborhood in the 1960s and ’70s, but when much of the gay community moved to newly cleared areas in the Marais, behind the Centre Pompidou, Japanese shops began moving in, and in the 1990s the neighborhood took shape. Today Rue Sainte-Anne is lined with noodle shops, Asian grocers, bubble-tea cafés and sushi counters. It runs from Avenue de l’Opéra to Rue Saint-Augustin and is the spine of the neighborhood, though the side streets are not to be overlooked. Some restaurants to check out are Aki (11 Rue Sainte-Anne), Higuma (32 Rue Sainte-Anne), Hoikkaido (14 Rue Chabanais) and Restaurant Kunitoraya (5 Rue Villedo). Salon du Fromage Hisada (47 Rue de Richelieu; 011-33-1-42-60-78-48; hisada.fr) is a fromagerie run by Tokyo-born Madame Hisada, who operates a cheese-themed tasting room on the second floor. Five minutes from Rue Sainte-Anne is a branch of the famous Pierre Hermé bakery (39 Ave. de l’Opéra; 011-33-1-43-54-47-77; pierreherme.com), known for its selection of macarons flavored with unusual ingredients, like jasmine, nutmeg, matcha tea, tonka beans and grapefruit.
Five minutes away is the Palais Garnier opera house (Rue Scribe and Rue Auber), considered Paris’s best example of Second Empire architecture. It’s another five minutes to the steps of the neoclassical L’église de la Madeleine (Place de la Madeleine), which has become a popular spot for lunch-goers to settle after grabbing something at the adjacent Marché Aguesseau (Place de la Madeleine; Tuesday and Friday, 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m.), one of Paris’s smallest food markets and the site of popular Le Camion Qui Fume food truck (lecamionquifume.com), which dishes up burgers for queuing Parisians.
Les Fines Gueules
There’s a lot of refined matchmaking going on at this 17th-century Mansart, located between Place des Victoires and the Royal Palace. The timber-and-stone walls pair well with the slate plates and modern tableware. Combinations on the plate are complementary. The steak tartare arrives beside a heap of truffle-oil-drizzled baby greens. Perhaps the best pairings of all are made with the wines, many organic, which come from a cellar stocked with more than 800 bottles. 43 Rue Croix des Petits Champs; 011-33-1-42-61-35-41; lesfinesgueules.fr; dinner for two, $90
Napoleon commissioned the nearly three-mile-long Canal Saint-Martin in 1802. It cuts through the 10th arrondissement before, unbeknownst to many, plunging underground and emptying into the Seine. Consider exploring both sides of the canal. The district’s western flank has been Paris’s bohemian area for a few decades but is becoming elegant in some pockets. Its slightly less discovered eastern half, Belleville, was annexed by Paris in 1860 and remains a working-class immigrant district peppered with relaxed cafés, affordable bistros and spacious parks.
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Vacation options in the Paris area include:
Park & Suites Prestige Val d’Europe R978
This resort sits on 2.5 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds. 21 Ave. des Frênes, Montévrain (about 25 miles from Paris)
Member Review: “This is a great place to stay if you want to be close to Disneyland® Paris.”
Suite Novotel Paris Porte de Montreuil 6206
A newly renovated resort with an on-site bar. 22 Rue du Professeur, André Lemierre, Paris
Member Reviews: “Rooms were very spacious and clean. The staff was friendly and helpful.”
“The hotel was very clean, quiet and well-suited for our needs.”
Suite Novotel Paris Porte de la Chapelle 8465
Contemporary suites located near the Louvre. 1 Impasse Marceau, Paris
Member Review: “The room was nice, spacious and quiet.”
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Non-RCI affiliated resorts:
Revamped in 2011, this 57-room hotel features a masculine slate-and-violet palette and free Wi-Fi. 6 Rue de l’Espérance; 011-33-1-45-89-56-54; hotel-saint-charles.com; doubles from $124 a night
The small rooms at this high-concept low-budget hotel were designed by Philippe Stark and include 27-inch wall-mounted iMacs, duvet-topped beds and bathrooms full of Kiehl’s products. 109 Rue de Bagnolet; 011-33-1-43-48-48-48; mamashelter.com; doubles from $110 a night
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- Published: Spring 2015