This week I took yet another trip to Paris. Instead of the usual tourist hotspots, I spent this trip in and around Belleville, in Arrondissements 19 and 20. It’s not that I don’t love Montmartre and the Latin Quarter, however I wanted to encourage myself to go somewhere different and to get a feel for the Parisian’s Paris, rather than hang out in the same places.
Belleville is a melting pot of nationalities, with a small Chinatown huddled around the metro. Then as you walk further on it opens up into a whole international mix of North African, Jewish, Sri Lankan and Indian shops and restaurants.
I immediately liked the neighbourhood. Belleville has a very local feel about it. If I were forced (ha, if only) to move to Paris then this is where I’d pick to live. Montmartre is too expensive and too touristy and the Latin Quarter is similarly overdone, but Belleville felt very Parisian. I spent my time walking through the parks, buying baguettes from the local boulangeries and enjoying the local street art and galleries. I felt no urge to go and join the tourist hordes at the Louvre or Eifel Tower, although if you do it is all only five or so stops on the metro.
The area is well catered for in parks. The huge Buttes Chaumont, on the site of an old quarry, has wonderful views over the city (not so great whilst I was there due to heavy cloud base, but still impressive).
The smaller Parc Belleville is nice too. Plus I came across a little impromptu film set at the top (the area is a popular place for filmmakers apparently).
If that’s not enough parks, note that Pere Lachaise cemetery is also in the arrondissement. A huge cemetery, it is a veritable who’s who of famous dead people and contains the remains of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, amongst others.
Belleville is also famous as the birthplace of Edith Piaf. (the area features extensively in the movie about her life ‘La Vie en Rose’) There is an Edith Piaf museum, although there are no English subtitles and so you either need a working knowledge of French or a familiarity about her life in order to appreciate it.
You can have coffee at the Aux Foiles café, where she once sang (I don’t drink coffee so can’t comment on the coffee, but their Martini was excellent).
At the side of the café is Rue Denoyez, which is a street of ‘legal’ graffiti.