I recently spent two weeks in Paris, staying in chic and ‘authentic’ Belleville in arrondissements 19/20.
I always liked Belleville; l stayed here the last time I was in Paris, and declared it the part I’d live if I were forced to live in Paris. My original blogpost about it was one of the most viewed at the time.
Belleville is a slightly edgy multi cultural area. Migrants flocked here to work in the many factories and workshops and the area boasts a mixture of people from Tunisia, Armenia, Algeria, sub-Saharan Africa and other places. Now rapid gentrification is seeing many of these people forced out.
Do stop me if this story sounds familiar.
The area contains an array of different foods, from a mini Asiatic quarter where Chinese and Vietnamese food goes for reasonable prices (by Paris standards anyway) to a gaggle of Tunisian restaurants as you reach the spot where Boulevard de Belleville turns into Boulevard Ménilmontant.
These eateries are now interspersed with wholefood shops, organic markets, art galleries and hip and trendy bars.
Belleville, in common with Montmatre, is built on a hill. Parc Belleville offers great views over the city and wonderful sunsets on a clear day.
A short distance away is a larger park, built over an old quarry, Buttes Chaumont. I was quite excited to see the views this time, since last time I was here there was a heavy cloud base and so nothing to see.
Street art can be seen dotted around the neighbourhood.
Edith Piaf was born in Belleville (legend has it she was born on the streets; the truth may be a little different). If you have seen La vie en Rose (the film about her life) then Belleville features extensively in that. There is a small museum about her on Rue Crespin du Gast, but last time I checked it was only in French.
I rented an Airbnb, paying around three times what a local tenant would pay. Yes I have officially become the reason that locals are being squeezed out of their accommodation and being forced to move outside the periphery.
It was an old building containing lots of small units; at one time it would have been a rooming house with a bathroom down the corridor. Now each room has been converted into teeny-tiny self-contained flatlets.
My room contained a piano, all covered in bubble wrap. Good old Airbnb; you never quite know what you will find.
There are a few hotels starting to appear in the area (a lot of them didn’t seem to be here when I visited before). mostly they are boutique-style hotels (with prices to match). A sign that Belleville is changing fast.
Sarah’s irrelevant Paris fact: Here’s something I’d forgotten about Paris (or maybe I never noticed before since it wasn’t an issue): the metro is nothing but stairs. You go down stairs and walk along a bit and then you go back up stairs. Endlessly. It wasn’t unusual for me to come back with 15-20 flights of stairs showing on my Fitbit.