The untamed charm of the 20th arrondissement
If you wish to experience a different Paris - one that has little to do with the hordes of tourists at the Eiffel Tower or on the Champs-Élysées - walk (or take Line Two of the Métro in the direction of Ménilmontant) to the 20th arrondissement, in the north of the city between Montmartre and the 19th. Long considered peripheral, of late this district has become quite popular for its youthful and alternative atmosphere. Not so long ago one of the few reasons to venture into the 20th was the nearby Père Lachaise cemetery, where luminaries like Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde are buried - as is Jim Morrison, whose grave has become a sort of pilgrimage site for Doors fans, who are no fewer in number as the years go by. As to Piaf, "the Little Sparrow" not only rests in Père Lachaise - she was also born in the 20th arrondissement. According to legend, she was born on the pavement at rue de Belleville 72, on a policeman's coat - a plaque commemorates this myth - but in reality she was born in the Tenon Hospital in this district.
The principal arteries of the 20th arrondissement are the boulevards named Ménilmontant and Belleville, their names holdovers from villages that were joined to Paris only in the 1860s. The 20th arrondissement experienced most every wave of immigration - Armenians in the 1920s, Jews from Germany in the 1940s, Algerians and Tunisians in the 1960s, and most recently a wave of Chinese immigration. Walking up rue de Ménilmontant one feels as though one has entered a different city, the buildings and the faces of passers-by differing as you explore this dense and cosmopolitan corner of Paris. The rue de Ménilmontant is more than a kilometre long and uncharacteristically steep - it's one of the steepest streets in the city and the climb is more arduous than the ascent to Sacré-Coeur. A bright pink shop with a worn blue sign announces Vintage 77 by Dje - within one can find vintage Chanel, YSL and Pucci items at prices that are far more reasonable than in the more well-known Paris at your feet.
Turning into rue des Pyrenées, you will come to the rue des Envierges. At the end of this street is Parc de Belleville, the highest point in the district. For those who delight in panoramic views, this parc is actually higher than Sacré-Coeur. The city below is different than the one you see from Montmartre, too - it's still something of a postcard view, but it's more realistic and a bit grittier. The Eiffel Tower at the centre and the roofs of the older parts of the city contrast with the rather unsightly witnesses of urban development in the second half of the 20th century. At one end of the square is the Café Animé La Mer à Boire (1/3 rue des Envierges). You won't find the ubiquitous tourists with cameras here because this district is off the beaten path - though nothing in Paris is ever really far. You can get lentil soup here for 4 euro and the space with its bright orange walls is also an unusual gallery, with shifting exhibits by local artists. The tables are arrayed along the wall and nearly every habitué is reading something, whether a a book or a newspaper.
The more you wander the streets of the 20th arrondissement, the more you will feel like you are strolling in a village. Taverns, cafés and artists' studios offer a kind of avant-garde or "underground" atmosphere in this area. Some facades are covered with grapevines, and many of the winding streets are cobbled. This area once provided all of Paris with water along its aqueducts, and its formerly fertile character isn't entirely lost even today - there are more trees than in other parts of the city and many lovely gardens between the walls, with shrubs that seem to sprout out of nowhere. As in a village, many people are quite neighbourly and eager to engage in conversation, showing visitors around and making introductions. The 20th arrondissement is now home to any architectural firms and studios, as well as Les Ateliers d'Artistes de Belleville, which is an association of nearly 200 artists in the 10th, 11th, 19th and 20th arrondissements. Every May there are open door days, when the countless galleries and artists' studios in these districts are open to visitors.
The 20th arrondissement has also drawn attention recently because of the opening two years ago of the hotel Mama Shelter, located in a former parking garage. Not far away is La Flèche d'Or, the most well-known indie rock club in Paris. Not easily spotted, with a wall covered with artificial turf and an unassuming gate, the club is located in a former station of the Métro. When you see a musician or two emerging, you know you're in the right place. Alongside the main space there's a small terrace with a small restaurant, offering a view of the lonely, disused railway tracks.
Mama Shelter is significant because it's the work of the French "hooligan of design" Philippe Starck, known for his luxury hotels - Sanderson and St. Martin's Lane in London, Fasano Hotel in Rio de Janeiro, the Faena Hotel in Buenos Aires and many another surprising design. Mama Shelter, however, offers Starck's design at rates that are quite reasonable for Paris; prices for rooms between 15 and 35 square metres in size range from 79 to 200 euro. The concept at Mama Shelter is a sort of hybrid of a luxury hotel and a hostel. The hotel has seven floors and 172 rooms. Starck's signature style is visible everywhere - the ceilings, floors and even the lifts are covered with stylized graffiti. The computer screens in the rooms sport ghostly blue chicken legs, and the bedside lamps recall the wrinkled visages of creatures out of fairy tales. Rapacious birds appear to be ready to swoop down upon the long dining table, which also contains screens - you can surf the Internet while you eat your breakfast.
If you have one day in Paris
The Left Bank is one of the most charming parts of Paris, renowned for its art galleries, antique shops, cafes, restaurants and marvelous shops - this is indeed a place where one always wants to return once one has experienced it.
Have breakfast at Ladurée, 21, rue Bonaparte. This is an ideal spot for a leisurely start to the day. Charming and truly Parisian in its ambience, Ladurée serves fabulous croissants.
There are two great bookshops nearby - Assouline (35, rue Bonaparte), and a bit further, in a lively square - Taschen (2, rue de Buci).
The rue de Seine is lined with galleries, but Galerie Claude Bernard (at the intersection of rue des Beaux-Arts) is especially worth visiting for its 20th-century art and the atmosphere of old Paris. Toward the Musée d'Orsay, two blocks away, there's another fine Left Bank bookshop - 7 L at 7, rue de Lille, owned by the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. In rue des Saints Pères, rue Jacob and along the Quai Voltaire you'll find the crème de la crème of antique shops.
The Musée d'Orsay has a unique atmosphere and mustn't be missed. Architecturally impressive, the museum is located in a former railway station that was transformed into a museum in 1986. The collections hold art from the 1840s to the first decade of the 20th century. The main claim to fame of the Musée d'Orsay is, of course, the collection of Impressionist paintings. There's also a marvellous café in the museum.
If you seek an unforgettable lunch, a perfect destination is Gaya par Pierre Gagnaire at 44, rue du Bac. Pierre Gagnaire has received three Michelin stars and this bistro offers a fantastically experimental cuisine. For those desiring more traditional fare, there's the renowned Brasserie Lipp at 151, Bouldevard Saint-Germain. Politicians, writers, artists and journalists have frequented this brasserie since it opened in 1880. Saint-Exupéry, Hemingway, Mitterand, and Chirac were among the many different famous persons to come here. The waiters are older men who love to strike up a conversation, and they move so artistically that it's worth coming here just to watch them in action. The atmosphere is quite informal and you may not have finished your food when the waiters begin to clear your table.
As to shopping - in Paris, forget about being reasonable! Rue Grenelle is known for shoes and stylish shops. The famous names are cheek by jowl -- Prada (at No. 5), Rykiel Karma (6), Maison Martin Margiela (13), Sergio Rossi ( 22), the shoe concept store Iris (28), the fine perfume shop Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle (37), Christian Laboutin (38 - 40)... and an exclusive cheese shop, Barthélémy (51) as well as Bon Ton (82), a fine shop for children's clothing. Fine eyeglasses can be acquired at the nearby Alain Mikli boutique , its interior by Philippe Starck (74, rue des Saints Pères).
Le Bon Marché at 24, rue de Sèvres is a good place to end your shopping frenzy if you've any balance left on your credit card. If you do, you may not once you leave here. La Grande Épicerie, the section for gourmets, is a must, and the stylish Delicabar is a nice place if you have a sweet tooth.
For dinner, Auguste at 54, rue de Bourgogne is a fine choice. Small and intimate, this little culinary paradise moves in a rhythm that's as leisurely as the rest of life on the Left Bank.
A Sunday in Paris
Sundays in Paris can be begun beautifully if you go to the marchés aux puces - the city's famous flea markets. One of the most exciting is the Puces de Vanves. It's fairly compact and you can find everything from furnishings to clothes all in one place. If you go early - the market operates from 7:00 am to 1:00 pm - you'll find that the Métro car may still be full as you approach Porte de Vanves. That's because everybody's going to the flea market, like you.
All of the city's museums are open on Sundays. All you have to do is decide what to see...
If you can't pass a single day without shopping, for which in Paris you are not to be blamed, then the shops in the Carrousel du Louvre basement are open on Sundays. For more unique gifts you should go to the Marais, however - most of the shops in rue Vielle-du-Temple, rue Rambuteau and rue des Francs-Bourgeois are open from noon until 6 or 7 pm. Le Loir dans la Théière at 3, rue des Rosiers is a pleasant place for coffee with chairs so comfortable that one doesn't want to get up. Students and a wide variety of stylish people gather in a somewhat Bohemian atmosphere.
For dinner, try a museum. One of the nicest trends in the 21st century is that of fine cuisine accompanying fine art. Paris museums are defintely on this wavelength. Your choices are vast, too. The restaurant atop the Centre Pompidou is the supermodel of museum restaurants, and it doesn't seem to age. The clientele, too, seems to have stepped off the runway. It's best to reserve a table by a window so that you can also savour the view of the city (Place Georges Pompidou, 19, rue Beaubourg, www.centrepompidou.fr). On the Quai Branly, in the museum of ancient civilisations designed by Jean Nouvel, there's Les Ombres (Portail Alma; www.lesombres-restaurant.com). This rooftop restaurant has a stunning view, too - it seems the Eiffel Tower could fall onto your plate. It must be said that a place that serves 200 rather than 20 can't be top-notch in the culinary arena, of course. Tokyo Eat (13, avenue du Président Wilson; www.palaisdetokyo.com) offers value at the most extravagant space for modern art in Paris, the Palais de Tokyo. The interior is a 1970s fantasy of the future, the lamps like flying saucers and chairs you can choose according to your mood and their inscription - "sex addict" or "nervous breakdown," for example...
If you have three days in Paris
If you wish to experience a different Paris - one that has little to do with the hordes of tourists at the Eiffel Tower or on the Champs-Élysées - take Line Nine of the Métro in the direction of Auteuil. Geographically, the jumble of streets that compose Auteuil are in the 16th arrondissement - but in many ways this is a city within a city. Time seems to have stopped here - the old Paris is preserved in Art Nouveau buildings with roof gardens, wealthy ladies walking their dogs in a world of almost provincial bourgeois charm.
A few minutes' walk from the Jasmine Métro station one can find the most famous structure in the area, Le Corbusier's minimalist classic, Ville La Roche (8, square du Docteur-Blanche; www.fondationlecorbusier.asso.fr). Built for the banker and art collector Raoul La Roche in 1924, this is a stunning exemplar of early modernism - white cement, geometrically precise Cubist forms, and a revolutionary simplicity. The dwelling and the Villa Jeanerret, next door, belong to the Le Corbusier Foundation and are open to visitors.
You should also explore the rue La Fontaine, known for the Art Nouveau architecture of Hector Guimard. Castel Béranger (at 14, rue La Fontaine) is doubtless the most impressive example, beginning with its asymmetrical iron gates. The house is unfortunately not open to the public, but one can see the furniture Guimard designed for it at the Musée d'Orsay (in the space devoted to Art Nouveau). The Hotel Mezzara, in this same street at number 60, is another masterwork by Guimard, built for the textile designer Paul Mezzara in 1911.
Not far from the Beranger palace there is a charming café called Café Antoine (17, rue Jean de la Fontaine, www.cafe-antoine.com). Opening its doors in 1911, the small establishment offers another trip back in time with its old tile floor and metal bar. By day there aren't many customers - perhaps a couple of ladies sipping coffee, accompanied by their beloved dogs.
Rue de l'Assomption will lead you to Place Rodin, where Auguste Rodin's bronze sculpture, "The Age of Bronze," graces the centre of the square.
Keywords: Paris, route, routes, France