Petite Anglaise’s Travel Tips For Paris
Please join us in welcoming Catherine Sanderson to The Window Seat. She is the author of Petite Anglaise, a popular blog and new memoir of the same name. Her guest blog gives you an insider’s look at a special Paris neighborhood off the beaten path.
Every time I cross over the rue de Belleville, just below Pyrénées métro station, I’m greeted by a surprisingly clear view of the Eiffel Tower. From this vantage point, the city’s most famous landmark dominates the thin sliver of skyline, looking deceptively close, even though it’s actually four miles away. This view sums up what I love most about my neighborhood—and why it plays such a prominent role in my memoir, Petite Anglaise—it’s undoubtedly Parisian, but also a world away from the bustle of the city center and the well-trod path of the tourists’ trail.
Once a hilltop village named for its belle vue of the city, Belleville had morphed into a working-class town by the time it was brought within Paris’s city limits 150 years ago. Successive waves of immigrants have since transformed the area—nicknamed Babelville—into a colorful melting pot of cultures with a vibrant street life. Here Tunisian couscous restaurants, Jewish bakeries, and Mandarin bazaars stand side by side, beckoning passers by with their goods. Though too many of the neighborhood’s original houses, farms, and workshops have given way to soulless tower blocks in the name of urbanization, pockets of old Belleville still subsist, with its cobbled backstreets and leafy hidden courtyards. You just have to know where to look.
One of the best ways to appreciate the hidden charms of this neighborhood is to visit in mid-May, when the numerous art galleries and craft workshops in the area throw open their doors to the general public for the ‘Portes Ouvertes des Ateliers de Belleville’. But whatever the season, it’s well worth downloading the festival’s itinerary and using it as a route map for your visit. Better than any guidebook, it will lead you to many of Belleville’s most photogenic backstreets—rue des Solitaires, Villa de l’Adour, rue de la Mare, to name a few—where many of the ateliers listed are open year round. If you’d like to hear historical and cultural commentary as you stroll, Ca se visite organizes guided walking tours of Belleville, in both French and English.
Whether you discover Belleville on your own or with the help of a guide, I guarantee you’ll come away feeling like you’ve seen a refreshingly different side of Paris.
From time to time, the Window Seat publishes articles and blog posts written by guest authors to give you a fresh perspective on the world of travel.