Though small compared to such metropolises as London or Berlin, Paris is nonetheless one of the most populous cities in Europe, and the largest in France. Even if most of the time in Paris you’ll feel like you’re in a big city, there are still some places which have not lost their village feel. Fancy a stroll through the villages of Paris?
Montmartre was annexed by the city of Paris in 1860, but still retains its village vibe. The highlight is the spectacular Sacré Coeur Basilica – take the funicular to the top of the hill if you don’t fancy the climb. The infamous Moulin Rouge cabaret is worth passing at night even if you don’t want to attend the show. Despite all the landmarks, there are parts of Montmartre that remain relatively free from tourists – don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track and dare walking the small cobblestones streets such as Villa Leandre or the Allée des Brouillards.
…Ride the Petit Train de Montmartre. An audio commentary will narrate the landmarks you’re passing, to a soundtrack of classic French music. Cheesy, but not to be missed!
The Square de Montsouris in the 14th arrondissement is one of Paris’ best kept secrets. Confusingly, the so-called “square” is not a square at all, but a street, full of Art Deco and Art Nouveau style buildings. Despite the occasional car passing through, it’s not hard to picture yourself travelling back in time to the 1920s and 1930s when they were built. Don’t be put off by the sign marked “privé” at the entrance to the street – it is accessible to the public if you respect the place and its inhabitants privacy of course.
…A stroll in neighboring Parc Montsouris. The vast, sprawling park is one of Paris’ largest green spaces, and boasts a lake, pony rides, and trails.
…Visit the remains of a Roman aqueduct on the corner of Avenue Reille and Avenue de la Sibelle, just a stone’s throw away.
Perhaps the least well-known of the Paris villages sits just west of the Sacré Coeur Basilica, in the 17th arrondissement. Though it may feel far from the tourist attractions of Montmartre, Batignolles is certainly an excellent place to escape the crowds for a while. And, with its artistic history (it was once home to Edouard Manet, and French literary heroes such as Paul Verlaine), cool restaurants and quaint streets, you may start to feel it has been unfairly overlooked.
…La Cité des Fleurs, a pedestrian street with small houses, flowers and plants, open on week days from 7am to 7pm only.
…Visit the Marché Bio, Saturdays, 34 Boulevard des Batignolles. The prices aren’t cheap, but the sights, sounds and smells of the market make it more than worth the trip.
Butte aux Cailles
One of the most well-preserved of the villages of Paris, La Butte aux Cailles in the 13th arrondissement takes its name from Pierre Cailles, who bought a vineyard there in 1543. At that time, most of the industry in the area was centered around the now extinct Bièvre river. These days, it’s famous for its countryside feel, Art Deco architecture, and trendy bars and restaurants. There’s also a vibrant and interesting street art scene. All in all, this trendy micro-arrondissement is a great spot to escape the crowds.
…A meal at Chez Gladines, 30 rue des Cinq Diamants. One of a chain of a few trendy restaurants around Paris, Chez Gladines is one of the best places to eat in the area.
…Visit the Art Deco Swimming Pool, Piscine de la Butte Aux Cailles 5 Place Paul Verlaine. A swim will set you back a whopping 3€!
Just as each arrondissement has its own unique feel, the villages of Paris and neighborhoods within them are not afraid to celebrate who they are. You don’t always need to take a day trip from Paris to escape the crowds and relax in the (almost) countryside.
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