Belleville has been on my list of places to visit for ages. The area of Paris where all the indie models and artists seem to hang out, Belleville has been said to be the ‘Shoreditch of Paris’: cool cafés, vintage shops and lots of trendy locals.
Located in the 20th Arrondissement, Belleville is surprisingly hilly, compared with the flatter centre of the city. We marched up the straight street, burning off our brunch in the meantime, and tried to get the classic photo from the top of the hill. It was biting cold, and the sky wasn’t quite clear enough for the perfect view, but we got the gist anyway – you can even see the Eiffel Tower in the background!
After navigating the many streets of Chinese restaurants, we managed to find Rue Denoyez, the little passage famous for its street art. This is apparently the one place in Paris where graffiti is allowed, and both local and well-known artists go there to contribute to the colourful walls. It was nice to see people out there with their spray cans, even on the coldest of Saturday afternoons!
We then headed to Parc des Buttes Chaumont, a beautiful park we saw on Instagram in the summer and have been desperate to visit ever since. An old quarry which Napoleon turned into a park in 1867, Buttes Chaumont is full of stunning rocks and cliff faces. Little bridges have been constructed between the rocks, and there is even a little temple at the top of the central point. Admittedly, the park might be even more enjoyable in the summer, when locals flock there with picnic hampers, but we had a very nice walk nonetheless, and even stumbled across a wedding party.
Having warmed up our fingers over a cup of tea, we rambled back through the lower sections of the quartier, stopping at a couple of shops along the way. Le Monte en l’Air, a really cute little book shop by rue Menilmontant, is a must-see – apparently the shop assistants have all read every book in the new releases section. We also visited Vintage 77, which we’d read about on the Hip Paris blog, but there wasn’t much in this little shop that you couldn’t find in one of the great vintage shops in the Marais…
We walked back home via le Parc de Belleville, another pretty park with great views of the city. You can see the Tour de Montparnasse, the roofs of Pompidou, and the Eiffel Tower, which was barely visible on this overcast Saturday.
Later on we enjoyed a boozy dinner at Buvette, a trendy bistro in Pigalle which we’d been wanting to check out for months. Originally based in New York, Buvette is famous for its cocktails and its comforting, tapas-style dishes. We decided to share a few of the plates and work our way through the drinks menu. Despite the restaurant’s American origins, the food we tried was actually pretty French: a lot of cheese, herby moules, coq au vin, mousse au chocolat and our first taste of l’os à moelle – fatty but delicious bone marrow which you spread on great hunks of baguette!
Sunday was one of those lovely cosy, lazy days. Hiding from the cold and rain, we went for mulled wine near Canal Saint Martin while waiting for the bar at Le Comptoir Général to open (it was still lunchtime). Le Comptoir is probably a bit too cool to be described as simply ‘trendy’. A bohemian cafe/cocktail bar/concept shop/general lounge area, with a Brazilian/African vibe, this place is perfect for people watching.
One rum punch down, casually lounging on the comfy sofas, we realised the crowd on this particular Sunday afternoon was even more ‘trendy’ than normal. Turns out that some American documentary on Black Dandyism was being filmed: cameras were installed in the centre of the room, music started playing, and these ‘black dandies’ proceeded to strut their stuff for the film crew. I can’t pretend we had known it was going to happen, but it was a very cool event to stumble across. I have since learned that this was part of the ‘Salon de l’Homme’ which was taking place in Paris that weekend. I have since done some reading up on the dandy ‘trend’ (Dandyism isn’t really a trend, but a lifestyle) – I had no idea that there are so many layers of thought behind the Dandy’s impeccable appearance.
What actually struck me the most about my Comptoir Général experience was just how un-Parisian the whole thing was. You wouldn’t be surprised to stumble across a similar gathering in London, but the combination of the colour, energy and show-offish-ness was just so different to the stereotypical chic, understated Parisian. People seemed a bit less self-conscious and more at ease than anywhere I’d been for a while – it was a nice change to see a bit of colour and energy after a lot of chic, black clothing and sophistication!
Observing from the sidelines, I still felt very uncool, but that happens whether I’m on the streets of Shoreditch, Paris, or even Oxford!