Paris Places To Visit


Quai de Jemmapes

‘Un paysage de Hollande, ’ says Michelin. Hardly: various and apt to change gear – down into the most chic squalor in the world, seeped in from Belleville, up into the world of the boulevards which are only a few yards away. This is an industrial canal which has been French-polished, the link between the Bassin de la Villette and the Seine; the dark poetry is lightened but not dispersed amongst the trees, the Sunday fishermen and the repeating high-arched footbridges. The forthcoming urbanity is clearly implied and so is the sombre journey down the Aisne and Oise.

Paris Places To Visit Photo Gallery

Paris Tour Guide Barriere and Bassin de la Villette

Imperious Ledoux was commissioned just before the Revolution by an imperious system to provide a set of gates to Paris – like our huts for customs men, but better done. And because Ledoux was a genius, the result was a brilliant set of geometrical jokes. Hardly anything has survived; the Barriere de la Villette is the biggest of the fragments. Inside a rusticated square, Ledoux inscribed a magisterial rotunda, equipped with Venetian arches linked together, low-high-low, all the way around. The old counters are juggled together in an entirely new way.

All-righty. Achievement: yes. But what has happened to the surroundings? In front, an elevated railway wriggles across, part of the Metro gone above ground. On the other side is the true heritage: a canal basin, framed first by a modern bus station which looks much older than anything else on the site, and then, more to the point, with a pair of weeping willows. Far down, a footbridge, taut as a watch spring, crosses the canal and has been thoughtfully provided with a large clock. Like many things in France, it looks battered but works well. When you finally reach it, you are hoisted up between horse-chestnuts onto an iron epigram The basin, which belongs to the Canal de l’Ourcq, finally runs into conventional waters at Meaux.

Travel To Paris France Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

Imagine St James’s Park enlarged, intensified and fitted to a dramatic, crumpled landscape made up from disused quarries. That is the Buttes-Chaumont in the unvisited north-east suburbs -London’s topographical equivalent would be Finsbury Park – and it is due to that same Haussmann who pushed through the boulevards. If only he had not decided – just like Olmsted in New York -that curves were only for parks! For the imagination and especially the orchestration in the Buttes-Chaumont is superb: landscape music worthy of Berlioz. The plan is an isolated rock surrounded by a lake and steep banks, reached by two bridges. Beyond, the park proper curls and deploys with violent changes of level and occasional views north across the melancholy plain towards Saint-Denis. Best on a Sunday, when the thick landscape is partnered by an equal chorded richness in family relations: French parks are best full and English parks are best empty. (The island is at the moment inaccessible, and half of the lake is drained. I hope that this is merely a temporary repair, because this is one of the sights of Paris.)

Rue Georges Lardennois, etc.

This strangest of French garden cities lies immediately southwest of the Buttes-Chaumont, on a butte of its own. There are several flights of steps, but only one motor road in. On the hilltop, the extremes of the 1930s are jammed up against each other as amiably as French families out for Sunday lunch. The way-out moderne meets the deep-entrenched country-Norman style; good grief, those others have two arms and two legs too! This demilitarized zone has a distant view, which is an aid to any armistice; Montmartre comes up damned close and all the rest of Paris seems to be miles away.

Travel To Paris Alone Saint-Jean-de-Belleville and surroundings

Here is a setting that many cathedrals would envy. The three-spired church (by Lassus, 1854) is conscientiously Gothic and no more (some cathedrals in the Ile de France are no more, either). It is loved by its surroundings in a way that Victorian churches in England used to be. A widening funnel leads to the imposing object and then closes around it. God in his market place; Communist priests and superstitious union officials. And, confirming it all, a nineteenth-century milieu more sensitive and more impressive than the longest of Grands Boulevards. It all seems likely to come down as slum clearance.


I have seen this place only once, on a wet Sunday afternoon in October. It would be natural to suggest that I have projected Rochdale or Burnley on to this hilly eastern suburb of Paris. But I doubt it: Menilmontant, like Belleville, has a genuine poetry. The main road stares uphill, as bleak as a Route Nationale in Picardy; the church squats down beside, with a grand scale but no finesse at all. A staircase leads down to an inner Menilmontant which turns out to be the same view of long, even, shabby, stuccoed streets. Yet they are all bound together with the human coherence which invests the most ordinary of Parisian objects with genuine permanence: genuine because it goes on living. Montmartre had its Utrillo, and many more besides; but who is painting this?

Maybe You Like Them Too

Leave a Reply

9 + 1 =