Belleville, Montmartre’s little sister. Same charm, same village atmosphere, less tourists. You will have to explore though, leave the big avenues behind. Belleville gems are hidden its passages, cités, villas… Marriage vows written on the walls of the Passage des Soupirs, fragrant roses against old fashioned wooden shutters in the Cité de l’Hermitage, houses almost disappearing under garlands of greenery, palm trees, mosaics and African masks in the Villa de l’Hermitage, a shelter for snails and sweet little quotes in the Cité Leroy community garden, wisteria cascading down in the rue Mouzaïa…
It’s easy to forget that this is, in fact, a hill. That the neighbourhood in the past has built a clever hydraulic system to collect the water rain flowing down and redirect it to the heart of the capital. The street names still echo the memory: rue de la Mare (pond), rue des Cascades, rue des Rigoles (small stream)… And of course, from the top of the Parc de Belleville, there is this wonderful view of Paris, Eiffel Tower included.
It is, of course, still a quartier populaire, a people’s place, in the best way possible. A slower, happier kind of life, a neighbourhood which inherited its generosity from the generations of migrants who settled here, bringing a rich mix of cultures, giving it its nickname, Babelville. It was also, very much the countryside at some point, workers would go and work “in the city”, Paris feeling like a different world entirely. Little things will warm your heart. The flowers planted by families near Métro Jourdain around the street plane trees, with signs inviting you to water them if you’re from the area. Sharing pages from a newspaper in a café, no matter which language you speak.
Street art is now woven in Belleville’s DNA. Colourful murals, scenes made by several artists, a touching portrait in the park’s amphitheatre, simple hearts on road signs.
Belleville. Definitely under its spell.
You will find a Google Map with my favourite streets and street art points at the end of the page