Tired of all those gorgeously manicured gardens and Seine side picnics? Yeah, me either. Had enough of the spring time crowds and lack of available vélibs though? Absolument.
Cue the flowers and sunshine and it’s as if the Edith Piaf playing accordionaires are pied pipping hoardes of tourists over the hills to Paris. The second you can’t find a spot of green grass at the Jardin de Luxembourg, head straight over to the 13th arrondissement for a breath of fresh air and a tiny slice of the capital that most don’t see.
Centuries apart form the well-lit signs of nearby Chinatown and just down the road from the always lively Place d’Italie, lies the charming “village” of Butte-aux-Cailles.
Winding streets, rows of pastel colored homes and ivy covered passageways make up much of the allure. Add in some socially conscious street art, a neighborhood cooperative restaurant and a turbulent past and you’ve got an area like none other in Paris.
In the 16th century, Butte-aux-Cailles was covered in fields, windmills and the Bièvre river. Today it’s covered in cobblestones, remnants of the Commune, and Miss.Tic graffiti.
Named after Pierre Caille, who bought a vineyard here in 1543, Butte-aux-Cailles officially became part of Paris in 1860, when it was filled with farms and industry, including limestone mining, tanneries and the comically sounding tissue trades.
While all that’s long gone now, the quaint, neighborhood feel remains, with rolling hills (that’s the Butte part) and old fashioned street lamps to guide your way.
With our super touristy Eyewitness Travel Guide discreetly hidden within the pages of a Direct Matin, we followed its surprisingly useful walking tour to discover all Butte-aux-Cailles had to offer.
The peaceful streets and squares of the neighborhood are centered first around Rue Gerard, Rue Samson, and Rue Jonas.
Follow the grafitti onto Rue des Cinq Dimants where the Association des Amis de la Commune de Paris holds meetings and old ladies, and sells various paraphernalia related to the Paris Commune of 1871.
The residents of Butte-aux-Cailles were some of the first to fight and an adjacent square commemorating those events can be found on the corner of Rue de l’Esperance and Rue Buot. Judging from the crowds clamoring to get in, in the picture below, the spirit of the Communards is as strong as ever.
Just kidding, that’s a confused tour group. It normally just looks like this:
Passage Barrault is a quiet, cobblestoned area that offers a peek into blossom covered courtyards and ivy-draped walls.
If you really want to feel like you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, meander on over to La Petite Alsace. This handful of half timbered homes with colored shutters and a public courtyard look more like something you’d find on the German border than anything near the capital city.
Hipsters in their natural habitat along with families and lots of tiny dogs congregate along rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles, where you can do everything from buy homemade honey to grab dinner at the local cooperative, Le Temps de Cerise, a neighborhood staple since 1976.
There, the serves are also the managers, which, as anyone without a boss will tell you, makes everything better and in turn, way more friendly. Fresh, locally sourced food is always on the prix fixe and while you’re passing by, please also note the sign at the entrance, “SVP, coupez vos portables, bordel!” which basically translates to, “please, turn off your cell phones, damn!”
The street, and this restaurant in particular, are indicative of the neighborhood itself: communal, unpretentious and awesome. Plus, it’s a lively spot, full to the brim as soon as the sun goes down.
Speaking of things coming down, a few blocks away at Place Paul Verlaine (where Rue Bobillot and Rue Vandrezanne once met) is where the first manned balloon flight landed in 1783.
But perhaps our favorite part of the Tour de Treize was Square des Peupliers, a hidden gem of a (mini) neighborhood with wrought iron fencing, canopies des fleurs and art nouveau touches throughout.
Not far from Square des Peupliers is a Rue Dieulafloy, a small street lined with pastel colored townhouses (44 to be exact) complete with slate roofs and floral filled front gardens that make you feel like you’ve turned the corner to London’s Notting Hill. Named after one of the first doctors to discover appendicitis, this petite rue dates back to 1921.
Overall, Butte-aux-Cailles is everything you’d imagine a village on the outskirts of central Paris to be. Peaceful and undeniably charming, but with enough of the lively atmosphere to keep things interesting.
While you probably won’t make it out this far on say, a week-long vacation, it’s the best of both worlds for those of us who need some breathing room come April (or May, or June…) in Paris. And, it’s just short metro ride away.
Rues to Remember
Rue Gerard, Rue Samson, Rue Jonas A quiet, cobblestoned beginning.
Rue des Cinq Dimants Socialize with the Association des Amis de la Commune de Paris.
Rue Daviel Get a half-timber fix at La Petite Alsace.
Rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles Enjoy lots of cafes, restaurants and hipsters on the neighborhood’s lively main street.
Square des Peupliers Step back in time among small, vine covered houses.
Rue Dieulafoy Find London in Paris with rows of colorfully painted town homes.