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Paris, one of the most famous and photographed cities in the world.
And even so, we can still find hundreds of unknown corners, streets and hideouts scattered around the city, free of the usual crowds of tourists wrestling for the obligatory and threshed photo.
The following are just a few of my favorite hidden and less-known spots, where we can enjoy a quiet and relaxed time –and will allow you to brag about them later, endlessly burdening your coworkers and friends–.
Before starting with this list: don’t try to fulfill it entirely in a single day; as I always say, allow yourself enough time to enjoy every place of a city where even the Métro stations are gorgeous.
Our route begins in the famous Montmartre.
1- Place Dalida
While visitors usually climb to Sacre Coeur either by the countless steps of the staircase or by the Funiculaire de Montmartre, we’ll approach from the rear of the hill, taking the Métro to Lamarck–Caulaincourt station
Once there, we’ll head up to the tiny Dalida square –named for an Italian singer, famous in the ’70s–.
We’ll then follow our way up, enjoying the beautiful sight of the winding street leading to the heart of the neighborhood, with the white dome in the background, peeking above the roofs.
2- La Mere Catherine
Far from unknown or hidden, located just in front of the Place du Tertre, this restaurant founded in 1793 got a place in our list because it is said that it was here where the name “bistro” was born.
According to those versions, during the occupation of the hill by Cossack soldiers after Napoleon’s fall, these troops usually demanded their meals with the shout “bystrot, bystrot!” –Russian word for “quick” or “hurry”–.
Being that story true or just an urban myth is still under debate, but nonetheless the place remains evocative and faithful to the traditional ambiance of this area.
3- Le Passe-Muraille
Our strolling through the sinuous streets of Montmartre leads us now to the corner of Rue Norvins and Allee des Brouillards, where the tiny Place Marcel-Aymé –named for a famous Parisian writer– houses an unusual sculpture portraying Monsieur Aymé in the role of his most famous character: “Le Passe–Muraille”.
The story tells about a man who one day discovers that he can walk through walls, but finally gets himself stuck in between this one, where people keep “trying” to pull him out –quite noticeable by his polished hand–.
We’ll follow by Rue Lepic, not only because the wide curve of this street is far more interesting than the usual beaten ways, but also to reach our next stop.
4- Métro Abbesses
This station is one of the few still keeping the art nouveau glass canopy at its entrance, and also one of the only two that were actually designed by Hector Guimard –the responsible for the Art Nouveau stations all over the city–.
Once going downstairs, we cannot miss the artistic graffiti-covered walls leading to the platforms.
Suitable time to take again the Métro, heading to the following spot in our list.
5- The Flame of Liberty
This full–size replica of the flame of the Statue of Liberty, overlooking the western entrance of the Pont de L’alma tunnel, was placed here in 1987 to celebrate the 100 years of the Herald Tribune.
Nothing too special so far…
But on August 31 of that year, Princess Diana died inside the tunnel underneath the bridge.
Since that moment, people chose this place to leave their tribute to Lady Di –even when the Parisian authorities tried to avoid it–.
We can now walk to our next destination, or make another run on the subway.
6- Métro Arts et Métiers
Just across the street from the Musée des Arts et Métiers entrance, this Métro station exhibits a unique décor clearly reminiscent to the submarine Nautilus –from Jules Verne’s novel “20,000 leagues under the sea”–.
The walls are covered by hundreds of riveted copper panels, with brass–framed portholes portraying miniatures related to some of the artifacts displayed at the museum.
Be aware: we are talking about the station of Line 11, not the Line 3 one that’s also accessible here, but only shows the white tiles common to most Parisian Métro stations.
7- Georges Fouquet Jewelry Store
We should visit the Musée Carnavalet just to see this remarkable place.
Beyond Marcel Proust’s bedroom, we’ll find this jewelry, which is undoubtedly one of the most staggering shops in Paris.
Originally located on Rue Royale, this gorgeous example of Art Nouveau was designed by Alphonse Mucha –we’re talking about Art Nouveau, so who else?–.
You’ll surely don’t need me to remind you to take your time to appreciate the many details of its unique and elaborated décor.
8- Passage L’Homme
Hidden behind a door, this 120 meters long passage is easy to miss if you don’t know it’s precise location within the area delimited by Rue du Faubourg Saint–Antoine, Rue de Charonne and the Avenue Ledru–Rollin.
Kind of a retro–hideout a few blocks away from the hyperactive Place de la Bastille, this quiet and picturesque paved road is flanked by old façades dressed in glycines and bellflowers.
26 rue de Charonne
9- Cour Damoye
Home to artisan workshops in its origins, and lined today by low classical buildings dressed with climbing vegetation, this quiet passage developed in the 18th century by Antoine Damoye links Rue Daval to Place de la Bastille.
Witness of a long ago gone Paris, it still houses the Brulerie Daval, one of the oldest coffee roasters in Paris.
The Viaduct des Arts is a former suburban railway stretching from Bastille to Bercy was revived in 1994 to house several artisanal and antique shops, art galleries, sidewalk cafes and restaurants.
To be honest, I only discovered this while watching the movie “Before Sunset”, where the camera tracks Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke walking down the path, 9 years after their original story in “Before Sunrise”.
The Promenade Plantée is an elevated walk built atop the Viaduct brick vaulted arches, where joggers and regular visitors meet while overlooking the streets below.
11- Rue Crémieux
This discrete pedestrianized street runs from Rue de Lyon to Rue de Bercy, not far from the lively Marché d’Aligre –and my beloved Le Baron Rouge wine bar–.
This peaceful and distinctive cobblestoned way, sided by pastel–colored facades decorated with trompe l’oeils –see below–, began recently to gain an increasing –and unwanted– success as a photographing spot, so we surely won’t be the only ones taking pictures there.
Be advised to act quietly, since it’s not a touristic attraction –yet–.
– 12eme arrondissement–
Keep calm, I’ll not forget drinks and bites in a post devoted to Paris.
Here are a few of the many places I can recommend you.
And, just to be clear: when visiting bars, it’s all on you… don’t blame me later.
– La Mezcaleria-Bar Clandestino
I always prefer local cuisine instead of ethnic-restaurants, but this time I’ll make an exception.
This clandestine bar with an intimate Mexican atmosphere is the perfect place to discover Mezcal, the “Elixir of the gods“ –an alcoholic drink made by fermenting and distilling agave juice–.
I love their motto: “Para todo mal Mezcal, para todo bien también” (which roughly translates as “For all evil Mezcal, for all good too”).
To gain access to the bar, we’ll be led through the 1K Hotel bar and kitchens, until reaching a hidden door where a “Lucha Libre” wrestler will welcome us.
Feeling brave? Try El Diablito: a mix of Chambord liquor, Hot Pepper, Lime, Mezcal and homemade Ginger Sirup.
Open from Thursday to Saturday, from 8:30pm to 2am.
Better to call in advance (+33 1 42 71 20 00) or send an email to [email protected]
Hotel K, 13 Boulevard du Temple
The impressive and mixed décor of the place is easily explained by its long, changing history as a brothel in the 19th century, an upmarket eatery during the Belle Epoque, and finally this trendy café-restaurant.
Impossible to ignore the huge marble and iron staircase, the colonnades, the ceilings of sculpted wood, the bar’s elegant gilded mosaics, the stunning high glass ceiling between the bar and the terrace, and the decadent back room with red banquettes and stuffed animals.
Food might not be the best in town –even when the menu tries an inventive and modern approach–, but it’s definitely a great place for a drink within a gorgeous ambiance.
– Les 36 Corneil
Opened in 2010 by a guy called Cornelius, this wine bar located south of Pigalle shows no external signs to indicate its location, just a simple glazed façade.
The simple recipe here turns around a smart and wide wine offer sided by a changing menu of great canailles –Frenchified Spanish tapas–.
For a glass of wine expect to spend between € 3.50 and € 5, and € 12 for 3 scoundrels or 16 € for 5.
36 rue de Rochechouart
Inaugurated in 1901 and recently classified as historical monument, the luxury brasserie on the first floor of the Gare de Lyon remains as a glamorous, living example of the Belle Epoque.
The list of its faithful clients included Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot, Jean Cocteau, Dali, Luc Besson, and many others.
With a 3-course menu around €65, food is just OK for the prices, including classics like the foie gras, lobster salad and really good steaks.
If you want to save your wallet, you can have at least a coffee or a beer at the Big Ben Bar. Just walk through the main entrance and turn left for the bar area.
Gare de Lyon
Are you interested in discovering other Parisian places out of the tourist guides and main attractions?
I’ll include more beautiful and discreet places in future posts.
Mail me or leave your comment below and let me know what kind of places you prefer: streets and alleyways, markets, squares and parks, art-related spots and museums, restaurants and speakeasies?
As always, don’t wait for a “better” time, start preparing your next trip right now, and keep in mind:
“life is about the journey, and not the destination”.