The French always tell visitors that Paris is a village, and nowhere is this more true than in the buzzing, stylish quartier Aligre by the famous Place de la Bastille. John Brunton reports.
1 - LE VIADUC DES ARTS
Running along Avenue Daumesnil, the Viaduc des Arts was originally a 19th-century railway viaduct, part of a train line known as the Petite Ceinture – the Little Belt – running all the way around Paris. Long abandoned, it would have been demolished by most town halls, but Paris adopted a daring renovation plan which beautifully restored 50 of the railway arches. Each one was handed over to a master craftsman, with the space to set up both a working atelier and a boutique, to enable passers-by to see centuries-old trades functioning successfully, and buy handmade, exclusive products often at much lower prices than in specialist shops. There are jewellery artists, tapestry weavers, cabinetmakers, violin and flutemakers, hat designers and glass blowers. But the Viaduc is not just about window shopping – up above, the old railway line has been turned into the Promenade Plantée, a secret walkway of trees and plants, flowers and herbs high above the street which runs for over two miles. Visit leviaducdesarts.com.
2 - MARCHE D’ALIGRE
The Aligre market is a paradise for foodies, where you can take home everything from cheeses, foie gras, mountain hams and sausages, to wine and olive oil. It is famous throughout the city as one of the cheapest food markets and has now become a magnet for fashionable Parisian “bobos” (bourgeois bohemians) at the weekend – the inevitable gentrification of what was once a working class and immigrant neighbourhood. The market is split up into three very different parts. Every morning, apart from Monday when everything is closed, rue Aligre is turned into a boisterous open-air fruit and vegetable market. At the end of the street stands the majestic Marché Beauvau, a covered market full of specialist gourmet food stalls, which dates back to 1779, while in Place d’Aligre itself there is a genuine flea market, irresistible for bargain-hunters looking for antiques, vintage clothing and old books. For more details visit marchedaligre.free.fr.
3 - RESTAURANT LE TRAVERSIERE
Whether you feel like a classic plateau de fruits de mer in the magnificent art nouveau Brasserie Bofinger, or an exotic Moroccan tagine in the trendy Mansouria, visitors to this part of Paris are spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out. But for a taste of truly traditional French cuisine, the place to reserve is Le Traversière. This is one of those hidden addresses that never feature in fashionable guide books, but when you walk in at midday it is filled with French hommes d’affaires, who somehow still seem to have the time and expense accounts for long, lazy lunches. The chef and owner, Johny Benariac, is an amiable giant of a man, always popping out of his kitchen to chat – and drink – with customers. His cooking is hearty terroir cuisine, with big portions using the freshest produce straight from the market. He brings to life classic dishes like bouillabaisse, wild hare à la royale, succulent scallops in a shellfish coulis, and his foie gras is just out of this world. Open Tuesday to Sunday 12-2.30pm and 7-10.30pm, closed Sunday evening (40 rue Traversière; tel +33 143 440 210).
4 - LA MAISON ROUGE
Opened only three years ago in a vast disused factory space, La Maison Rouge is one of the most important private art foundations in Paris, presenting two major avant-garde exhibitions each year. The interior design of the foundation is as breathtaking as its exhibitions, and there is also a cool café, which serves lunch, and an excellent bookshop specialising in art and architecture books and DVDs. Unlike public museums, such as the Musée d’Orsay and Le Grand Palais, the Red House is off the beaten track and you can actually enjoy the exhibitions without queues and crowds around each piece of art. When you walk out of La Maison Rouge, you are right on the Canal de la Bastille, perfect for a quiet waterside stroll up to the Place de la Bastille and its landmark Opera House. Open 11am-7pm Weds-Sun, late night Thursday until 9pm (10 Boulevard de la Bastille, tel +33 140 010 881; lamaisonrouge.org).
5 - LE BARON BOUGE
An obligatory stop-off to get an authentic “slice-of-life” feel for the village atmosphere of Aligre, Le Baron Bouge is the kind of quintessential bistrot that people dream of discovering in Paris. This is where everyone in the quartier gathers for a glass of wine, a plate of saucisson and fromages, or a dozen oysters. With its giant oak barrels, gleaming zinc bar and racks of fine wines, Le Baron is a restaurant that is buzzing at all times of the day and night. At lunchtime, it is filled with market traders and shoppers, in the evening a younger, trendier crowd turns up, drawn here just as much by the eclectic art exhibitions and jazzy music. At the weekends, an oyster farmer from the Bay of Arcachon, Bernard Delis, drives 600km and sets up a stall outside the bar. And at lunchtime on a sunny Sunday, a couple of hundred people teem out onto the pavement, precariously balancing plates of oysters and bottles of Sancerre on the bonnets of parked cars. Open 10am-2pm and 5-10pm daily, closed Sunday evening and Monday (1 rue Théophile Roussel, tel +31 143 431 432).
6 - RUE DU FAUBOURG ST ANTOINE
When King Louis XI allowed furniture craftsmen to set up ateliers on this ancient street back in the 15th century, he created the principal working-class quarter of Paris. The quarter housed those who would eventually storm the Bastille at one end of the Faubourg and set up a guillotine at the other end, the Place de la Nation. There are still some kitsch furniture showrooms left on the street, but this is now one of the capital’s trendiest areas and what people come for are the hip bars and nightclubs that open up after dark. On the Faubourg itself, you can hop from the Barrio Latino, a flamboyant art deco palace, to the cool bar Sanz Sans, or from the Rula Bula, an Irish sports bar, to the exotic Caribbean rum bar, La Rhumerie. Be sure to head off down the small side street, rue de la Forge Royale, where two much bigger clubs go on until the early hours of the morning – the chic, Moroccan-themed dance club La Casbah, and Le Reservoir, a packed live-music venue.