Stroll Throughout Charonne Village
It’s still possible to find little pockets of the countryside in Paris, mostly close to the city’s edge. Enjoy this amble through one of these remaining “villages, Charonne, a journey taking you back 150 years to when it was annexed into Haussmann’s 1860 grand scheme for Paris.
Much like Montmartre, the working-class borough of Charonne, located in the northeast of the city near Belleville, was built up with small homes for the employees of its gypsum quarry, these were surrounded with vines, providing cheaply-flowing wine to the village’s lively guinguette dance halls akin to Renoir’s Moulin de la Galette painting. Enter straight into this atmosphere by taking the exit for blvd Mortier at the Porte de Bagnolet station on line 9. Right there are a line of beautiful demures, however, the staircase on rue Géo-Chavez will take you to a whole cluster of even more charming two-storey houses, covered in vines and flowers especially. Soak up this campagne atmosphere walking down rue Irénée-Blanc and looping back on rue Paul-Strauss.
If you don’t carry on wandering through this country haven, you can descend the staircase at the end of the Paul-Strauss which brings you down to a little square, cross this and take rue Capitaine-Ferber left, leading you to the square Edith-Piaf. A rather modest square for one of France’s most loved musical gems, nonetheless, it pays homage to her birth at the nearby hôpital Tenon as well as her early years in the district. There’s a lively market here and along rue Belgrand on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
Across the street you’ll find rue de Pelleport, take this until the first narrow street rue des Lyanes. At the end you’ll come to a park. Now the jardins Debrousse it used to be part of the property of the duchesse of Orléans, the favorite daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. She expanded on the chateau which previously stood here, commissioning the rococo Ermitage Pavilion around 1720, the only aspect of the castle which still remains today. It was said to be the duchess’s preferred retreat and, at the time, the whole domain occupied most of the current territory of the 20th arrondissement.
Carry on down rue de Bagnolet and you’ll reach the former town center of Charonne. On the small hill is the Saint-Germain de Charonne church, one of the oldest of Paris. In the romanesque style, it is a sort of mini version of the grander and better known Saint Germain church in the 6th arrondissement. What’s special about this church is it still has its parish cemetery. Being outside of Paris in the 18th century, it was spared when the other parish cemeteries were closed down and the bones moved to the Catacombs and then to the newer larger Pere Lachaise cemetery, built just south of Charonne in 1804. You can pop your head into this one, whereas the only other one of its kind in Paris, at Saint Pierre de Montmartre, is only open on November 1st, all Saints Day.
Facing the church is rue Saint-Blaise, the village’s “main street.” Today it’s seeing a bit of a resurgence with some new shops opening, in addition to nice cafés and restaurants. This could be a perfect time for a little break at the Café Noir (15 rue Saint-Blaise) or, before continuing on the stroll, backtracking to rue de Bagnolet for a cooler drink on the rooftop terrace of Mama Shelter (at #109) or the Fleche d’Or (at #102, only open in the evening).
Follow rue Saint-Blaise down to rue du Clos and turn right. Walking along it you’ll come to rue des Pyrénées, above you’ll see the old tracks for the Petite Ceinture railway which used to link the outskirts of the city to the main train stations. Crossing over Pyrénées you’ll see a cute old police station building for the district of Charonne, another souvenir of times gone by. On its left side is rue des Haies, take this downhill, along the way you’ll see some other quaint old village-like buildings and alleys. These will get smaller, and a number of impasses start lining either side of the street. Some are old narrow lanes flanked with small homes, whereas others have been recently revamped.
Take Passage Josseaume over a block to rue des Vignoles, an ode to the former vineyards of the area. Turn left and as you descend the street you will come across more charming impasses and modern ones similar the the neighbouringstreet, including notably Eden Bio, an eco-friendly initiative mixing sustainable public housing and art studios.
If you didn’t stop for a break around rue Saint Blaise, you might want to rest your weary feet on the friendly terraces of local haunts such as Le 20eme Art and Les Mondes Bohèmes or if you’re hungry, a creative organic meal can be savored at La Petite Fabrique. At the end of Vignoles you’ve hit the fittingly named Blvd de Charonne where you can jump back on the metro at nearby Alexandre Dumas or Avron… or if you still have energy why not take an amble through the laneways of Pere Lachaise cemetery to allow the country feel to linger or to pay full homage to district’s star, Edith Piaf.
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