Dedicated to Peter O.
The place is relaxed, peaceful, with a real neighborhood life and feel: Bienvenue aux Batignolles. This was my home for a few days during a recent visit when I rented an apartment rue Truffaut. We are in the northeastern section of the 17th arrondissement in Paris, just west of Montmartre. Once a humble village, the neighborhood attracted Parisians seeking dépaysement (a change of scenery) and fresh air away from the French capital in the early 19th century. Le village des Batignolles grew quickly, and was eventually annexed to Paris in 1860, under Napoleon III, when it was split into two sections, les Batignolles and Monceau. In the late 19th century, the area became popular with artists and friends of Edouard Manet. They formed “le groupe des Batignolles,” and would eventually make their mark with the Impressionist movement. Their old ateliers have been replaced by art galeries.
Today, it is easy to remember les Batignolles once was a village. It is a delightful neighborhood with a mixed personality, where past, present and future live side by side, fairly harmoniously, but for how long (*)? Strolling along peaceful streets lined with shops, galleries, restaurants, and cafés, one is reminded of the reasons why so many people around the world have fallen in love with Parisian street life. Many of the small village houses where retirees, artists, white-collar workers once lived, are still here today.
This is the type of neighborhood where there are so few tourists, locals will stop by and proudly point out architectural and historical details when they spot a visitor sightseeing. This lady noticed I was admiring the old boulangerie at the corner of rue des Dames and rue Biot. She insisted on showing me the beautiful ceiling inside the boulangerie. It was not to be missed, you see! Another passer-by took me to an ornamented façade.
At the heart of les Batignolles is a beautiful park, designed by Jean-Charles Alphand in the naturalistic English garden style prevalent during the Second Empire. In sections, le square des Batignolles, with its grotto and small waterfall, reminds visitors of les Buttes-Chaumont, another Alphand creation. This is the perfect place to observe the evolving socio-demographics of the neighborhood: Young families rub elbows with retirees, Parisian Bobos (Bohemian-Bourgeois,) pétanque players, joggers and others. I walked the park’s scenic pathways at different times of the day, every day. It is impossible to take a bad picture of le square des Batignolles, its magnificent old platanes (plane trees,) and bird population. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the accordion music and the laughter of former Batignollais and Batignollaises who met here each summer on August 15 (when it was still an empty field,) to dance and celebrate. This was before Alphand, when working classes entertained themselves outdoors and at the local guinguettes.
Outside the park, a village scene awaits, featuring Sainte Marie des Batignolles church. Around it, a sleepy square, at least in the early morning, with empty café terraces, and a few shops. The area turns into a lively scene in the evening, restaurants sprawling on the sidewalks.
Just like any French village, les Batignolles is anchored by a small square, Place du Dr Felix Lobligeois. From there, one can follow the main street, la rue des Batignolles, lined with shops and real estate agencies showcasing sky-rocketing property prices. The secret is out: Les Batignolles is a desirable place to be!
If you are interested in Parisian landmarks, museums and chain stores, this is not the place for you. If you are looking for an authentic neighborhood, where you can experience a slice of French life; purchase your baguette and chouquettes in the morning; stroll in the streets; enjoy an affordable lunch en terrasse, away from the commotion of downtown Paris, then you should consider staying here. Several Metro stations are located nearby, and you are but a few minutes away from major tourist attractions.
All photos by French Girl in Seattle. Please do not use or reprint without permission.
(*) Batignolles: the old and the new. Change is coming to the Batignolles neighborhood, and it is coming fast. This article explains why. You can see the giant cranes looming over the new Martin Luther King park in some of my photos of the Square des Batignolles.
Square des Batignolles: Video