Le village d’Auteuil: In Paris, yet a world apart

Le village d’Auteuil, a historic village inside Paris

Life was peaceful in the old commune of Auteuil west of Paris, until Baron Haussmann and his employer Napoleon III decided to overhaul the French capital and turn it into one of Europe’s grandest cities. By 1860, Paris was incorporating Auteuil and several other suburban areas including les Batignolles, Passy or Belleville, and the city doubled in size. Auteuil became the southern part of the 16th arrondissement, and its neighbor Passy got assigned the northern section.

Locals did not see the need for the annexation of their village into Paris: Overlooking the Seine river (merchandise arrived by boat on quai Louis Blériot, a lively area day and night,) Auteuil was conveniently located on the main road to Versailles, with ideal south-southwest exposure. Fields and vineyards sprawled on the Auteuil hill. Life was simple, but good. Auteuil became popular early on with French nobility who invested in local real estate and built elegant country retreats they visited on weekends or during the summer. Members of the bourgeoisie later joined them, and Auteuil became known as a locale of choice for affluent Parisians. Artists loved Auteuil and lived in more modest abodes. Molière, France’s famous playwright, was a resident. He met his friends, poet-critic Boileau, Jean Racine, or Jean de la Fontaine, the famed fabulist, at l’Auberge du Mouton Blanc, 40 rue d’Auteuil (the former inn is still open today,) for lively debates and conversation. Marcel Proust was born in Auteuil. Victor Hugo lived in the neighborhood. In the 18th century, during the Enlightenment, renowned literary salons brought intellectuals to le village d’Auteuil. Members were known as “le Cercle d’Auteuil.Benjamin Franklin, who lived in nearby Passy for years, was a regular. Art Nouveau master, architect Hector Guimard, was a resident and left his mark on several buildings and Métro entrances. And the list goes on. Today, the former village remains one of the most affluent sections of Paris (and France!) Locals originally resisted the annexation into the city of Paris because they feared they would lose their identity. They were right: A well-known French stereotype mockingly refers to “Neuilly-Auteuil-Passy,” (N.A.P.) three formerly distinct communes, as the epitome of affluent living, with real estate prices to back it up.

Pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés…

To live happily, lead a hidden life. The French love their privacy: Nowhere is it more apparent than in Auteuil. Even as you explore the streets, looking for traces of old village life, your search is constantly thwarted by gates, fences, and digicodes. In the most elegant streets with grandiose architecture, (many are east of avenue Mozart,) magnificent yet overbearing façades look down at you and stand so high it’s impossible to peek inside massive windows and look for signs of life.

Side streets are calm, even on a weekday. At lunch time, while sitting at a local restaurant, one gets a glimpse of smartly dressed residents, men or women d’un certain âge, often eating alone. One gets the feeling ces habitués (regulars) have lived there for a very long time.

In Auteuil, “Villa living” seems to be the way to go for those craving privacy: Villas are paved alleyways, from the more modest to the more elegant (the exclusive Villa Montmorency,) gated communities and quiet enclaves with lush landscaping and coveted private gardens. Residents do not care much for urban explorers (or, presumably, for Instagrammers.)

Le village d’Auteuil surprises

Le village d’Auteuil may play hard to get; it still delivers on Parisian atmosphere and discoveries. A favorite: The peaceful Cimetière d’Auteuil (Auteuil Cemetery,) 57 Rue Claude Lorrain, was erected in 1800 after the community outgrew the original site then located by the church, Notre-Dame d’Auteuil. As Paris’s cemeteries go, this is one of the city’s best kept secrets. Former residents are buried there, including sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875) and French actors, movie makers and artists (their names may elude foreign visitors.) I bumped into the grave of Benjamin Thompson, (1753-1814,) Count Rumford, an American-born British physicist and inventor and wondered what it felt like to be resting so far away from home in a quiet corner of Paris, surrounded by French natives many of whom were not his contemporaries.

Wrapping up…

There is a lot to discover in the southern section of “le 16ème,” (16th arrondissement.) It only took 15 minutes for me to visit the rental studio that had brought me to the neighborhood. It took more than three hours to explore le village d’Auteuil, and I did not see it all. Here is a pêle-mêle of a few more surprises awaiting me along the way on my urban adventure this week. I followed in Gustave Eiffel’s footsteps. He worked at his Aerodynamics Lab, (67 rue Boileau,) a testing site for aircrafts in the early days of aerospace, until his death. I gawked at beautiful Art Nouveau architecture at every street corner, it seemed. I sampled candy at a confiserie-chocolaterie open since 1913 at 30 rue d’Auteuil. In short, I had another most excellent Parisian adventure. If you would like to do the same, head to the section of the 16th arrondissement located between la Porte de Saint Cloud and Métro Jasmin. and do as this French Girl did: Walk. Peek (discreetly) through gates and fences. And, as always in Paris, don’t forget to look up!

A bientôt !

Afterword:

If you would like to read more about the 16th arrondissement, my story on Passy is here.
I will be sharing more photos of this walk in Auteuil over the next few days with the French Girl in Seattle community on Facebook and Instagram.
Now that I am France-based again, I plan to publish more videos on the French Girl in Seattle YouTube channel, focusing on French life and the French language.
Sign up for la Mailing List on this page to read exclusive new travel stories first. Subscribe to my other channels for daily photos and musings from French Girl in Seattle as… she takes France! Merci! — Véronique (FGIS)

Dear readers:

If you enjoy exploring France and French culture like a native, consider signing up for la Mailing List to receive exclusive travel stories first via email, or join me daily on Facebook and Instagram.

What did you think about this article? Let me know in the comment section below, (I love reading your messages and reply to most.) Don’t be selfish and share with a friend! Merci. Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)

22 Comments

  • Passy is my neighborhood, having spent a lot of time there and where I stay with amis proches each time I visit. But I don’t know Auteuil and reading this post made me feel like I was on a walk, right there with you. I will definitely check out Auteuil this fall. Merci pour la promeande!

    • Avec grand plaisir Jacqueline. Passy typically gets more attention than Auteuil (and that’s how residents like it, of course.) Thank you for joining me on this flânerie parisienne and most excellent adventure! A bientôt.

  • What an in depth view of Auteuil. Hope you get to live near there! Keep these stories coming. Thank you.

    Jennie in San Francisco

    • Bonjour Jennie. “In depth” is my middle name. 😉 I will not get to live in the 16th arrondissement, but I will return to find some peace and quiet away from “crowded Paris,” and I like it that way. Stories will keep coming. I have a few waiting to be written as soon as I can find the time. A bientôt.

  • Bonjour Véronique,

    I am Irish, but now living in France (sud ouest) and visit Paris reaonably, but often but am still trying to get the know the city. I really enjoyed your ‘walk around Auteuil ‘ – somewhere I only had some idea about from the end of the Metro line station ‘Porte d’Auteuil’ ! I have stayed in a hotel in Passy while visiting the Irish Embassy and was very impressed, but must go back and investigate it more now. I usually stay in St Germain des Près and would love you to do a ‘ walk’ around there to see if there are places I have not yet discovered there.
    Audrey.

    • Bonjour Audrey. It’s wonderful to meet you, Irish lady who lives in my native southwest. 🙂 Lots to discover in the 16th arrondissement. I hope this story helps get you started next time you return to Paris. PS: The area is a lot quieter than St Germain des Près. A bientôt.

  • Delightful piece as always and especially the historical facts that you included. A couple names I didn’t recognize so now I’ll follow your clues and check their histories out a little bit. Merci!

  • I enjoyed this story as one who likes knowing history of buildings, it brings the neighborhood to life!

  • This is a delightful visit to an area few tourists get to. I love your narrative style; it makes me feel as if I’m walking alongside you.
    For years after I first saw Daniel Auteuil, in “Manon des Sources”, I struggled to pronounced Auteuil, but happily I finally succeeded.

    • Bonjour Catherine de Carcassonne. Thank you for the support and encouragement, as always. I think the pronunciation of [Auteuil] challenges many. I have been in situations before where people mentioned Daniel Auteuil to me in the US, and I had no idea who(m) they were referring to. They ended up clarifying along the lines of “that guy who plays the peasant in ‘Jean de Florette,'” 😉 A bientôt.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed joining you on your walk in Le Village D’Auteuil, such beautiful homes and wonderful photos. Loved le petite chat noir, bien sur. So glad you are settling in Paris, keep us posted where you wind up living. Steve and I visited the 16th many years ago and went to the Musee Marmottan and really enjoyed seeing all the works of Monet. Take care, the snow is finally gone.

    • Bonjour Cherie (et Steve, et Coco/Vero) — Le petit chat noir was a darling and did remind me of Coco, but she would not have approached me as he did. You will have to return to “le 16ème” next time you are in Paris! A très bientôt.

  • Thank you for this nice report !
    Happy to follow your new life in France, after following you when you were in Seattle. Unhappily I can’t read all each time because I’m very busy, but I like to have news from you 🙂

    • Bonjour Nathalie. Long time no talk to! Thank you for stopping by and for leaving a nice message. I know all about being busy! Love your Etsy shop. Who knows? Maybe we will meet in person one day soon. La Bourgogne is certainly on my list of French locales to (re)visit this year. A bientôt.

  • For those who love flea markets and brocantes, there is a great place to visit at 40 rue Jean de La Fontaine. Les Apprentis d’Auteuil, a catholic foundation, has a store that carries very nice second-hand clothing, housewares, paintings, etc. Some of the dresses, shoes, and accessories that I saw were very stylish. There was some Christofle silverware, Gien and Quimper ceramics, old cut crystal bowls. It’s the 16th so think of it as a “fancy junk” shop…

  • Great walk thru less-frequented Paris. This area may be further from the busier areas but the Metro solves that. In fact Auteuil played a role in its creation.
    Recently I have been filling in my knowledge on the development of the Paris Metro. It is commonly stated that the London Metropolitan line in 1863 was the world’s first Metro (Underground/Subway). But actually the 9.5 km Gare St Lazare to Auteuil passenger rail opened in 1854. It had 5 stations and like the Metropolitan Line it too was trenched (ie. ran on its exclusive ROW under all the cross streets) and of course ran steam trains (both reasons why neither is the world’s first true Underground/Metro/Subway which was London’s Northern Line in 1890–fully underground & electric).
    In fact it was a re-purposing of the Petite Ceinture which was built as a means to supply the city’s fortification walls, the Thiers Wall [1841-44], and as a connection between Paris’ railway termini. As rail travel became popular, the masses of people arriving at the Paris termini caused congestion–this was the same reason London created the Metropolitan line. The PC was already linked to all the main stations of Paris so was perfect for this new job. I’m not sure but it may be that this was the first passenger Metro-type service because it connected the finance/business district (south of St Lazare) with the rich zone that we would call a “stockbroker belt” in Auteuil.
    By 1880 it carried 5 million passengers a year, 13 million by 1883 and peaked at 18-19 million in 1889, the year of the Universal Exposition at which the Eiffel Tower was the star attraction. It couldn’t compete with the new electric Metro that opened in 1900 and was closed by the early 30s. This part of the PC, ie. the Auteuil line, is today part of RER-C (C1, C3, the northern bits–the train that crosses the bridge across Ile des Cygnes).
    BTW, I should also mention that though the outer arrondissements weren’t formally/legally annexed to Paris until 1860 as you wrote, in fact they lay between the new Thiers Wall and the old Fermier’s Generaux one, so it was inevitable they became part of Paris.

    It happens that just last night I was reading about the French Rothschilds and found a connection to your tale; well about one km north. Henri de Rothschild bought (and actually demolished and rebuilt) the Chateau de la Muette (in front of Porte de la Muette, facing the bois) which had been used by Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette as their home after marriage. Henri built the new chateau in 1921-22 when the Auteuil railway was still running; it was only a block away so I wonder if it rattled the chandeliers, or maybe some soot fallout?
    Henri inherited a fortune from his banker forbears but he was a doctor/scientist then a successful literateur. (His son Philippe was the one who made the Bordeaux wineries successful and famous.) The chateau that Henri rebuilt is the one that stands today and is part of the OECD. Both OECD buildings are on either side of rue André Pascal. But there never was an André Pascal as it was the nom de plume of Henri de Rothschild, and an open secret amongst the arty set! Probably helps to be a Rothschild to get your street named after a fictional character! Another little in-joke was that Philippe’s daughter, Henri’s granddaughter, became an actress under the stage name Philippine Pascal.

    If one wants to live in one of those magnificent bon-bourgeoise apartments in the 16th, better be like Henri and be born to a very rich daddy! Though today it is cheaper per square-metre than my old home in the 4th. (Well, of course the Guy de Rothschilds used to own Hotel Lambert on ‘my’ island but they sold it to those parvenus the Qatari ruling family.)

    • Bonjour Michael. I have missed writing on the blog… and reading comments like yours, where I learn even more. Thank you for all the additional information about the Metro, (love la Petite Ceinture, and planning to resume my search of missing sections over the next few months when nice weather returns,) and the Rothschild family. Hope all is well in Australia! As you may have heard, I am a Parisienne again as of this month, after 23 years in the Seattle area. Have settled down for now in a furnished, diminutive (yet lovely) studio in my old hunting grounds, Vincennes-Saint Mandé. A bientôt.

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