Le Canal Saint Martin and beyond

In the heart of Paris’s trendy 10th arrondissement lies the peaceful and atmospheric Canal Saint Martin. Unlike some of the eateries, cafés and boutiques in the neighborhood, the canal has been there for a very long time. In the early 19th century, Napoleon I, who was as much a skilled administrator as he was a military man avid for conquest, planned for a canal network to bring drinking water to the French capital. Some of these canals, (Canal de l’Ourcq, Canal St Martin,) were connected to the Seine river and two large ports, that have evolved but still exist today, le Bassin de la Villette (located north, in the 19th arrondissement,) and le Port de l’Arsenal, by la Bastille (11th arrondissement.) Life was busy in the industrial areal along the canals, where boats delivered merchandise later stored in giant warehouses.

canal saint martin
(WIkipedia Commons)

Few tourists ventured along le Canal Saint Martin in the 20th century, even if it was featured in a few movies, including Marcel Carmé‘s iconic Hôtel du Nord, in 1938. By 2001, in Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amelie,) Audrey Tautou famously threw rocks in the murky water of the canal. By then, a lot had changed in the neighborhood, and le Canal St Martin had stepped into the {Parisian} limelight.

Canal Saint Martin
Hôtel du Nord (1938) Amelie (2001) Photo: Canauxrama

The banks of le Canal Saint Martin were rehabilitated in the early 1990s. On its way to the Seine river, it disappeared underground near la Bastille and le port de l’Arsenal as small public gardens and avenues were built above it. The old waterway became a protected Historical Monument of France in 1993. Over the next 20 years, the neighborhood would morph into one of the trendiest, most popular strolling grounds in Paris, favored by locals and out-of-town visitors alike. Who has not walked the atmospheric canal banks in the shade of the plane trees? Who has not enjoyed an improvised picnic on a sunny day; or sat at one of the many café terraces?

Canal Saint Martin

Canal Saint Martin

Canal Saint Martin

It is so pretty by the water, in spite of traffic zooming by on either side, along le quai de Jemmapes and le quai de Valmy. Is it the cast-iron footbridges, evocative of a different time? Is it the old locks (some still manually operated) providing entertainment as small pleasure boats (or one of two professional boat tour lines) tie up and wait their turn to move along the canal? Visitors and birds pause and watch. One thing is for certain: We are far, far, away from the commotion in downtown Paris.

Canal St Martin

Canal St Martin

Canal Saint Martin
La Mouette (seagull)

At night, the magic still operates.

Canal Saint Martin

My brother’s office is nearby, and I come and meet him for lunch whenever I am in town. I have seen the neighborhood change over the years, and feel connected to it, even if live 8,000 miles away. So much has happened in this area, especially in the last few years, with the Charlie Hebdo terror attack in the 11th arrondissement, or the November 2015 attacks, when people died at several locations, including the terrace of la Bonne Bière, my brother’s cantine (favorite lunch place.)

le Canal Saint Martin

Canal Saint Martin
A la Bonne Bière: l’ardoise
Canal Saint Martin
Fluctuat Nec Mergitur

Not all landmarks are sad ones. A walk along le Canal Saint Martin, for this French Girl, always includes a few favorite sights and stops.

Canal Saint Martin
The colorful façades of Antoine et Lili
canal saint martin
Invest in Made in France goods and indulge your inner Bobo (bourgeois-bohême)
All my trips to Antoine et Lili end like this…

Canal Saint Martin

Canal Saint Martin
Yes, this is the hotel featured in that old movie!
Canal Saint Martin
Paris-“Plage?”

Been there, done that,” you say? Have you actually walked the whole length of le Canal Saint Martin (or at least the section above ground,) as the waterway makes its way north towards le Bassin de la Villette? Forget the crowded Seine river banks on hot summer days. This is the place to be! The old port is the largest artificial lake in Paris. Long gone are warehouses, and the sounds and smells of the once popular Paris livestock market. Instead, you will find détente, (relaxation,) culture (a movie theater, barges hosting exhibits, cafés and even a bookstore,) pétanque games, a brand-new swimming area (inaugurated in 2017,) kayak, pedal and electric boat rentals. In short, heaven.

Once you have crossed the busy place Stalingrad, you will spot la Rotonde de la Villette, a historical building now housing a restaurant. Félicitations: You have arrived. Bienvenue dans le 19è. arrondissement !

Canal Saint Martin
Rotonde Nicolas Ledoux
Canal Saint Martin
Bassin de La Villette. The old, and the new.

Canal Saint Martin

On a hot day, sit down and enjoy a refreshing drink at le Pavillon des Canaux, an old house with a beautiful terrace overlooking the basin; or head over to the Paname Brewing Company, located in a former granary, to sample microbrews “made in Paris,” and unbeatable views of le Bassin de la Villette.

Canal Saint Martin
Maison des Canaux

Canal Saint Martin
From the terrace of the Paname Brewing Company: Thé glacé maison

The best thing about le Bassin de la Villette? It is easily accessible with public transportation. It is only a short walk away from other local attractions, le Parc des Buttes Chaumont, or le Parc de la Villette, site of the former slaughterhouses of Paris. Canal boat tours will take you there if you let them: You can explore la Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, watch outdoor movies in the summer (or spectacular shows at la Géode year round.)

Next time you stroll by le Canal Saint Martin, keep in mind there is a lot more to see along its banks than meets the eye. Who knows? You might end up spending a whole day there, by the water, where life is good, relaxing and… civilized.

A bientôt.

 

Dear readers:

The French Girl in Seattle blog has just turned 7 and will be getting a new look in 2018! If you enjoy looking at France and all things French through the eyes of this French native, consider signing up for la Mailing List (on this page,) to receive new stories first via email, or join me daily on Instagram (@Frenchgirlinseattle)

With gratitude, FGIS

All photos by French Girl in Seattle. Please do not use text or images without permission. 

 

Canal Saint Martin

 

Additional resources:

Marin d’Eau Douce. Bassin de la Villette Boat and gear rental.

Swimming in le Bassin de la Villette: C’est possible! Story is here.

 

 

 

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