Your ultimate summer guide to the best hidden countryside nooks Paris has to offer
villa = a small street or private cul-de-sac with specific (countryside) appeal flanked by luxurious houses habitually built in the early 20th century
Believe it or not, there are places in Paris so outlandish that they barely seem to belong to the same city map as the Sacré Coeur cathedral, the Eiffel tower or the Arc of Triumph. These “villas”, “squares” and “cités” – code names under which those pretty little retreats usually go by – paint an entirely different portrait of the capital. With their cobblestone streets, ivy-covered houses and wisteria lanes, they have this air of heavenly harmony which sets them apart from their fellow city streets and wraps up their world like a pretty floral ribbon.
Rare and exceptional, it’s as if these peaceful and secluded oases of calm belonged more to the impressionistic landscapes of the French countryside than to the throbbing heart of a busy metropolis. Much suited for a lovely summertime stroll away from the crowds, they are the perfect place to defy the image of the traditional picture postcard of Paris…
Discovering the “Villas”:
Calm, discreet and luxurious, Villa Léandre was built in 1926 on the site of a former Montmartre mill. Known as Villa Junot until 1936 and renamed after Charles Léandre (1862-1936, one of the major painters, lithographers and caricaturists of his time, also publisher of the humoristic magazine ’Le Rire’), Villa Léandre, a temple of tranquility, seems to go beyond the Butte Montmartre, Paris or the framework of time. With its paved streets and small houses built in the Anglo-Saxon style – with traditional tiny gardens and front steps – today this is one of the quietest and most expensive areas in this quarter.
As you linger in the street a bit longer, you could really get the feeling of being in a typical British village. Some say that visiting Villa Léandre is the fastest way to get from Paris to London. The proof: the house located at number 10. In addition to its “bow-windows”, which lend it a very London-like look, right above the bell, there’s a small inscription saying: “Downing Street, City of Westminster”. A funny coincidence isn’t it, as 10 Downing Street, London is the address of the residence of Britain’s very own Primer Minister!
Exploring the “Cités”:
Used for an agglomeration of buildings forming a historic or architectural unity, the name “cité” is usually given to a group of houses creating an uniform whole consolidated by a common purpose. Located in the 13th, just behind the Parc Montsouris, there lies a “city” like no other. The City of Flowers (Cité Florale). Built in 1928, this former field was regularly flooded by the Bièvre river – a particularity which prevented the area from being heavily urbanized with apartment blocks.
The district was therefore fully populated with small individual houses each dotted with its own flower-decorated garden. Besides the unusual and bucolic appearance of the area which sets it apart from its surroundings of modern buildings, what really makes this “cité” unique are its streets named after flowers. So if you are lucky enough to settle in Paris’ City of Flowers, you could choose your street’s scent between Wisteria, Iris, Orchid, Morning Glory, Bindweed or Mimosa.
Climbing the “Buttes”:
Paris’ most famous “butte” (hill) is undoubtedly Montmartre, but it certainly isn’t the only one worth exploring. Hidden in the 19th district, in a triangle locked by the streets Manin, Mathurin Moreau and Simon Bolivar, the most secret of Parisian hills, the Butte Bergeyre, proudly rises above its neighboring streets just behind the park Butte Chaumont. Once you climb the stairs of this ex-pasture ground turned modern-day “village in the city”, your efforts will be rewarded.
The hill’s maze-like streets, lined with pretty houses covered in ivy, a vineyard and a magnificent view of Montmartre and the Sacré Coeur will be waiting for you up there. Perfect for a Sunday stroll, this village of about 1200 inhabitants populated largely by architects, filmmakers designers and alley cats boasts its own “public garden” open on Wednesdays and Sundays which invites both residents and passing strollers to pick their own fruit, veggies and herbs free of charge but with moderation.
Strolling the “Squares”:
A little courtyard circled by houses, the appellation “square” hides some fascinating architectural gems in the city of Paris. One of the prettiest, the Square de Montsouris, is just a magical place to be as it instantly swirls you into a landscape of marvelous otherworldliness. Green, paved and sloping, this adorable path flanked by beautiful Art Nouveau and Art Deco houses with baroque balconies, stained glass window medallions and mosaicx freezes, has been chosen by many artists who picked its peacefully provincial charm to set up their studios.
Created in the 1920 to 1930 as a housing estate for people with low income, the square was far from being an expensive and sought-after location back then. Its streets composed by detached houses are relatively rare in Paris and what distinguishes this picturesque alley even more are the various styles (artist’s studio, classical, modern or exotic construction) and diverse architectural elements (stone, brick and stucco facades) which provide a wide visual variety and appeal to this exceptional street.
Another pretty and unusual triangle-shaped square located near the Butte aux Cailles, the private Square des Peupliers, is a reminder of the poplar trees which once grew alongside the Bièvre, a river which used to flow through the neighborhood until the early 20th century when it was covered to now run into the sewers of Paris. Flanked by small houses each embellished by their own tiny garden, this cobblestoned heaven is especially beautiful in the summer, with its flowers and trees in blossom.