19th Arrondissement: La Villette & Buttes Chaumont
M° Porte de la Villette, Porte de Pantin, Stalingrad, Laumière, Buttes Chaumont, Botzaris
The two main attractions in the 19th arrondissement are emblematic of the push to rehabilitate the east Paris industrial districts since Napoléon III. In the 1860s, Baron Haussmann created the city’s first public park, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, on an old abandoned quarry site being used as a dump. At the same time, the city’s new cattle market and abattoirs (slaughterhouses) were built just a few blocks north in La Villette. Obsolete by the 1970s, La Villette was completely redeveloped and opened in 1986 as a modern city park dedicated to science, arts and entertainment. The sleek lines of the Parc de la Villette are a stark contrast to the romantic hills of the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, but both offer a much-needed escape from the surrounding concrete jungle.
The Parc de la Villette (Tel 01 40 03 75 75 ) doesn’t have any gates or walls. Within its 70 acres of mini-forests, bamboo groves and vast lawns are various museums, concert halls, and whimsical playgrounds. Begin at the Métro Porte de la Villette, in front of the imposing Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (Tel 01 40 05 80 00), a science and technology museum with a section created especially for children. Pass directly through the main entrance to the other side, where the silver sphere of La Géode Cinéma (Tel 01 40 05 79 99) mirrors the green grass and blue skies. Follow the covered walkway past the Dragon slide (okay, take a ride on the slide) and cross the Canal Ourcq at one of the red folie bridges. Continue on the covered pathway alongside the 19th-century glass and iron Grande Halle, the only vestige of the former cattle market, now used as an exposition center (closed until late 2006 for renovations). Between the Cité de la Musique (Tel 01 44 84 44 84) concert hall and the Conservatoire de Paris is the little red Folie Information, where visitors can pick up a detailed map of the park and information on the current concerts and exhibitions. It’s possible to spend a whole day at the Parc de La Villette with all there is to see and do.
The park has a few refreshment stands, a Quick fast-food restaurant, and a rather pricey restaurant at the Cité de la Musique. Le Hublot Restaurant in the Cité des Sciences has plats du jour from €9 and a neat aquarium décor. If the weather is nice, plan ahead and bring a picnic to eat on the lawn.
Leaving the Parc de La Villette, cross the Avenue Jean-Jaurès to the futuristic Holiday Inn (#218-228). The large passageway that goes beneath the hotel leads to the Allée Arthur-Honegger and Allée Darius-Milhaud, a pedestrian and cycling path built in the early 1990s to connect the Parc de La Villette with the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (M° Botzaris or Buttes-Chaumont).
Although one of the lesser-known Parisian parks, Buttes-Chaumont rarely fails to impress with its dramatic landscape of hidden grottos, waterfalls, steep cliffs and suspension bridge (dubbed the Pont des Suicides). Get a panoramic perspective from the Sybille temple (copied from the Tivoli in Rome ) perched 100 feet above a central lake, or join the Parisians on the grassy slopes for a bit of afternoon sunbathing. For a coffee or snack in the park, find a seat on the peaceful terrace of the Café Weber on Avenue de la Cascade (near the M° Botzaris entrance).
There are two interesting neighborhoods adjacent to the park. To the east is La Mouzaïa, a village of single storey garden bungalows built in 1901 on the tiny cobbled streets around Rue Mouzaïa, Rue Général Brunet, and Rue Miguel-Hidalgo. The best time to visit is late spring, when the creeping wisteria vines are in full bloom. On the other side of the park is the Butte Bergeyre, a perched neighborhood of 1920s brick buildings. You’ll have to climb some steep stairs (at the Rue Barrelet-de-Ricou, off the Avenue Simon Bolivar). Once you’ve caught your breath, follow the Rue Georges-Lardennois for fantastic views of Sacré-Coeur Basilica.