Paris’ cool corner: Canal St-Martin

The story of Paris in the years post 2010 should not be left to nostalgists to tell. For a start, Woody Allen has been there and done that with a bigger budget and a better soundtrack than anyone else could bring to the table. Besides, it would be doing the city a huge disservice to suggest its charms had not grown or evolved, but remained static across the years. I’m of the belief that there is as much fresh stuff to be excited about it in 2015 Paris as there was a century or more ago; you might just have to realign your romantic fantasies somewhat.

Aesthetically, the city remains fairly unchanged, but the shift in Paris’ dynamic is not skin-deep. Just as in London and New York, this is no longer a city for artists and bohemians but for oligarchs and bobos. Hawkers aggressively pester tourists, armed police guard the synagogues and you will have to queue to get into everything, even bookshops and cafes.

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To dodge the queues and the crowds and the street swindlers, I recommend heading east. Above the pretty Place des Vosges and the cobbled Marais the crowds begin to thin and there are treats to be found tucked around every street corner. To the east of Bastille you will find a burgeoning restaurant scene, and if you head north towards Republique there are numerous coffee shops and hipster bars that are setting up there thanks to the area being located on genuinely cool Belleville’s bleeding edges.

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Places to pass by on your wander include the concept store Merci, with its gorgeous bookshop, Folks and Sparrows for coffee and baguettes, Pain des Idees for pastry treats, Holybelly for one heck of a brunch and when you get up to Canal St-Martin, more coffee from the Ten Belles.

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And you shouldn’t stop there, because the walk up the Canal St-Martin is perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy 2015 Paris. It is not, of course a new — Napoleon I ordered its construction in 1802 — but if you are looking for local Paris, peaceful, unhurried Paris, sleepy Sunday afternoon Paris, then this is the place to find it.

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In the drizzle, you will duck under trees and wander up and over bridges, each of which is bent into a unique, angular horseshoe. As you stand encased in a tunnel of emerald foliage and watch the water pile through the locks underneath, you will remember that it’s better to be in Paris in the rain than in most cities when the sun is shining.

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And then, if you’re lucky, the sun will show it’s face anyway, and so will everyone else. Dogs — mostly of the miniature variety — and their walkers, parents pushing buggies, students gathering in twos and threes and fours, children on bikes, adults on bikes, basking teenagers and tranquil pensioners.

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As the light catches on the canal, the grey waters become imbued with rich jade tones. A young man skips lithely across a lock gate to join the tattooed men who are glinting with sweat as they lift and heave their topless bodies at Paris’ equivalent of Muscle Beach.

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The canal opens up and bends sharply to the east, and in doing so shares the limelight with the buildings that line its banks. Tall townhouses, colourful shops, blocks of flats and abandoned factories.

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20150503_175300_HDR-01There is real life in this part of town, brought in part by tourists, but also by the people that saw the sun shine in through their bedroom windows that morning and stepped outside with a book, or a bike or a bottle of wine to sit by canal and appreciate the fact that they live in this marvellous place.

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No, this is not Hollywood Paris or literary Paris, or even romantic Paris in the traditional sense, but it is a Paris that you can fall in love with in 2015 safe in the knowledge that it is very much the real deal.

 

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5 Comments on “Paris’ cool corner: Canal St-Martin

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