Under the Radar

Few Parisian hotspots remain exclusively for locals. Les Batignolles, however, a former village in the northwest of the city, is heating up and staying a secret from the sightseers. Lily Heise, an expert guide with Context Travel, provides her point-of-view on the neighborhood.

On any given Friday night rue des Dames is buzzing. Far from well-trodden Saint-Germain or the Marais, you won’t hear much English drifting from this popular street’s lively bars and eateries. This once-sleepy pocket of the 17th is waking out of its slumber — and Parisians are keeping it to themselves.

The hunting grounds of the royals until the French Revolution, the hamlet of Les Batignolles gradually rose here over the first half of the 19th century. Its incorporation into Paris in 1860 did little to affect the feel of the neighborhood, which, thanks to its reasonably priced housing, developed into a pleasant middle-class quarter wedged between artsy Montmartre, grungy Pigalle, and posh Monceau. The district’s fate took a turn about ten years ago with Paris’s eventual successful bid for the 2024 Olympics, as the revamped train yards of the Saint Lazare Station, adjacent to Les Batignolles, became a component of the plan for a refreshed city for the Games.

Exciting architecture projects and the new eco-friendly Martin Luther King Park injected a much-needed dose of creative modernity to the area. With this came young tech and design-oriented Parisians, and a wealth of cool boutiques, great bars and inventive restaurants to satisfy the cravings of these new residents.

église Sainte-Marie des Batignolles

That said, unlike the Marais, which has become decidedly chic and pricy, Les Batignolles maintains a more local and unpretentious vibe. An afternoon meander along rue Legendre, rue Nollet, rue des Moines, and rue des Dames will take you past some excellent boutiques, including cool concept shops like French Touche, Désordre Urbain, and Les Passantes, all specializing in Parisian designers and stocking anything from embroidered cushions to très Parisienne tops. Stop in at L’Atelier Haut Perché to peruse the creations of local jewelry designer Aliénor Frolet or at the workshop of Wenhua Duvergé, who designs eco-conscious slow fashion made of 100% organic cotton or recycled material.

If you’re feeling peckish, pick up a snack at the gluten-free bakery Sitron, get a Brazilian coffee and pastry at Cafuné or indulge in some succulent saucisson, fromage, or paté at the delectable Ali Baba of French gastronomic nibbles, the Fédération Française de l’Apéro. Afterwards, you can stroll around either the traditional English garden Le Square des Batignolles or the more natural Martin Luther King park, home to wildflowers, thickets of wheat sheaths, and views over the contemporary buildings bordering the green space. Otherwise, don’t feel guilty simply people-watching from one of the prized terraces of the cafés around Place du Dr Félix Lobligeois, the former main square of the village.

Before you know it it’ll be apéro hour, a Parisian must. Not surprisingly, there are a number of wine bars around the area, like l’Ebéniste du Vin, with its excellent list of small batch wine producers, Pistache, le petit apéro, where your verre de vin can be accompanied with perfectly planned apéro nibbles, or Les Paresseux, which serves hybrid French–North African small plates. Craft beer aficionados will want to pop into La Société Parisienne de Bière, home to over 30 French and foreign artisanal beers, including their own brew la Bière Batignolle, all available to go or at their small outdoor perch.

Images courtesy of the Paris Visitors Bureau.

Save room for dinner, because there are many notable culinary gems in Les Batignolles. The district’s most creative contemporary cuisine is exquisitely prepared at Coretta, one of the city’s top neo-bistros, under the helm of the Mexican-born rising culinary star Beatriz Gonzalez. A minimalistic decor is enlivened with Spanish spices at Les Poulettes des Batignolles, or, for a mouth-watering and stylish taste of bella Italia, there’s Mamma Primi, one of the most alluring branches of the trendy “Big Mamma Group” of Italian restaurants that are taking Paris by storm. The wait is worth it.

If you’ve got your heart set on a more Gallic dîner, you can head to Brutus and dig into imaginative crêpes that are named after the three young owners’ Breton and Normand grandmothers. Cheese lovers need look no further than Formaticus, a swank bar à fromage showcasing a selection of France’s finest, along with mains and desserts made of cheese — possibly the most fitting way to end a day in this very Parisian neighborhood.

Mamma Primi

Delve more into Paris’s food scene with Context Travel’s Baguette to Bistro tour, which explores the city’s extensive culinary culture. Context Travel offers expert-led cultural and historical walking tours and activities for travelers who love to learn, in over 50 cities around the world. Tablet Plus members receive exclusive discounts on private tours from Context.

Written by guest author Lily Heise, a freelance travel writer who has been living in Paris since 2000. She holds a Fine Arts degree from the University of Guelph, and is also the author of two books on looking for romance in Paris, as well as an award-winning blog on Paris, travel and romance, Je T’Aime, Me Neither. She is also an expert guide with Context Travel. Read her other Paris story for Tablet, Spirited Away.