Small pockets of Paris which were once villages and tightly-knit communities in their own right can be found dotted throughout the French landscape. Since absorbed into the fabric of Paris, these tiny areas, known locally as ‘micro-arrondissements’ have retained their own small-town vibe and are well worth a visit on any trip to the French capital (if only to escape the crowds of the rest of the city for an afternoon or so). One of the lesser-known of these ‘lost villages’ is La Butte Aux Cailles, a stunning area in the 13e district of the city.
Highlights of Butte aux Cailles (translated into English as ‘Quails Hill’) include plenty of Art Nouveau architecture, countless cobbled lanes, and lots of street art, notably many works by local artist, Miss. Tic. The small hill in the 13e district is named for Pierre Caille, who purchased a vineyard in the area around the year 1543. Today, few vineyards remain in the city, and none are left in the 13e arrondissement.
Just a few centuries on from Pierre Caille, and the River Bievre (traces of which can be found around the nearby Château de la Reine Blanche) was the main source of industry in the area; providing countless jobs in the tanneries and tapestry works which lined both sides of the ancient waterway. The Bievre was rerouted underground in 1910, at which point it had become incredibly polluted.
La Butte Aux Cailles: A Forgotten Micro-Arrondissement in Paris
For a Provençal feel in Paris during the summer months, then you simply must head to this adorable micro-arrondissement! One of the few slices of Paris which has maintained its village vibe, Butte aux Cailles is lacking in cars and is full of history to boot. After all, in 1783, this was the site of the first ever hot air balloon ride by Jean-François Pilâtre!
Once at the Butte, you’ll find plenty of cafés and small eateries in one of the lesser-known secret villages of the city, a place which was once home to countless windmills and many vineyards. In all likelihood, it may well have even been home to lots of quails! Plenty of independent and family-run food venues across the micro-arrondissement offer hearty fare at a reasonable rate. In some cases, it’s possible to dine well for just €10 (a pretty good price for a substantial mean in the heart of Paris).
Best things to do in Butte aux Cailles
Swim in the art deco swimming pool
Otherwise known as the ‘Piscine de la Butte aux Cailles,’ the pool can be found at 5 Place Paul Verlaine. Opened to the public in 1924, the swimming venue is beautiful to look at with its red-bricked walls, high-vaulted ceilings and towering concrete arches. Decorated in the art deco nouveau, it’s one of only two pools in the city to be listed as historic monuments. When it was first opened, the swimming pool was filled with naturally heated spring water. Today you can swim in the vintage pool for yourself for a fee of as little as €3.
Eat a hearty French meal at Chez Gladines
Reputedly one of the best restaurants in the area, Chez Gladines (30 Rue des Cinq Diamants) is open on a daily basis for both lunch and evening meals, specialising in Basque dishes. A chain of these restaurants can be found throughout the city at various trendy locations; Canal Saint Martin, Batignolles, and Saint-Germain all have their own Chez Gladines restaurant.
Go vintage shopping
The Butte is home to oodles of quirky and vintage shops, making it the perfect place to go shopping for unusual wares. No chain stores can be found here. Instead, treasures such as Murano glass, old postcards, vintage clothing and more can all be found on a perusal through the many stores dotted throughout Butte-aux-Cailles.
La Cave du Moulin Vieux, 4 Rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles. This wine cellar opened in 1981 and specialises in incredible wines from across France and beyond. Open on a daily basis, ‘The Old Mill Cellar’ is a trip around the world in countless wines…
Les Abeilles, 21 Rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles. In Butte Aux Cailles, along it’s main street, there’s even a shop by the name of Les Abeilles (literally ‘the bees’). It’s the only store in Paris to specialise specifically in all things bee related. There, you can buy honey, purchase bee-keeping equipment, and get oodles of bee related advice from the specialists in store!
Visit Église Sainte-Anne
Located along 188 Rue de Tolbiac, the beautiful dome of the Saint Anne church is Byzantine-Romanesque in style. Built between 1894 and 1912, it’s one of the newer ecclesiastical buildings in the city. The interior of the church is just as beautiful as the outside. And once there, you’ll find all kinds of carved sculptures, intricate statues and everything covered in golden shades. The nearest metro stations are Tolbiac and Place d’Italie.
Best streets to visit in Butte-aux-Cailles
Rue de la Butte aux Cailles: Pretty and cutting its way through the micro-arrondissement, Rue de la Butte aux Cailles follows the crescent of the hill. In the daytime, the street is rather quiet, while during the evening it becomes a hive of activity. After dark, the place really comes to life when all of the bars and restaurants which line its two sides open for business late into the night…
Rue Daviel: Wander down Rue Daviel and you’ll find a real architectural surprise! Away from all the Hausmmannian architecture that’s so synonymous with Paris, there are a number of villas constructed in the Alsacian style. These timber-framed buildings are reminiscent of the wooden structures found in Alsace, Eastern France.
Place Paul Verlaine: While not technically a street, the pretty square reminds you of a central village space in the South of France. The fountain in the centre of the square was once home to a spring where locals would (and still do) draw water straight from a natural well as early as the 20th century.
Rue Michal: This quaint and secluded street is the perfect place to capture stunning photographs of the church’s dome, as well as to enjoy a quiet place to rest, away from the hustle and bustle of busy city life.
Rue des Cinq Diamants: Literally translated as ‘the road of five diamonds,’ the road contains plenty of 19th-century houses. Though Butte aux Cailles may have little by way of attractions (the area is the thing you come to see!), Rue des Cinq Diamants is a sweet street where you can enjoy plenty of Miss. Tic’s artworks. At No. 10, you’ll find the ‘Theatre of Five Diamonds’.