It’s a known fact that everybody loves Paris, the magical “City of Lights” or “La Ville Lumière” with its ever-present romantic flair, maze of buoyant arrondissements and vibrant meld of architectural gems.
France’s capital has been on the lips (and under the feet) of many, and drawn just about everyone from intrepid travellers to writers to painters — who have stopped by, lingered, and even decided to name it their second home — after wholeheartedly admitting that the encounter was love at first sight.
We, too, acknowledge that few cities thrill visitors with such a spellbinding slew of identities. Take a walk and you will instantly get face-to-face with a pious Paris, where cathedrals and churches promise to take you back on the history and spiritual lane at the same time; embrace the chic facet of Paris in the many stylish boutiques, which will inspire anyone to look at fashion differently. Art lovers, too, will encounter a Paris of comprehensive galleries and museums, while the bohemian side of the city radiates in quarters such as Marais, Montmartre and the former red-light district of Pigalle. For those on the hunt for gastronomic feats, Paris ticks yet another box, boasting everything from classic cafés to much-raved new bistros and restaurants brimming with pure French or international flavours.
But this time round, we cast the classic capital away, and set out to explore the city from a different angle. As we step away from the key sights, which many a time we have shared with other fellow-tourists, we stumble upon a whole new Paris of hidden treasures and best-kept secrets, which will only reveal to the curious and spirited traveller.
From a suspended park to an inner city abandoned railway open for pleasant summer strolls to vineyards tucked away in the steepest places in the city, Quotient sends urbex enthusiasts out and about in search of unbeknown views of the French capital.
Grass is greener
Built more than 150 years ago in the heart of Paris, along the Boulevards des Maréchaux, this disused railway abandoned in the 1930’s snakes around the city like a ‘little belt’ — hence its name — and is home to greenery, wildlife such as foxes and squirrels and revamped bars. In the past, commercial trains used to rattle on its tracks, but today, the 32-kilometre long Petite Ceinture serves as a precious space for rare biodiversity of wild flowers and fauna, and in certain spots, impromptu bars and terraces that welcome urban hikers with bites, drinks and serieux entertainment. While strolling the entire stretch is still off-limits, a portion of the tracks, between the Porte d’Auteuil and the Gare de Passy-la-Muette, is accessible and offers a short nature romp; you can also opt for a longer trip starting from Rue St. Charles or Rue Oliver de Serres in the 15th arrondissement.
Walk the line
In the spirit of flânerie, which the French describe either as a goal-less pursuit or a truly artistic walk, through which one observes and understands the city, we snub the highly-sought Mona Lisa for the oft-overlooked Viaduc des Arts, located just a few steps away from Place de la Bastille. A rehabilitation of the former Viaduc de Bastille, which carried the Paris-Bastille railway, the present building is a lovely hub of artisanal shops, where travellers can discover unique workshops of leather, wood, copper and glass. Stop by beneath these historic vaults to admire avant-garde galleries, or have lunch and dinner before taking the staircase up to the Promenade Plantée also known as Coulée verte, which lies above the structure. This tree-lined structure stretches about 5 kilometres across the 12th arrondissement and is located 10 metres above ground, allowing walkers to have eye-level views of Paris’s most beautiful historic architecture. Featured in the movie “Before Sunset” in 2004, in which the characters portrayed by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy enjoy a romantic walk on the seemingly endless pedestrian lush and quiet park, La Promenade Plantée is surely one of the Parisians spots to feel the ever-quintessential Frenchness everyone gushes about.
In vino veritas
Hidden in the 19th arrondissement in Belleville neighbourhood, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is set on a former village which used to provide Paris with fruit, wine and weekend escapes. Today, the park, with its meandering paths, lakes, waterfalls, temples and purpose-built cliffs is an oasis of greenery and peace, from where you can indulge in breathtaking views of the city and experience the real douceur de vivre Parisians are so good at.
But there is another rewarding surprise on this bucolic hill: one of Paris’s last vineyards is located there, a melancholic yet pretty reminder that the city once produced a fairly important amount of wine. However, if this stirs your appetite for Paris’s vineyards, you can also head to Montmartre’s hidden gem: Clos Montmartre. From Musée Montmartre, a little hidden passage leads directly down to the vineyard, where you can experience great views of the city and get a glimpse of the country’s most enjoyable pastime. Like many of the best vineyards, it is also located on a steep slope, in a neighbourhood dotted with lovely bourgeois houses. Though Clos Montmartre vineyard is perhaps one of Paris’s best-kept secrets, this little patch of viniculture draws more attention from oenophiles in October, as an annual five-day grape harvest festival, the Fête des Vendanges, is held there.
Down the rabbit hole
For centuries, the arteries of Paris have eerily managed to create a life of their own: tunnels, old limestone quarries, forgotten-by-time mushroom farms, crypts and vaults, sewers, and wine cellars revamped as clandestine nightclubs have all seen brazen travellers crouch, crawl and even wade through water just to catch a glimpse of the world underneath. Today, the endless underground corridors of southern Paris still intrigue, beguile and stir the curiosity of travellers and locals alike. A rather new phenomenon has given a new meaning to the catacombs, as a sprawling incognito community (called catephiles) of street artists, history buffs and other bohemian Parisians frequently prowl the underneath illicitly. However, tourists who want to be on the safe side, can visit a portion of the catacombs part of a guided tour and explore the fascinating ’empire of death’ comprised of an intricate ossuary as well as warm-hued tunnels replete with history.