Two friends, halfway around the world from each other, shared a common goal – explore Paris on foot and learn about lesser-known areas. My fellow Francophile friend Sherryn (Australia) and I (East Coast, U.S.A.) have been to Paris many times individually, but now finally together. We booked the engaging and knowledgeable travel writer, author, and tour guide Lily Heise for a walking tour of Paris’ best-kept open secret – the 17th Arrondissement known as Batignolles-Monceau.
We met Lily at Parc Monceau and followed her to the shade of a 170-year-old sycamore maple tree, where she gave us a brief history of the two areas we were about to explore. She regaled us with its fascinating past. We were mesmerized by her storytelling and historical context for each building, street, neighborhood, and park we visited. She explained that the hunting grounds of the royals were in the area close to the Parc Monceau, around the hamlet of Les Batignolles. In 1860, the area was usurped by Paris but remained an alternative place for middle-class Parisians to live.
Les Batignolles, once fields, has kept its village feel. The main square, Place du Dr. Félix Lobligeois, is in the heart of the Batignolles. Created in 1825, it surrounds the Neo-Classical church Église Sainte-Marie des Batignolles. Behind the square was a charming four-acre park with serpent-like paths that wound their way around trees, and a naturally-fed stream provided residents with shaded areas and places to sit, rest, and enjoy the plethora of wild birds inhabiting the grounds. Unique cafes, restaurants, and shops lined the streets where hardly any commercial chains existed.
Many Parisian couples starting families have flocked to this area as housing is more affordable than the pricey Right and Left Bank addresses in the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 16th arrondissements. Locals joke that it’s the pushchair (stroller) capital of Paris. It’s a “Yummy Mummy” area with more strollers on one block than the rest of Paris combined. Exaggeration, yes, but not by much. Baby stores dominated the shopping landscape, catering to the clientele. It’s where young families thrive, given the revamping of the parks and recreation areas and nearby major train station Saint Lazare in preparation for Paris’ 2024 Summer Olympics. Modern high-rises flanked the Haussmann buildings, wedged between Montmartre, Pigalle, and Monceau.
We strolled the Plaine Monceau district, posher than its easterly neighbor of Les Batignolles, with Lily pointing out important landmarks along the way. We learned that the Plaine Monceau is notable for its decades of popularity during the Belle Epoque era between the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and World War I. Thousands of artists beset there, including world-famous actress Sarah Bernhardt, composer Claude Debussy, author of The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas Pere (father), and Impressionist artist Edouard Manet.
At the edge of the Plaine Monceau is the beautiful Parc Monceau (located in the 8th Arrondissement but barely). The park was originally privately owned and designed for the Duc de Chartres in the English garden manner by Louis de Carmontelle in the 1770s. Later, it became a public garden during the Revolution of 1789 and was eventually given back to the Chartres family. The Revolution in 1848 (the February Revolution) ended the Orléanist rule, toppled the monarchy, and the park again became public; however, it drastically downsized.
Must-see museums in the Batignolles-Monceau area include the Jean Jacques Henner Museum and the Musée Cernuschi. A prominent artist of the 19th century, after his death, Henner’s niece chose the former residence of another important artist of the era, Guillaume Dubufe, to honor Henner’s illustrious career. Upon my visit this past June, I saw an impressive exhibition of works of art celebrating Sarah Bernhardt in the Henner. Adjacent to the southeast corner of Parc Monceau is the Musee Cernuschi, committed to the Asian arts of Paris.
Art installations were all around; one of note is of Alexandre Dumas Pere (father), not to be confused with his author son by the same name. The father was memorialized with a statue next to the Mètro stop Malesherbes. He is the author of The Three Musketeers, and the figure is called Statue D’Artagnan, named after one of the main characters in the novel. Another important work is the broken handcuff’s iron sculpture at the corner of Généreal Catroux and Jacques Bingen. This piece was dedicated to the memory of the first black general in France, General Dumas (father of Alexandre Dumas), and the abolition of slavery.
We meandered along some shopping and pedestrian streets and wound up at rue Legendre, where we stopped for lunch at a quaint spot aptly named Comme Chez Maman (Like at Mom’s House). It fits the bill with warm and friendly vibes. We savored over a petit Chablis and crusty bread before settling for simple yet refined comfort food. Fresh ingredients and only in-season vegetables graced their plates. Chefs showed respect for home cooking, but healthy options were also available.
Notable fun spots we encountered along the way included the upscale cookie shop Scoop Me a Cookie with clever and funny names for their sugary treats like Marry Me (all dark chocolate and fleur de sel), juxtaposed with Divorce Me (dark, white, and milk chocolate). We wished we had time to stop in what looked like an excellent spot for people watching Strobi Bistro – a casual hangout with a laidback menu, clearly meant for relaxation. Lily guided us through the buzzing Rue de Lévis, where street markets dominate the landscape. Ripened fruits and vegetables and fresh fish were aplenty. We peeked into Yann Couvreur Pâtisserie in Square Claude de Bussy to examine the gorgeous confections on hand.
One of the best additions to the area is the Parc Clichy Batignolles Martin Luther King, built upon the train yards of Gare Saint Lazard. Once an unsightly mesh of tracks and debris, it is now a modern oasis for children and adults alike. It’s an eco-friendly design where wildflowers and mature trees provide shade and beauty while the water features and pools use recycled water. A skatepark, basketball courts, and multiple playgrounds for kids enhance the life of all in the district.
We ended our incredible day on a rooftop terrace with cocktails and wine in a location I won’t share with readers here. If you want to know the best places for drinks and fun in each Arrondissement, you must contact Lily. Until then, my lips are sealed. Thanks to her orientation, we know we will return to see the rest of Batignolles-Monceau. We touched the tip of the iceberg and long for more.
About Lily Heise | She covers Paris and France for international publications, has published three books, and runs the award-winning blog Je T’Aime, Me Neither, which focuses on unique and romantic things to do in Paris and beyond.