An unusual walk in the East of the 11th arrondissement

Saint-Ambroise church, Place de la Nation, Palais de la Femme … an historical and unusual discovery tour of the 11th

The 11th arrondissement is a diverse and dynamic area of Paris with an artistic and artisanal past that also witnessed the climax of many revolutionary and workers' movements. Today, the 11th offers an unusual stroll in its eastern part.

From Saint-Ambroise church to Place de la Nation, the district is a bohemian adventure for those wishing to get lost in magnificent courtyards, tiny streets and little-known passages, or explore the famous faubourg Saint-Antoine and faubourg du Temple that abound in great addresses and shops. The district is also known for its 18th century buildings built for the Parisian aristocracy. A delightful place to stroll between the Folie-Méricourt and Folie-Regnault districts.

The walk begins at the Saint-Ambroise metro station, take exit 3.

1/Saint-Ambroise church

As you come out of the metro exit, you’ll see the magnificent Saint-Ambroise church opposite. Its first bell tower was built in 1659, then completely remodelled in 1868, producing an architectural combination of neo-Gothic and neo-Byzantine. In addition to its fine aesthetic, this church played an important historical role at the time of the Paris Commune in 1871, in being a place where a proletarian club and feminists could meet.

As you pass by, take a look at the Jardin Des Moines Tibhirine. This community garden in front of the church gives the place a bucolic air.

Continue on your way and turn into Rue Lacharrière, to the right of the church. Walk along the street until you come to the Square Maurice Gardette public garden.

Eglise Saint-Ambroise, 71 bis Boulevard Voltaire, Paris 11e

2/Square Maurice Gardette

Opened in 1872 on the site of the former Ménilmontant abattoirs, this public garden was named after a resistance fighter, shot in 1941. Despite its turbulent history, the Square is a bucolic and peaceful place tucked away along the magnificent Rue du Général Guilhem, along which you will find a delightful wine cellar and other addresses that contribute to the charms of the capital. Behind the trees, you can catch sight of buildings with flower-filled balconies surrounding the Square.

Leave the Square to go onto Rue Rochebrune and turn into Passage Rochebrune, on your left.

Square Maurice Gardette, 2 Rue du Général Blaise, Paris 11e.

3/Passage Rochebrune and the Cité Dupont

Passage Rochebrune is a tiny street hidden away in the heart of the 11th arrondissement. Here, you will find charming little cafes, a street art vibe and the peacefulness of French countryside villages. At the intersection of the passage, you can continue your exploration along the pleasant and equally tranquil Passage Guilhem.

A little further on Rue Saint-Maur, the Cité Dupont has plenty of charm. The walls of this small flower filled alleyway are decorated with colourful hearts.

Passage Rochebrune, Paris 11e

4/Atelier des Lumières

As you walk down Rue Saint-Maur, you will come across the Atelier des Lumières, a digital art centre that opened in 2018 on the site of the former Chemin-Vert foundry. Parisians and visitors flock here to see their favourite works projected digitally in a vast 1,500 m² space. A unique immersive experience, where art and technology come together.

Next, continue along Rue Saint-Maur, before turning right into Rue Pache.

Atelier des Lumières, 38 Rue Saint-Maur, Paris 11e

5/Musée du Fumeur

Musée du Fumeur, Paris  © DR

After a visit to the 'Smoking Museum’, tobacco, hemp, cigars, opium and all other smoking substances will no longer hold any secrets for you! The permanent exhibition offers an insight into smoking practices across the ages and continents. Whether you are a keen smoker or simply curious to find out more, this museum, which opened in 2001, is worth a visit!

Next go up Rue de la Roquette on your left, walk past Square de la Roquette, then turn right into Rue de la Croix-Faubin.

Musée du Fumeur, 7 Rue Pache, Paris 11e

6/The Folie-Régnault district

You are now entering the Folie-Régnault district, which owes its name to a wealthy merchant, who owned a country house in Rue de la Folie-Regnault (once called a ‘folie’) in 1371. Take a stroll around Rue de la Folie-Régnault and Rue de Mont-Louis, where the shopfronts and restaurants still retain some of their old-fashioned charm. On the right, in Impasse de Mont-Louis (a cul-de-sac), red brick buildings surrounded by jasmine in summertime recall London's smart neighbourhoods. A trompe l'oeil mural prolongs the perspective. A tranquil little spot.

The district, home to many craftsmen as can be seen in the Cité at 196 Rue de la Roquette, has many distinctive red brick buildings. The air sometimes used to smell of chocolate due to the presence, up until the mid-20th century, of the nearby Suchard factory in Rue Mercoeur.

Did you know? As you enter the district, on the corner between Rue de la Croix-Faubin and Rue de la Roquette, in front of the 5 slabs of the Guillotine, you will come across the last traces of the famous Grande Roquette prison, demolished in 1900 and a landmark of the Folie-Régnault district. The Square de la Roquette is located on the site of the former Petite Roquette, a prison for women and children.

Les 5 Dalles de la Guillotine, 13-15 Rue de la Croix Faubin, Paris 11e

Go on to Rue Léon Front and continue to Passage Alexandrine.

7/Passage Alexandrine and Passage Gustave Lepeu

Enjoy the peacefulness of these two parallel passages that give you the impression you are leaving the city for the quiet of the countryside. In the narrow and flower-filled Passage Alexandrine and Passage Gustave Lepeu, there are some superb architectural surprises: superb glass walls, and long ivy-covered walls - a little paradise. Skateboard and scooter fans will love the huge Charonne Skate Park at the end of these two passages on Rue Emile Lepeu.

Go back down Passage Alexandrine, then turn left into Rue Léon Frot.

Passage Alexandrine et Passage Gustave Lepeu, Paris 11e

8/The vines of Mélac - Le Bacchus de Charonne

You will arrive at the Mélac bistro, a veritable ode to Aveyron's hedonism, where you will have the opportunity to taste all kinds of charcuterie, cheese, and delicious wine at reasonable prices. The Mélac has its own vines, on the roof of the bistro, and wine harvests are usually organized in September: the public is invited to join in and go along and taste the fruit of their labour!

Le Mélac, 42 rue Léon Frot, Paris 11e.

9/The last coalman and barkeeper in Paris

Next, head to 6 Rue Emile Lepeu to discover where, until 2004, the very last coalman and barkeeper in Paris lived. In the 19th century, huge numbers of people from the Auvergne region fled poverty in the countryside and settled in the 11th and 12th arrondissements creating a strong and close-knit regional community. Hard workers, many coal merchants or water carriers gradually took up running cafes opening some 2,500 wood-coal cafes throughout the capital. Nicknamed ‘bougnats’ by Parisians in reference to their Auvergne origins, these cafes were places one could have a black coffee in the morning then a glass of white wine in the afternoon while placing an order for one's daily requirements in coal or wood.

Charbons – Café – Mazout, Outland, 6 rue Emile Lepeu, Paris 11e

After that, turn left into Rue de Charonne.

Did you know? Level with 139 Rue de Charonne, if you look up you will see the number 23 inscribed in the stone. This is one of the last old numbers of building that still exist in Paris.

10/Rue des Immeubles Industriels

A short distance from Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, which was home to a large community of carpenters and cabinetmakers, is Rue des Immeubles Industriels, built in 1873 by the architect Emile Leménil. This magnificent street is composed of 19 buildings of 3 floors each, all perfectly identical. In the past, the place had housing designed to offer better living conditions to workers; today this street is popular with walkers seeking to uncover architectural gems of the capital.

Make your way back to Boulevard Voltaire, then turn into Rue Charonne on your left.

Rue des Immeubles-Industriels, Paris 11e

11/Palais de la Femme

From 1641 to 1904, the present ‘Palais de la Femme’ was a convent, and also welcomed the sister of the writer Cyrano de Bergerac. It has belonged to the Salvation Army since 1926, and every day welcomes women in difficulty in its 630 rooms. Passing in front of the ‘Palais de la Femme’, you can admire the fine architecture: a pink brick building, decorated with magnificent ceramics and period glass.

Continue on Rue de Charonne to Passage Lhomme, then Faubourg Saint-Antoine, and stroll through the beautiful hidden courtyards there.

Palais de la Femme, 94 Rue de Charonne, Paris 11e.

12/Bust of Alexandre Dumas

On the corner of 201 Boulevard Voltaire, glance upwards to the 2nd floor of the building to see the bust of one of the most famous French writers, Alexandre Dumas. A list of his most famous works, including ‘The Three Musketeers’ are carved into the stone of the sculpture. Built some ten years after the novelist's death, the building is reminiscent of the now destroyed mansion that the playwright owned just a little further away, and also a symbol of the impact of his works on French culture.

Alexandre Dumas now rests in peace in the Panthéon.

2 rue Alexandre Dumas, Paris 11eme

13/Place de la Nation

This square was formerly named the ‘Place du Trône’ in tribute to King Louis XIV and Queen Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche, who passed by this square on their return from their wedding in Saint-Jean-de-Luz in 1660. Since 14 July 1880, the Place de la Nation has been a veritable symbol of the French Republic, and a place where demonstrations are held in the capital. The ‘columns of the throne’ designed by the architect Claude Nicolas Ledoux, were begun in 1787 and were used as gates to tax goods entering the capital. Symbolically, the construction of these columns was also a way for the monarchy to show its supremacy over the people at a time when the French Revolution was brewing.

The square is also infamous for having been the scene of one of the most active guillotines during the French Revolution and for having changed its name for a few years to ‘Place du Trône Renversé’. Today, a statue ‘The Triumph of the Nation’ – a monumental bronze sculpture by Jules Dalou – stands here.

Place de la Nation, Paris 11e