Canal St. Martin: A Break from the Ordinary Sights of Paris

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Visiting the 10th Arrondissement’s Canal St. Martin neighborhood in Paris

Canal St. Martin in Paris’s 10th Arrondissement

Can a place be both tranquil and bustling at the same time?  If it’s the Canal St. Martin neighborhood in Paris, the answer is yes.

I’ve spent many afternoons and evenings whiling away the hours there. I’ve gone there to be alone in the daytime serenity and also to meet up with friends and enjoy the lively evening atmosphere.

More than just tranquil and bustling, this unique Paris neighborhood has a little something for everyone.

For an afternoon of tranquility, I’d wander along the tree-lined paths on both sides of the canal, crisscrossing the canal via the many iron footbridges.

I’d sit along the banks of the canal and read, people-watch, or just become dazed by the kaleidoscope of colors that bounce off the water’s surface.

A little farther afield, there is the Square LeMaitre where sometimes I’d watch the old guys play boules.

Square LeMaitre and a game of boules

As this is still Paris, you can be sure there is Paris chocolate and a delicious boulangerie nearby. For a boulangerie, Boulangerie Du Pain et des Idées is it. Named best baker by Gault & Millau in 2008, Christophe Vasseur creates crusty French baguettes, the very popular pain des amis, and pavés (little bread rounds stuffed with treats like spinach and goat cheese or dried apricots and more).  The variety of viennoiseries, especially the chocolate-pistachio escargot and Chausson aux pommes, should not be missed either.

You can feast on your boulangerie buys at the lush Jardin Villemin just across the canal.

For those that want something more to do and see, there’s a bit of that here, too.  Along Rue Beaurepaire, a street angling off from Quai Valmy, there are a number of funky boutiques to satisfy any shopaholic.  And, across the canal to the east is the Hôpital St. Louis.

Henri IV ordered the building of the hospital, placing it just outside the ancient city walls, to quarantine victims of the plague.  It opened in 1618 during a different outbreak of the plague.  The 17th-century architecture resembles that of the much more famous Place des Vosges. Here, however, you might find yourself completely alone in the courtyard or the chapel to admire the architecture in silence.

Along the banks of the Canal St. Martin

At night and on weekends, the quarter’s other personality appears, the boisterous and festive one.  When I lived in Paris, I’d meet friends at one of the many cafes and wine bars bordering the canal.  We’d gather around a wooden table and add our contribution to the melody of clinking glasses and laughter that filled the air.  I’d see lovers walking hand in hand along the night-lit canal and street musicians or the random guy who brought along his guitar playing music along the banks.

The canal was originally constructed on the orders of Napoleon I in 1802 as part of a three-canal project to provide fresh drinking water to the city’s growing population.

Beginning at the Bassin de Villette, the canal ends at the Seine.  Part of it is now covered (from rue Faubourg du Templeto Place de la Bastille).

The lock system is in place and still working, and you may glimpse a boat coming through once in a while.  Now, however, the Canal St. Martin provides an idyllic atmosphere to this popular hangout.

When visiting Paris do you have a favorite unique spot in Paris that is off the main tourist track? (And do you remember to look up when you visit Paris?)

* All photos  by Kathy Ayer, used with permission

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7 thoughts on “Canal St. Martin: A Break from the Ordinary Sights of Paris”

  1. Kathy – I love your photos in this article! Between them and your words I was transport – briefly – from my desk to the Parisian streets. Thanks for the lovely daydreaming break! Now I wish I did not have to return to my desk and my work… 🙂

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