Each neighborhood in Paris is distinctly unique. Each has a different array of characteristics that make up a certain personality, a feeling you absorb when you are in them. Belleville is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris, not least because of how distinctly different it feels. Hard to get to, tucked up in the northeast corner of Paris, Belleville is one of those neighborhoods that manages to escape the Parisian cliché. It has a vibrant, bustling culture of its own that stands out against the Parisian standard without being in opposition to it. It is filled with wandering hilly streets, clean white buildings, Tunisian coffee shops, oriental patisseries, graffiti and modern architecture. It’s almost refreshing, being faced with such different smells and sights and streets and buildings. The typical crowds of Paris are nowhere to be found, and even on cloudy days it feels filled with a blanched sunniness that comes along with the calm of sitting a bit to the side of the heart of Paris.
The jewel of Belleville is the Parc de Belleville, which looks down over the entire city in a sweeping vista similar to that of Sacre Coeur, but with fewer tourists and a better view of the Eiffel Tower. There is a little boulangerie with decent breads and pastries, and a sidewalk café that serves a decent Sunday brunch. Paris has changed my definition of “brunch” fundamentally. On the west coast, “brunch” sort of just means breakfast is served all day, with alcohol. On the east coast, “brunch” is a more expensive breakfast served all day, with alcohol. In Paris, brunch is a fixed price (usually around 20 euros) for a big plate filled with a variety of small dishes - usually different breads or pastries with spreads and confitures, meats and patés, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, juices, and coffee. It’s really like your own personal buffet platter, and it’s glorious
This past weekend was one of those last few with weather beautiful enough to send Parisians scurrying outside to soak up the last of the sunshine. The Parc de Belleville was filled with picnicking Parisians looking down on the city splayed below, swaying awkwardly to some kind of alternative DJ playing in the square above the park. I met a friend for a beautiful long brunch outside on the terrasse of Moncoeur Bistrot, the café at the top of the hill by the park. The “Moncoeur brunch” was a big plate filled with soft scrambled eggs, ham, fromage blanc with honey and walnuts, Comté cheese (my absolute favorite), a carrot and spinach salad, mixed fruit cup, a slice of carrot cake and a little chunk of dark chocolate fudge cake. We ate and talked and enjoyed the warm sun and cool breeze on a terrasse filled with happy Parisians saying goodbye to summer, settling into fall.