The Village de Charonne in the 20th arrondissement is sometimes referred to as the last village in Paris. Just a few steps away from the busy peripherique ring road, the village was annexed to the city of Paris in 1860 along with Belleville, Vaugirard, Montmartre, Les Batignolles and others – 11 villages and communes in total, finally making up the 20 arrondissements we know today. Prior to this, they were independant villages, often very bucolic, the countryside on the edge of the city.
Traces of many of these former villages can still be found in the city, although most of them are now becoming gentrified. Charonne still retains the feel of an authentic village, although it remains to be seen how long it will be able to sustain that for. The romanesque church of St Germain de Charonne, parts of which date back to the 12th century, sits in what would have been the heart of the village, with the old main street, the rue Saint Blaise, running down from it. Looking down from the terrace of the church you really can feel like you are in a French country village, despite the high rise blocks just a few hundred metres away.
Charonne was a quiet place where rich Parisians had their country houses. The fertile soil was covered with vineyards, and the abundance of wine gave rise to over 200 dance halls or ‘guinguettes’. You can also find the Pavillon de l’Ermitage, a small folly belonging to the Duchess of Orleans – daughter of Louis XIV and his mistress Madame de Montespan – all that remains of the enormous Chateau de Bagnolet. Otherwise there are no major monuments and no reason for any tourists to visit here. Just a charming slice of old Paris, with some of the country houses still hidden around street corners, winding cobbled streets and quiet squares where you can have a drink under the shade of the magnolia trees. But I would visit soon if you can, the clock is ticking and the authenticity of this small corner of French countryside risks disappearing.
metro: Porte de Bagnolet