TRAVEL / Paris by foot: A walker's guide: Canal St-Martin

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The Independent Culture
The walk along the quays on either side of the Canal St-Martin is an experience of Paris very different from that of smarter districts. Here, the older surviving landmarks of the neighbourhood - factories, warehouses, dwellings, taverns and cafes - hint at life in a thriving 19th-century industrial world. But there are also the softer charms of the old iron footbridges, the tree-lined quays, the fishermen, the river barges and the still waters of the broad canal basins. A walk along the canal, which connects the Bassin de la Villette with the Seine, will evoke images of the working-class Paris of Jean Gabin and Edith Piaf.

Place de Stalingrad to Avenue Jean-Jaures: From the Stalingrad metro station (1), follow Boulevard de la Villette to the new square in front of the Barriere de la Villette (2). This is one of the few remaining 18th-century tollhouses in Paris, designed by the celebrated Neo-Classical architect Nicolas Ledoux in the 1780s. The fountains, square and terraces were designed in the 1980s to provide an attractive setting and fine views of the Bassin de la Villette (3) to the north. Walk towards Avenue Jean-Jaures. On the left is the first lock (4) leading down to the canal.

Quai de Valmy to Rue Bichat: Cross to the Quai de Jemmapes, which runs the length of the east side of the canal and down to the first bridge on Rue Louis Blanc (5). Cross the bridge to the Quai de Valmy. From the corner there is a glimpse of the granite and glass front of the new Paris Industrial Tribunal (6) on the Rue Louis Blanc.

Continue along Quai de Valmy. At Rue E Varlin cross the bridge (7), from where there is an attractive view of the second canal lock, lock-keeper's house, public gardens and old lampposts. On the other side of the bridge, at the corner of Quai de Jemmapes and along the Rue Haendel, there is a good view of the towering, terraced buildings of a social housing estate (8). Nearby is the French Communist Party headquarters (9) on Place du Colonel Fabien.

Return to the Quai de Jemmapes, where at No 134 (10) stands one of the few surviving brick-and-iron industrial buildings that used to line the canal in the 19th century. At No 126 (11) is another notable modern building, a residence for the elderly, with monumental concrete arches and glazed bay windows. Further along, at No 112 (12), is an Art Deco apartment building with bay windows, decorative iron balconies and tiles. On the ground floor there is a typical 1930s proletarian cafe. Here the canal curves gracefully into the third lock, spanned by a charming transparent iron footbridge (13).

Hopital St-Louis to Rue Leon Jouhaux: Turn left into Rue Bichat, which leads to the remarkable 17th-century Hopital St-Louis (14). Enter through the old main gate with its high-pitched roof and massive stone arch. Pass into the courtyard. The hospital was founded in 1607 by Henri IV, the first Bourbon king, to care for the victims of the plague. Leave the courtyard from the central gate on the wing on your left. Here you pass by the 17th-century hospital chapel (15) and out into the Rue de la Grange aux Belles.

Turn left and walk back to the canal. At the junction of Rue de la Grange and the Quai de Jammapes stood, until 1627, the Montfaucon gallows (16), one of the chief public execution spots of medieval Paris. Turn into the Quai de Jemmapes. At No 101 (17) is the original front of the Hotel du Nord, which was made famous in the 1930s film. In front is another iron bridge, and a drawbridge (18) for traffic, providing a charming setting with views of the canal on either side. Cross over and continue down the Quai de Valmy until the last footbridge (19) at the corner of the Rue Leon Jouhaux. From here the canal can be seen disappearing under the surface of Paris, to continue its journey, through a great stone arch.

Square Frederic Lemaitre to Place de la Republique: Walk along Square Frederic Lemaitre (20) to the start of Boulevard Jules Ferry, which has a public garden stretching down its centre. At its head stands a nostalgic statue of a flower girl of the 1830s, La Grisette (21). On the left is a busy working-class street, Rue du Faubourg du Temple (22), with ethnic shops and restaurants. Follow the street to the right and on to the metro station in the Place de la Republique.


Starting point: Place de Stalingrad.

Length: 3.5km (2 miles), lasting 90 minutes.

Getting there: The nearest metro is Stalingrad; bus No 26 takes you there.

Hopital St-Louis: Chapel open 2-5pm Fri-Sun; the courtyard is open daily.

Stopping-off points: There is a steak restaurant at No 55 Rue Bichat and there are some small, inexpensive ethnic restaurants on the Quai de Valmy. There is also a variety of ethnic food shops and restaurants lining the Rue du Faubourg du Temple. On the Quai de Valmy, benches provide pleasant resting places, and there is a shady public garden on Boulevard Jules Ferry.

Text extracted and maps adapted from the 'Eyewitness Travel Guide: Paris', published by Dorling Kindersley on 9 September, price pounds 14.99. Available from all good bookshops, or to order by credit card (Visa, Access or American Express) telephone 0621 819600, 8.30am-5.00pm.

(Photograph and map omitted)