Paris: Belleville and Ménilmontant

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SEE Père-Lachaise Cemetery
16 rue du Repos, 01/55-25-82-10
The mournfully beautiful graveyard evokes an eerie little town, with cobblestone lanes, street signs, ornate mausoleums, and towers. (One tops 66 feet.) Luminaries buried here include Édith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Delacroix, Proust, Molière, and Jim Morrison-whose grave, once a popular place to smoke pot, is now watched over by scowling attendants. Free.

SEE Space Invader mosaic
Quai de Jemmapes at avenue Richerand, space-invaders.com
One of the many colorful, license plate-size tile mosaics surreptitiously cemented to all kinds of buildings in Paris, as well as a handful of cities worldwide (Tokyo, Los Angeles), by French guerrilla artist Space Invader (his nom de guerre). His pixel-like mosaics, inspired by creatures in the eponymous video game, supposedly represent the electronic age, viruses, and alien paranoia.

EAT Dong Huong
14 rue Louis-Bonnet, 01/43-57-18-88
No-frills Vietnamese on a quiet street in Belleville, one of Paris's three Chinatowns. Inexpensive and generously portioned dishes. The peanut soup wins raves for its spiciness. Closed Tues.

EAT Helin
58 boulevard de Ménilmontant, 01/43-49-00-43
A dimly lit spot with sidewalk tables serving superb Kurdish cuisine from Turkey's Anatolia region. The menu goes heavy on liberally spiced barbecued lamb, chicken, and beef, but the most scrumptious dish is the borek, a filo roll with feta inside.

EAT Restaurant Monogaga
79 rue de Belleville, 01/40-03-87-46
An off-the-radar Ivory Coast-style dive, with card tables and folding chairs, dusty Christmas decorations, and inexpensive West African mafés (spicy meats in peanut butter). The chatty waitress doubles as a DJ for the cubbyhole dance floor, where festive diners hip-shake to catchy Coupé-Décalé dance music.

DRINK Café Charbon
109 rue Oberkampf, 01/43-57-55-13
Another stop on the neighborhood bar crawl. Artsy types read and write here in the afternoon, but the café/restaurant is packed by 10 p.m. with dressed-down revelers.

DRINK Le Scherkhan
144 rue Oberkampf, 01/43-57-29-34
The perfect place to begin, or end, the night. Enjoy a beer or three (and incense) at this popular watering hole with a pleasing patina. It's strategically located in the middle of a distinguished bohemian bar-crawl street, which runs southwest from Métro Ménilmontant to rue St-Maur.

PLAY Chicha Habibi Café
127 rue St-Maur, 01/43-38-90-02
The coolest of the Arab hookah cafés sprouting up in eastern Paris. Tunisian students, French designers, Japanese backpackers, and American expats recline on cushions, smoke velvety mint tobacco cooled in water pipes, and eat baklava, a honey-soaked Middle Eastern pastry.

PLAY La Flèche d'Or
102 bis rue de Bagnolet, 01/44-64-01-02, flechedor.com
An edgy club inside a gutted train station, perched over an abandoned railway, running through a rusty pocket of one of Paris's industrial belts. Grab a seat on one of the misfit pink sofas and groove to the DJ's tunes. Sunday-afternoon jazz concerts also draw crowds. From E5 for concerts, sometimes free.

PLAY Nouveau Casino
109 rue Oberkampf, 01/43-57-57-40, nouveaucasino.net
The acoustics for live music are excellent at the "Niou Caz," in spite of the several hundred partiers who fill the club until dawn on weekends. Pop-rock, ambient, broken-beat, house, and even punk acts. Cover from E5.

ESCAPES

Forest of Fontainebleau
Only 50 minutes separate Paris's Gare de Lyon train station from Fontainebleau, the hallowed hunting grounds of kings. It has always been a royal getaway, unlike Versailles, which is first and foremost a showcase of French pomp and diplomacy. Sovereigns continually tweaked the château, which was significantly expanded and decorated by artists summoned from Italy during the Renaissance. The real attraction is the surrounding forest, crisscrossed with trails for excellent hiking. The legendary horse riding is affordable, but can vary from outfit to outfit. Beginners welcome. Book ahead. (Centre Equestre de Graville, 06/26-45-74-46, ferme-equestre-graville.com, E45 for a half-day; Centre Equestre Saint-Georges André Bonneau, 01/64-14-02-37, andrebonneau.com, E20 per hour.)

Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Chartres
For a cathedral sans crowd, grab an hourly train to Chartres, 55 miles from the Montparnasse train station. This cathedral, possibly the world's finest example of Gothic architecture, is larger than its Parisian cousin. Chartres's mismatched towers are visible from the station. Romantics go for the roundabout approach via a footpath along the Eure River, which provides stirring views through the trees. The cathedral holds a robe (currently being restored) that is said to be worn by Mary, but pilgrims seem more interested in the cathedral's 858-foot labyrinth. The Catholic labyrinth consists of a single winding path that leads to a center symbolizing God.

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