Paris’s 16th arrondissement is chic, comfortable and smart. But it offers much more than just poodles and perma-tans. There’s fine architecture, wonderful museums and affordable bistros too
The 16th arrondissement, in the west of Paris, is part of Sarkozy-land, where moneyed residents walk their poodles, visit salons to top up their perma-tans and pick at overpriced salads in stiff restaurants. There is also, however, another side to this district: it is one of the most beautiful areas of the city, full of wonderful architecture (Art Nouveau, modernist, art deco, empire-style…), beautiful parks, quirky museums and cosy (and not necessarily expensive) neighbourhood bistros.
The 16th was not always so uniformly affluent, though. If you visit the house of the 19th-century novelist Balzac at 47 rue Raynouard (near metro station Passy), you discover that he moved there as an anonymous place to hide from his creditors. Going back earlier still, you discover that much of the area was originally part of a monastic house that grew vines and made its own wine. The Musée du Vin, on the amusingly named Rue des Eaux (literally, “street of the waters”), is housed in the cellars of the former monastery. Here, you can participate in wine-tastings (some conducted in English), view the exhibitions and eat in the restaurant.
Restaurants are indeed a good place to size up the social demographics of the district. Here you can observe those forbidding ladies who lunch, sometimes with their model-material daughters in tow. There are also those men who wear sunglasses even in the middle of winter and have blazers draped over their shoulders. There are, of course, plenty of ordinary people too. Good places to go include L’Antenne at 38 rue de Ranelagh (a low-key, old fashioned brasserie), Bo Zinc at 59 avenue Mozart (for a younger, more fashionable crowd) and La Gare at 19 chausée de la Muette (housed in a former railway station).
One of the best ways to discover the arrondissement is by bike. You can hire a bike (€1 per half hour) through the city’s Velib scheme, which has a pick-up point at the gates of the Bois de Boulogne, Paris’s largest park, on the western edge of the 16th near the metro station Porte Dauphine, and at the southern end of avenue Louis Barthou. Equally, of course, the district can be navigated on foot; Paris is a much more compact and pedestrian-friendly city than, say, London, New York, Berlin or even Rome.
If you proceed south down avenue Raphaël you come to the Ranelagh Gardens, where there are play areas for children (including, in the summer, an old-fashioned merry-go-round). There is also the wonderful Musée Marmottan (at 2 rue Louis Boilly). This houses an outstanding collection of Monet’s paintings, including some of his most famous works ('Impression', 'Sunrise' and various waterlily canvases, for example). There are also paintings on display by Monet’s contemporaries as well as an exhibition of medieval manuscripts and many rooms on the ground floor furnished and decorated in the Empire (early 19th-century) style.
Further south, on rue du Docteur Blanche, are two culs-de-sac that harbour some of the 20th century’s finest architecture. First is rue Mallet-Stevens, which is entirely made up of houses in the art-deco inspired modernism of Robert Mallet-Stevens. A little further down is square du Docteur Blanche, where two adjoining houses by Le Corbusier accommodate a foundation dedicated to the arch-modernist (which presents public exhibitions). The other important architectural style well served by the 16th is Art Nouveau. Some of the best examples are on rue Jean de la Fontaine. Check out the Castel Béranger at number 14, the Café Antoîne just opposite at number17, and the Hôtel Mezzara at number 60.
After all this, you’ll probably want to have a kip. If the weather allows, there are plenty of parks for a nap in the sun. If you’re really tired, then repair to your hotel. Good choices in this district include Hotel Costes K, the Melia Alexander Boutique Hotel
, and – perhaps the best of the three – the Hotel Garden Elysée