Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world – both to visit and live – but author Steenie Harvey is here to help. Harvey has traveled Paris looking for great deals, and offers several tips in his article below. For investors, Harvey recommends looking outside the city center to the 19th and 20th districts – where the artists are heading to. For more on this, continue reading Harvey’s article from International Living.
A Boulevard St-Germain landmark, Café de Flore is one of Paris’s most hallowed literary cafés. I adore art deco elegance, but it isn’t somewhere I’d frequent regularly. Not after seeing the prices—$6.86 for a cafe crème, $8.45 for hot chocolate, $11.22 for a small beer. If it’s the hangout of the next Simone de Beauvoir or Picasso, I’d be astonished.
Although a major draw for visitors, Café de Flore marks the city’s artistic and literary past, not its present. When tourists move in, creatives move on. And many have moved beyond the Bastille to the 19th and 20th arrondissements (districts).
In these outer reaches of Paris, cafés for philosophical debate and mahjong games have $4 beers on tap. Their cultural spaces for poetry readings don’t come at an eye-watering cost—you can share a bottle of Bordeaux for $17. Music bars throb long into the night to the rhythm of the Balkans and break-your-heart saxophone blues.
Not part of the city until 1860, the 20th is my local neighborhood for a few days. Thirty years ago, it was a working-class stronghold. Although still socially and ethnically mixed, there’s been a transformation in recent years. Now it combines the cutting-edge artsy with the proletarian traditional. The French would call it bobo—short for bourgeois-bohemian.
This isn’t the picture-book, aristocratic Paris beloved by visitors. This is contemporary Paris. I think it seriously rocks—and I haven’t parted with more than $3 for coffee anywhere.
Alexandre Dumas is my local Métro station. It serves what is definitely an up-and-coming neighborhood—one with organic food stores, funky boutiques, concept design stores, candlelit cafés, and Japanese restaurants. Spotting a toyshop wonderland called La Truite Enchantée (the Enchanted Trout), I almost wanted to adopt some children.
No part of Paris can be described as inexpensive, but the 20th is comparatively more affordable than its central arrondissements. Although invariably bijou, studio apartments can be had for under $200,000. For example, a 19-square-meter (204-square-foot) studio for $189,000. It sounds ludicrously small, but all across Paris, numerous vacation-rental studios are no larger. Renting for $760 monthly, this one is tenanted until 2013.
Within three minutes’ walk of the metro is the small apartment on rue de Bagnolet—one of the 20th’s liveliest streets—where I’m staying. Although only 32 square meters (344 square feet), it’s a perfect pied-à-terre. The building is a typically Parisian residence where you enter a door digicode and gain access to a courtyard.
With a boulangerie only a few steps away, developing an almond croissant addiction is all too easy. Near the Métro, Le Saint René’s $18 prix-fixe lunch isn’t the neighborhood’s cheapest, but the paté-and-salad starter was delicious. So was the bavette d’aloyau, a thin-cut steak served with irresistible bistro fries. (148, Blvd de Charonne.)
Cultural tastes vary, but rue de Bagnolet’s entertainment options thrill me. Posters advertise comedy shows, as well as art exhibitions and movie nights. Too many cool places to mention, but Piston Pelican (no.15) and Z’Indems (no.144) are excellent places to start. Sitting at an art-deco table in the Pelican, I wondered how many tourists realize they can get a glass of Merlot in Paris for $3.70.
Another hot-spot is the ultra-modern Mama Shelter. A Philippe Starck-designed hotel that rose up from a multi-story car park, its bars and restaurant have “designer graffiti” ceilings.
The 20th arrondissement comprises four official quartiers: Père-Lachaise, Charonne, Saint-Fargeau, and a section of Belleville, shared with the 19th. Confusingly, much of the district is also called Ménilmontant, after an old wine village that once existed here.
Property prices in the 20th are below the Paris average of just over $11,000 per square meter ($1,022 per square foot). According to the last number-crunching update, the average here is $8,787 per square meter ($817 per square foot). But proximity to a Métro station always boosts the price. And the smaller the apartment, the costlier the living space.
The local Century 21 agency has a 31.5-square-meter (339-square-foot) apartment—much the same size as where I’m staying. In good condition and with a parquet floor, it’s $299,600. At $9,511 per square meter ($884 per square foot), it’s above the district average—but way below more prestigious quarters, where similar-sized apartments shoot above $14,500 per square meter ($1,349 per square foot).
A tenant currently rents it for $990 monthly. It has a monthly maintenance charge of $86 and annual property tax is $344.
Advertised as “ideal for a first buy” is another apartment of the same size. Without a tenant it’s going for $330,000. Unlike when the artists first arrived, there isn’t the same glut of rentals. Nowadays, studios with 215 to 293 square feet of living space usually rent for $890 to $965 monthly. One-bedroom apartments are mostly $1,100 to $1,200 a month. For more details check out: Century21alexandredumas.com and Century21gambetta.com. The ERA agency also has a branch office.
Paris Apartments in the 19th arrondissement
You may have seen the 19th arrondissement described as “seedy” and “not for the faint of heart.” Although I didn’t tramp every street, that wasn’t my impression. The five million or so annual visitors who explore the science and technology world at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in the Parc de la Villette don’t consider it a no-go area, either.
Many of its residents come from faraway lands, but immigration has been a fact of Parisian life for decades. Like London and New York, it’s a multi-cultural city with shops that smell of exotic spices and stay open until midnight and beyond. Without immigrants, you can’t have authentic Tunisian couscous restaurants, Moroccan cafés serving mint tea and sticky pastries, or bowls of Vietnamese pho bo.
Much of the 19th awaits gentrification, but pockets of bobo prosperity exist, too. The eclectic mix of building styles lends it a Jekyll-and-Hyde character. There are soulless high-rises, but also beautiful stone apartment buildings with iron balconies and back gardens. With its waterfalls, lake, and eccentric Greco-Romantemple folly, Le Parc des Buttes Chaumont vies for the title of Paris’s most romantic park.
Spilling over from the 20th, the Belleville quarter of the 19th is another former wine village. It also has plenty of weird bars, quirky shops, and artists’ ateliers. It has a fascinating history, too.
Though most visitors admire the city’s leafy boulevards and 19th-century edifices, not everyone appreciated Baron Haussmann’s vision. To make way for the new homes of the bourgeoisie, the inner city’s medieval slums were demolished. Laborers and artisans were exiled to new suburbs like Ménilmontant and Belleville.
Edith Piaf ’s home neighborhood, Belleville was once a byword for music halls, bawdy cabarets, and guinguettes—huge establishments where working-class residents came to eat, drink, and dance the night away. A plaque at 72, rue de Belleville marks Piaf ’s childhood home. If you want to avoid steep climbs—and rue de Belleville is steep—don’t get off at Belleville Métro.
Pyrenées Métro is a better option as you can walk downhill. For more la vie en rose nostalgia, stop at Bar aux Folies (no. 8), a former theater café whose patrons included Piaf and Maurice Chevalier. Wednesdays and Saturdays are market days on Boulevard de la Villette. At number 44, Café Chéri(e) is pleasingly scruffy with a daytime clientele of students and scribblers taking advantage of the free WiFi. There are no zinc tables on its sidewalk terrace—here you sit at old school desks.
Square-meter average for the 19th arrondissement is $8,502 ($790 per square foot). Through La Foret, $282,500 buys a 46-square-meter (495-square-foot) apartment in a 1970s residence. It’s a low price for Paris if living space is your priority, but architectural charm is absent.
Indicating the desirability of the Parc des Buttes Chaumont enclave, prices here average $9,160 per square meter ($851 per square foot), but can touch $11,000 ($1,022 per square foot). A 34-square meter (366-square-foot) apartment in an ancien building dating from 1900 is $323,400. Take a look, here.
In the most desirable areas of the 19th, studios to rent start at around $900 monthly. A furnished one-bedroom apartment in a traditional residence in Buttes Chaumont/Métro Pyrenées neighborhood is $1,293 monthly. More here.
Where to Stay in Paris
Until Paris, I was an Airbnb virgin, but I’ll certainly try this “live-like-a-local” method again. It’s not a typical vacation apartment rental—with Airbnb you stay in someone’s home.
It can be a sofa in their living room, a private room in a shared apartment, or a sub-let. Such a shame that I have no musical abilities, as my host Olivier was happy to let me play his guitars. But there was free WiFi, a DVD player, and plenty of good music. (Excellent taste—I’d already spotted my “landlord” had a Jacques Brel CD.)
If I didn’t want to eat out, I could cook. Not that I did. My idea of cooking is combining a salad with crusty bread, Camembert cheese, and paté en croûte, washed down with affordable red wine. Bottles of AOC Côtes du Rhône were on special offer in one supermarket for the equivalent of $1.78.
Sofa-bed deals in Paris start at around $22 a night, but that sounded too spartan. I prefer privacy, so Olivier’s one-bedroom apartment was ideal. He rents the apartment, in a modern residence with an elevator, when he’s traveling. Accommodation for $73 a night anywhere in Paris is a bargain. We exchanged emails beforehand, and Olivier was there to meet me. See here.
This article was republished with permission from International Living.