Named after Pierre Cailles, a 16th-century landowner, Butte aux Cailles is one of the most fascinating areas you’ll never read about in a guidebook. It once served as both a stone quarry and a center for tanners because of its proximity to the Bièvre—a brook, now covered, that feeds into the Seine. After this area was annexed to Paris in 1860, it became a working-class village that remains more or less preserved to this day. Oddly enough, its preservation was not so much due to a courageous act of political will as it was a practical result of its geological instability. It seems that the empty quarries make it impossible to undertake the kind of heavy modern construction characteristic of the surrounding neighborhoods. Saved from modernity by its past life as a stony quarry, a walk down the streets of Butte aux Cailles is the best place to go if you want to imagine yourself as a character in a Zola novel.
Directions: Butte aux Cailles is a hefty (30- to 40-minutes) walk from the Center in Paris. If traveling on foot, proceed southwest on rue de Tolbiac past avenue d’Italie, then turn right (north) on rue du Moulin des Prés. Rue de la Butte aux Cailles will be the third street on your left. Taking the westbound #62 bus from the Center to Moulin des Prés stop may be an option as well.