Ask any Paris-dweller, and they’ll most likely tell you they have a favourite arrondissement in the French capital. It may be the sixth or seventh, for their artistic history, abundance of galleries and cafes, or parks and open spaces. It may the 10th or 11th, for their collection of quirky bars and restaurants or their proximity to the Buttes Chaumont and Père Lachaise. It may be the 3rd or 4th, for their Medieval streets, quaint terraces and wonderful coffee shops.
Every arrondissement has a personality all its own, and I’d like to think that after all these years, you could plop me down in any random spot in Paris and I could tell you which district I was in. Some arrondissements are cooler than others, some are more historic, and some are certainly more popular. But one arrondissement in particular has been neglected, dismissed as less interesting or attractive than its neighbours: the 17th. It’s true you could easily spend a full and varied holiday in Paris without setting foot in the 17th arrondissement. When I started working as a tutor in Levallois Perret, the outer suburb which shares a border with the 17th, the metro line (3) passed through a series of stops I’d never had reason to look at; Villiers, Wagram, Pereire. Parts of the 17th are fancy, near the border with the 16th. Others are grungy, closer to the 18th. Still others are pretty, but sleepy, around the edge of the 8th.
But the 17th arrondissement is an under-appreciated gem. It is home to the picturesque Parc Monceau, with its ornamental lake, lush grass and meandering paths. It features many lovely cafes and brasseries, with a more relaxed feel than in the busier districts (my favourite is the Grand Café de la Poste on Boulevard Malesherbes, smack bang between two museums). These are the Musée Nissim de Camondo, with its stunning c17th decorative arts collection. And, a hop skip and a jump from that better-known museum, lies another: the Musée Cernuschi, a haven of Asian art.
The Cernuschi is tranquil and elegant. Situated close to Monceau, it is hemmed by verdant plane trees and quiet streets, and housed in a beautiful stone building in one of the prettiest corners of the 17th. Inside, you’ll find a collection of artworks, sculptures and artefacts from across the Ages and the Asian continent. Each room has its unique beauties, but the highlight is the mammoth Japanese Amida Buddha sculpture in the Great Hall, perched high above the rest and looking out of floor-to-ceiling windows into the leafy neighbourhood. Maybe we should start adding the 17th arrondissement to our Paris itineraries.