Villages in the city: Passy
By Jerry Marterer
View from rue de l’Alboni. Images provided by the author.
Passy was first chartered as a hamlet called “Passicium” in the year 1250. During the same period, limestone was quarried on the hills leading down to the Seine, then carried by boat to central Paris. The mines extended miles into the hills below Passy. As time passed the stone proved too porous for building and the quarries were abandoned. In the 15th century an order of monks, the Menims, settled in Passy. They used the abandoned mines to store the wines they made from their vineyards that covered the hills of Passy. The mines are now part of the Musée du Vin on the tiny Square Charles Dickens. Windmills once dotted the hills amid orchards. The Château de Boulainvilliers stood at the southern end of Passy near the border with Auteuil. It no longer exists, its land developed for a residential neighborhood.
The Passy walk begins near a tiny former station of the Petite Ceinture. The Passy station is now a restaurant, La Gare. It is visible from La Muette stop on the number nine métro. Take the number one exit for the Chausée de la Muette. You are immediately surrounded by four elegant Haussmann-style apartment buildings, a sign of what’s to come. The brick-and-stone station will be at the left, at the edge of a triangular park called the Jardin du Ranelagh. The old track right-of-way behind the station is now a walking trail. Head in the direction away from the park back toward the metro station. The street changes name to the rue de Passy, the main street of the affluent village where the “gratin” (upper crust) of the 16th arrondissement go about their daily shopping.
Gare de Passy.
The main street looks like anything but a village. The rue de Passy is lined with designer boutiques on both sides of the street. Passy has its own little shopping mall, the Passy Plaza, filled with more boutiques and its own department store, Franck et Fils, farther down the street. As you pass the Passy Plaza, take the small street on the right, the rue Jean Bologne, and keep right toward the church. The Église Notre-Dame-de-Grâce de Passy sits on a tree-filled square. The entrance is around the back of the church on the rue de l’Annonciation. A chapel with the same name was built here in 1667 by Claude Chahu, Lord of Passy. In the 1800s it was enlarged several times to its present size. The parish grew so fast in the 1900s that in 1959 a new church was built next to it on the rue de l’Annonciation that holds 1,200 worshipers. The old church was renovated and reopened in 1997.
From left: Villa de Passy restaurant’s dining patio, Passy Plaza, Notre-Dame de Grâce de Passy.
Continue down the rue de l’Annonciation past some low 18th-century buildings to the rue Raynouard. Turn right. At number 47 on the side of a hill is the Maison Balzac, where Honoré de Balzac lived from 1840 to 1847. He fled the city to Passy and this humble house to escape creditors. There he edited his Human Comedy, the masterwork that brought him fame and fortune. His home is open to visitors as a museum.
Farther down the rue d Passy on the right is a small square, the place de Passy with a Wallace fountain and a terraced restaurant. To the right of the square is the Marche de Passy, a high-end indoor market where the best meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, cheese and herbs are offered to the demanding Passyites. On the right, among more boutiques, is La Favorite, a restaurant where I had one of the best warm goat cheese salads ever.
Place de Passy above, Passy Market below.
But there is a more authentic place farther down the street. On the left, between the numbers 26 and 24, is the impasse des Carrières. At the end of the short lane is a brocante, an antique market under old oak beams with curios for everyone. Next to it, behind vine-covered walls, is the Villa de Passy, a genial restaurant. Outdoor tables under an awning were filled with happy locals on the Saturday I walked by. In the local patois it is “très sympa” or very pleasant.
Rue de Passy.
Farther down the street is the place Costa Rica, which marks the end of the rue de Passy. Stand in the square and look down the rue de l’Alboni where the number six métro travels on its elevated tracks on the left bank across the Bir-Hakeim Bridge and into the hillside of Passy. As the street goes downhill stay to the left to follow the rue Benjamin Franklin. Ben Franklin lived in Passy during the American Revolution. He was sent to convince King Louis XV to support the colonies against England, their joint enemy. At the bottom of the hill is the Square de Yorktown, a tiny park that surrounds a statue of Benjamin Franklin. A plaque commemorates the battle of Yorktown in 1781, when American troops led by George Washington and French troops led by General Rochambeau defeated the British led by General Cornwallis, leading to his surrender and the end of the war. Walk around the Palais de Chaillot for a great view of the Eiffel Tower. The number six métro stops at the Trocadéro and the 82 bus stops at the avenue d’Iéna on the other side of the Palais de Chaillot.
Statue of Benjamin Franklin in the Square de Yorktown.
This charming former village with a surprising link to American history is worth at least a day’s visit to explore and eat on any trip to Paris.
Jerry Marterer is the author of Paris 201 — Uncommon Places in the City of Light. He and his wife, Suzanne, divide their time between Charleston and Paris; he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.