When visitors venture outside Paris’ city center, its wide avenues and Haussmannian façades, they may spot, out there in the Ile de France, arresting architecture.
Bienvenue “en banlieue,” (welcome to the suburbs) where life’s not all concrete, housing developments and sprawling shopping centers!
Observant urban explorers may find themselves along peaceful streets lined with charming homes known as “les Meulières.” They are named after “la meulière,” the coarse-grain sandstone quarried in the Ile de France and used until the late 19th century to build millstones (and grind grain.)
More commonly found outside “le périphérique” (the beltway) in the eastern sections of the French capital, these homes once were “les résidences secondaires” (weekend homes) of affluent Parisians. Today, they are especially coveted by locals: Two years of lockdowns, curfews and other shenanigans have convinced many Parisians life is better lived away from the city center in specious dwellings complete with private outdoor spaces.
“Meulières” can be humble, tall and skinny, or more imposing, their unique façades featuring a rich range of colors, in shades of ocre.
Those built in the early 20th century showcase details in the Art Nouveau or the Art Deco style: blue ceramic accents, exquisite “ferronerie”(ornamental ironwork) in geometric shapes, or “marquises” (glass marquees.)
One thing most “Meulières” seem to have in common: In typical French fashion, they hide behind trees, tall gates and fences. In France, everyone knows the saying: “Pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés” (to live happily, live hidden.)
Hidden or not, they catch the eye these beautiful homes from the past, at a street corner, or through a romantic gate covered by a giant wisteria.
My parents live in a corner of the infamous Seine-Saint-Denis area aka “le 93” (pronounced “neuf-trois.”) Most tourists never venture here – except to visit the famous basilica.
There are projects and busy freeways around… There are also “Meulières.”
They offer a chance to travel back in time to bucolic areas once located outside Paris.
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