As the suburbs are the focus of an Oscar-nominated French film, it's time to clear up some misconceptions about the area outside the Paris ringroad.
What is the stereotype?
Ladj Ly's excellent film Les Misérables – narrowly pipped to the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film – depicts crime, feuding gangs and tensions with the police. He grew up in a banlieue himself – Montfermeil in Seine-Saint-Denis – and the film is based on real events so it's certainly a true depiction of one type of suburb.
Lady Lj's film is set in Montfermeil, the Paris suburb he grew up in. Photo: AFP
Whenever the Paris suburbs feature on the news it's usually in the context of crime, drugs or riots – such as the 2005 unrest which saw almost a week of rioting after two young boys died while hiding from police.
And is the image true?
For some places, yes. Like all countries, France has its deprived areas and many of them are found in the suburbs. In Paris property prices tend to fall the further you go from the centre.
The areas on the banks of the Seine with their beautiful Haussmann buildings command sky-high rents, while the areas further out are a bit cheaper and rent or purchase prices fall off sharply once you get outside the Périphérique – the ringroad that denotes the limit of the city of Paris.
There are three départements that circle Paris – Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne and Hauts-de-Seine – and the département of Seine-Saint-Denis regularly comes out as the worst in France for indicators such as poverty, crime rates and drug use.
The Paris suburbs have an reputation for crime and poverty, but most of them are not like that at all. Photo: AFP
So they are pretty grim places?
Not at all! There are some areas that suffer from deprivation and high crime rates, but there are many other parts of the Petite Couronne (little crown, as the area immediately outside Paris is known) that are great places to live.
The major advantage that the banlieues have is price – rents in central Paris are insane and while we wouldn't describe the banlieues as cheap, you certainly get more for your money once you venture outside the ringroad.
For around €1,000 a month you can find plenty of reasonable-sized apartments in the banlieues, while in central Paris you would generally be looking at very small places or studios for that budget. It's not just the rent either, the price of staples like bread and a beer/wine in your local bar also fall once you reach the suburbs.
The other thing that people like about the banlieues is their slightly more relaxed pace of life – some of them were originally small towns outside Paris and have managed to maintain that small-town feel.
The ones listed below are all already on the Metro lines, making the trip into central Paris quick and easy, but a major Metro expansion project out into the further suburbs is making them the up-and-coming places to be.
Here's some of our favourite Paris banlieues
Les Lilas has keep its small-town feel. Photo: Google Maps
Les Lilas – this is one that has definitely retained a small-town feel, with its handsome mairie building and main street of shops including butchers, greengrocers, and wine merchants. A good sized park has earned it a ville fleurie designation and a large and bustling Sunday market in the covered marketplace does a brisk trade. On Metro line 11 (which is currently being extended), which also makes it easy to commute into Paris from. Like most suburbs, it also connects to the city's tram system which broadly follows the route of the ringroad around the city.
Bagnolet – this is frequently described as bobo (bourgeois bohème – similar to hipster) and is a little more up-and-coming than Les Lilas, but also has plenty of interesting shops, good bars and an arty scene. On Metro line 3.
The market at Montreuil. Don't worry, the politicians only come out at election time. Photo: AFP
Montreuil – another banlieue proud of its arty credentials is Montreuil, Bagnolet's neighbour. It houses a number of company headquarters including Air France's Paris office and the Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité which has the crucial job of deciding on French wine labelling rules. The Montreuil flea market is perhaps less well known that the one at Saint-Ouen but, for our money, better and the area is very close to Bois de Vincennes making it perfect for those who love green space. Served by Metro lines 9 and 1.
You can also take advantage of the city's modern tram network. Photo: AFP
Pantin – 'trendy' is generally the first word on most people's lips when you mention Pantin and it's certainly a place with a very buzzy vibe and a great nightlife. It's situated just the other side of the périphérique from La Villette – the sprawling park/concert venue/cinema – and the canal meanders its way out of the city through Pantin, giving it lots of cool waterfront venues. There's lots of employment opportunities too – with a couple of crumbling old buildings being converted into modern workspaces, so you may not even need to commute. If you do, it's on Metro line 5.
Montrouge – this southern suburb is particularly family friendly, with a swimming pool in the middle of the centre, and an ice rink just outside the Metro (line 4) in the winter. Montrouge is well-connected transport-wise, with the tram line 3b running from Porte d'Orléans and suburban train RER B running from La Place, a short walk from the city centre, next to the local mall, La vache noire (The Black Cow, don't ask – we have no idea what was behind the idea for that name). Montrougians also see themselves as 'nicer than Parisians' and will gladly chat away at the boulangerie.
Several of France's biggest media and tech companies are based in Issy-les-Moulineaux. Photo: AFP
Issy-les-Moulineaux – Another suburb with good employment opportunities – meaning you may even avoid the dreaded Paris Metro, boulot, dodo altogether – is Issy-les-Moulineaux, south west of the city. Big companies including French TV channel Canal+, Microsoft and France24 are based there, earning it the nickname 'medialand' and it has long been one of the most popular destinations for Parisians who move out to the suburbs. It's on Metro line 12 and is also part of the Metro expansion plan.
Clichy – another suburb with good employment prospects is Clichy, which houses the headquarters of some of France's best known brands BIC, Etam and L'Oréal. Not to be confused with the somewhat rougher area of Clichy-sous-Bois, this one sits on the north west side of Paris. It's on Metro line 13 and is a short trip away from the lovely area of Montmartre if you decide you need some city life.
None of this is to take away from the excellent film Les Misérables, however, which we highly recommend. There is a screening of this with English subtitles in Paris on February 20th if you feel your French banlieue slang isn't quite up to the task. Click here for details.