Hidden European Neighborhoods
Published: February 2011
A great moment in any trip is stumbling upon that little-known shop, pub, or restaurant. From London to Istanbul, we highlight five secret quarters filled with character and authenticity, where it’s easy to slip in, slow down, and live like a local. Best of all: these affordable districts are worlds away from the madding crowd.
Paris: Les Abbesses
At some point, most visitors to Paris pass through Montmartre, the terribly quaint village set on a hill in the city’s northern 18th Arrondissement. They head to the Sacré Coeur Basilica, erected between 1875 and 1914 atop Roman ruins, and the neighboring Place du Tertre, even though bohemian Paris was long ago chased out of that area by paint-by-numbers artists and other tourist schmaltz. But just a few hundred feet downhill, in the Abbesses quarter, a more authentic kind of charm is still alive. Sure, its winding cobblestoned streets have been slicked up by trendy boutiques over the past 10 years (when gentrification really kicked in), but the tinny little merry-go-round in the Place des Abbesses remains the neighborhood’s nucleus, and the surrounding lanes are lined with vegetable stands and open-air cafés. The spirit of the area that once housed Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, and Raoul Dufy hasn’t completely died. Prim old ladies, jocular bistro owners, a stray drag queen or two—everyone knows everyone in Abbesses, and unlike in Paris’s chillier, more bourgeois neighborhoods, here they say “hello.”—Alexandra Marshall
Though technically in St.-Georges, the affordable Hotel Amour is a cornerstone for area cool kids. On the other side of Sacré Coeur is the Hôtel Particulier Montmartre, a luxe new hotel with five suites decorated by artists and designers.
Around the corner from the touristy cafés on the Rue des Abbesses is the excellent Café Burq, with a nontraditional menu and bargain wine list. La Mascotte dishes up some of Paris’s best fruits de mer and sole meunière. The seemingly humble boulangerie Arnaud Delmontel won the 2007 prize for Paris’s best baguette.
Visiting American fashion editors can’t get enough of Spree, a clothing boutique crossed with a Midcentury Modern furniture gallery. The flowers outside the gardening and sweet shop Ets Lion are welcoming enough. Inside, salted caramels and boxes of calissons (chewy Provençal almond confections) beckon as well.
The collection of contemporary Outsider art at the fin-de-siècle Halle Saint Pierre is a respite from the stuffiness of Paris’s major museums. Don’t pass up a visit to the legendary drag cabaret and supper club Chez Michou, owned by the inimitable Monsieur Michou, who is the closest thing the neighborhood has to a nonviolent Don Corleone.
Despite being right in the heart of London, the thriving neighborhood of Marylebone (pronounced mary-le-bone) maintains a fairly low profile. Tourists to London rarely venture south of Madame Tussauds on Marylebone Road, and the shoppers on Oxford Street almost never stray north to Marylebone High Street. Those who do discover a world of independent cafés, homegrown designer shops and markets, epicurean emporiums, and lovingly restored Victorian pubs. Though the stream (or bourne) that once ran along St. Marylebone Church and gave Marylebone its name has long since been built over with slender Georgian town houses and cozy squares, you need only turn to the tranquil Paddington Gardens at the neighborhood’s center for a glimpse of the area’s rural past. The overall effect—of a sort of village unto itself—is a gentle reminder that small-town living can happen even in the largest of cities.—Alison Tyler
The 142-room Mandeville Hotel brings a hip design aesthetic (mirrored tables; padded-leather headboards) to the area. Each of the 16 rooms at the Montagu Place Hotel retains Georgian features, including freestanding bathtubs.
For updated British dishes such as saddle of Cornish lamb with tarragon jus, stop by L’Autre Pied. Both the Prince Regent and the restored Inn 1888 are traditional pubs, though at 1888 the pints arrive accompanied by Thai food.
Marylebone High Street is full of up-and-coming British design, from the vintage-style bags at Cath Kidston to the hand-painted Yorkshire pottery at Emma Bridgewater. Daunt Books is possibly the most beautiful bookstore in London, with original Edwardian, oak-paneled galleries.
The new Cabbages and Frocks market is an eccentric cocktail of locally designed clothing, vintage accessories, and goodies like freshly baked cupcakes.
Colonized for centuries by non-Muslim minorities and foreign traders, the district of Beyoğlu (pronounced be-yoh-LU and formerly known as Pera), across the Golden Horn Strait from the historic center, has always been the cosmopolitan heart of Istanbul. At the turn of the 20th century, locals dressed to the nines would promenade alongside the grand embassy buildings and Parisian-style arcades of Istiklal Caddesi, its main avenue. After a period of neglect in the 1980’s, Beyoğlu is now reclaiming its status as Istanbul’s favorite playground, thanks to an influx of young Turks and international entrepreneurs. And while Starbuckization is taking its toll on Beyoğlu’s famed pedestrian artery Istiklal, East and West and past and present still clash vividly on the backstreets: grungy boutiques, hipster clubs, and sleek lounges with glamorous Bosporus vistas sit cheek by jowl with tatty kebab dives and gritty meyhane (traditional drinking houses).—Anya Von Bremzen
The stylish Ansen Suites has 10 crisp, airy rooms; book those with Golden Horn views. Never mind the location on a murky alley: Misafir Suites is a tiny, six-suite gem, filled with Designer Guild textiles and plenty of kilims.
Architects and designers hold lunch meetings over bowls of just-like-mom’s bulgur at Otto. The soul of old Beyoğlu is its meyhane taverns. Some old-timers love Refik, while others head to the cavernous Yakup 2. With au courant food, wraparound city views, and Scandinavian-inspired design, Mikla is Istanbul’s most confident modern restaurant, and is helmed by the equally impeccable chef Mehmet Gürs.
The 19th-century mansion that holds the store Alaturca is crammed with exquisite pottery, embroideries, and kilims. Try the Turkish Delight in flavors like mint and pistachio at the exotic candy shop Haci Bekir.
The excellent collection at the Pera Museum includes Kütahya tiles and Orientalist portraits from the late Ottoman era. Edgy and intimate, Babylon is the live-music venue that sparked the area’s renaissance. Beyoğlu’s party central, however, remains the rooftop lounge at Nu Pera, a bar-and-restaurant complex.
Stretching to the west of central Copenhagen’s picturesque cobblestones and church steeples, Vesterbro’s 19th-century apartment blocks and storefronts have never lacked for color. The area has been, by turns, a working-class enclave, a hub for North African immigrants in the 70’s and 80’s, and, in the 90’s, a nexus for university students seeking cheap housing and a lively nightlife. Throughout, it has maintained a reputation as Copenhagen’s answer to Amsterdam’s Red Light District—sometimes not inaccurately. But consider Vesterbro today: sparked a decade ago by a trickle, and then a flood, of young professionals, fashion designers, and artists, the neighborhood’s evolution has turned it into a cleaned-up, dressed-up, downright chic destination for the city’s—and increasingly, the world’s—dedicated followers of cool. But in typically Danish fashion, Vesterbro has retained undertones of its previous lives: Istedgade is still dotted with halal markets and denlike student bars; and at Ricco’s, a doorway-wide coffeehouse, you might sip your faultless caffè corretto while squeezed in between a retired bricklayer and a fashion major from Seoul. Granted, there’s no proliferation of cobblestones and steeples here; but as truly authentic neighborhoods go, it doesn’t get better.—Maria Shollenbarger
Bertrams has the charm of an old-style boardinghouse: parquet floors, a creaky elevator, and decadent down-swathed beds. The owners of Bertrams also run the more luxurious Axel hotel; many of its 129 rooms have terraces and separate sitting areas.
Les Trois Cochons offers a three-course menu of dishes such as quiche Lorraine and foie gras in red wine sauce. A few blocks away, Cofoco serves classic French dishes with a pared-down Danish aesthetic. Locals can’t get enough of the authentic Vietnamese food at Lê Lê. Karriere specializes in straightforward brasserie food served alongside avant-garde art installations from the likes of Olafur Eliasson.
Skinny jeans more or less owe their ubiquity to Scandinavian designers such as Filippa K and Acne Jeans. Find them, and others of their ilk, at Samsøe & Samsøe. Donn Ya Doll, meanwhile, sells pastel dresses from the romantic Danish atelier Bruuns Bazaar. For pieces that successfully blend street style and glamour, head to Birna. The Designers Remix Collection has made its name with tailored dresses, trench coats, and a great selection of bags.
Spend an hour at the Københavns Bymuseum for a highly informative tour of the city’s thousand-year history. For culture of a popular variety, Vega offers three venues that host musicians from David Bowie to Interpol. Hackenbusch is Vesterbro’s most enduringly packed boîte—head here for a taste of the city’s traditional drinking culture.
Rome: Ponte, Parione, & Regola
Descriptions of Rome tend toward hyperbole (see Byron, Henry James, Stendhal). It’s splendid; majestic; swoon-inducing. But what about the areas where the city’s majesty defers to the more prosaic dimensions of everyday life, without diminishing any of Rome’s special allure?Such a balance is struck in the historic rioni (regions) of Ponte, Parione, and Regola, which together run west from the Piazza Navona to the curve of the Tiber, and south to the Piazza Farnese. They boast no Pantheon, no St. Peter’s, but thanks to several centuries’ accretion of buildings both noble and humble, their mazelike streets are rife with happy accidents of space and beauty: All you have to do is turn a corner, and a crooked, eight-foot-wide lane suddenly gives onto a sun-washed piazza; or a cacophony of revving Vespas fades into a silence broken only by the trickling of a wall fountain. Lately these rioni have attractions of a wholly contemporary sort. Urbane, one-off boutiques line Parione’s Via del Governo Vecchio, and the surrounding streets hold restaurants and bars where stylists and students, actors and titled dilettantes all gather to fare la bella figura. This is, after all, an area that Romans very much still claim for themselves. That’s not to say you’re not welcome here. Just keep the superlatives to a minimum.—Maria Shollenbarger
Hotel Raphael still makes the cut with one of Rome’s most picturesque locations, a multitiered rooftop terrace, and the undeniable elegance of Richard Meier’s cool, spare design. Housed in a 16th-century palazzo, the 64-room Hotel St. George is richly contemporary, from the monochrome interiors to the electronica playing in the public spaces.
The scialatielli (fat Neapolitan spaghetti) with clams, fresh zucchini, and tomato is a standout at the tiny Gonfalone. Don’t let the tight seating deter you from Cul de Sac, one of Rome’s most famous enoteche. Elegant Pierluigi has an unmistakable local air—and a knack for elevating standards like involtino of swordfish and apple.
Interior designer Ilaria Miani fills her shop with one-of-a-kind pieces. Josephine de Huertas & Co is where Romans get their fix of Chloé and Missoni. Patrizia Pieroni shows her shantung dresses and chunky knit jackets at Arsenale. Gabriella Bolero’s flagship, Bolero, opened in November selling the designer’s signature women’s clothes.
The perfect—and perfectly peaceful—gallery at the Chiostro del Bramante exhibits everything from Turkish pottery and textiles to Keith Haring retrospectives.
Anders Peterson, bartender and owner, Hackenbusch
From his 20-year perch behind the bar at Hackenbusch, Vesterbro’s most enduringly packed boîte, Anders Peterson has developed an elder statesman’s view of his neighborhood’s transition from gritty to borderline glittery over the last two decades: "The crowd is really mixed now," he says. "These days, everyone’s in Vesterbro—except the junkies, which is a good thing!" And though he notes the new restaurants and stores popping up along the main streets of Gammel Konge Vei and Vaerendamvej, Peterson is quick to point out the area’s stubbornly old-school charms: "You can always come here or to Bang & Jansen to experience the traditional Danish bar scene." And with a turn, he’s back to his beer taps. You don’t last this long in Vesterbro by slacking off.
Mehmet Gurs, chef, Mikla Marmara Pera Hotel
With impeccably au courant food (think: anchovies laminated onto bread slices with lemon foam), wraparound city views, and dazzling Scandinavian-inspired design, Mikla is Istanbul’s most confident modern restaurant, and is helmed by the equally impeccable—and worldly—chef Mehmet Gurs (he’s part Turkish, part Finnish, and was raised in Sweden). "When we first set up here people thought we were nuts," Gurs says of opening his first restaurant Nu Teras in 2001, when Beyoglu still had the sheen of a red-light district. Luckily, the area quickly caught up to his ambitions. For Gurs, Beyoglu’s allure isn’t just the new cafes and restaurants—it’s the area’s resonance with an earlier generation: "To me, Beyoglu is the place where you can smell, see, and taste real Istanbul."
Monsieur Michou, owner, Chez Michou
"This is a marvelous village, so full of personality," says the inimitable Monsieur Michou over his daily glass of champagne. Michou knows a thing or two about personality: his legendary drag cabaret and supper club, Chez Michou, owes much of its fame to its perennially electric blue-clad impresario, who is the closest thing the neighborhood has to a nonviolent Don Corleone. Known and loved by everyone in the area (he funds monthly hairdresser visits for all of the local grandmothers), the 77-year-old Michou recalls the area as the village it once was, complete with wagons on the streets. But things haven’t changed too much: "There’s more money here now and it’s more of an intellectual neighborhood, but the kids still love me. They stop me on the street to chat—and I’m older than all of them!"
James Daunt, owner, Daunt Books
Possibly the most charming bookstore in London, with original Edwardian oak-paneled galleries and shelves, Daunt Books has been a Marylebone staple for 18 years—as has its owner, the gentlemanly James Daunt, who is most often found in the travel stacks. According to Daunt, the area owes much of its local character to the recession of 1991, when the chain stores (Gap, Benneton, Next) that once littered the high street closed up shop. "This allowed the smaller businesses to move back in," says Daunt. Now, it’s a haven for one-off boutiques with individual flair. "From bookstores to the butcher shop, the stores here are places that you won’t find anywhere else," he says with pride.