From the Bièvre to the Seine, up hills and down dales
Starting point: M° Maison-Blanche (the White House in Washington D.C. has nothing to do with it: this Métro station is named after a long gone inn), 2.7 miles, 13th & 5th districts
From rue des Peupliers turn right onto rue du Docteur-Landouzy and then left onto rue du Docteur-Leray. The whole neighbourhood has a country-like atmosphere. Houses only have one floor, because of the quarries below, slate roofs and pretty little gardens.
Rue du Docteur-Landouzy ends on charming place de l'Abbé-Georges-Hennocque. Over the door of nos. 2-4 you cannot miss a bas-relief representing a steam-engine emerging from a wreath: the "Mutuelle des Cheminots" (health insurance of the national railway company's employees) has its offices here.
Turn right onto rue des Peupliers, until you reach rue du Moulin-des-Prés. At no. 72 you will find a haven of peace, square des Peupliers, dating back to 1926.
Go back to rue du Moulin-des-Prés. At no. 65, nothing remains of the mill the street is named after. Even the Bièvre river has disappeared, after being covered with asphalt a long time ago. At no. 45 you will see an elegant residence with ceramic decorations.
Soon afterwards you will reach place Paul-Verlaine, where the Butte-aux-Cailles swimming-pool can be found (1924). Water is provided by an artesian well dating back to 1908.
At the beginning of rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles turn right onto rue Simonnet. At the end turn left onto rue Gérard and then right onto rue Jonas. The latter ends on rue Eugène-Atget (the famous photographer), that leads to boulevard Auguste-Blanqui. All these streets retrace the Butte's old pathways.
Cross the boulevard and take, right in front of you, rue Corvisart. At the corner, enter the square (public garden) created in the 1930s. The workers of the "Manufacture des Gobelins" (the famous and beautiful tapestries) once had their vegetable gardens here. From its alleys, you can catch a glimpse of the buildings of rue Croulebarbe. At no. 41 (currently a restaurant), the "Cabaret de la Mère Grégoire" used to be a meeting-point of celebrities such as Victor Hugo, Chateaubriand and La Fayette.
Go down the stairs on the right and take rue Berbier-du-Mets, until you get to boulevard Arago. Cross it and turn right onto rue Pascal, that leads to the Saint-Médard church, which looks like a country parish. Go up rue Mouffetard, where one of the city's most colourful and crowded open-air markets takes place every morning (except Mondays).
Opposite Saint-Médard, the Facchetti's delicatessen-shop has retained its façade, decorated in the 1920s: four rustic scenes reminiscent of the Renaissance.
Along rue Mouffetard you will notice several ancient sign-boards. "A la Bonne Source" (no. 122, a wine merchant); "Au Vieux Chêne" (no. 69); "Au Nègre Joyeux" (no. 12: it belonged to an 18th century chocolate seller and has nothing to do with today's supermarket, of course).
Place de la Contrescarpe (its name derives from the buttress of Philippe Auguste's walls) is the ideal spot where to take a break and maybe "prendre un verre" (have a drink) at one of its cafés. At no. 1, the sign "Maison de la Pomme de Pin" evokes the cabaret sung by Rabelais, patronized by the young Pléiade poets and mentioned by Dumas in "The Three Musketeers". It was actually on the other side of the square, at the corner with rue Blainville.
Past place de la Contrescarpe, rue Mouffetard becomes rue Descartes. The intersection with rue Thouin corresponds to the ancient Bordelles Gate of the above-mentioned Philippe Auguste's walls. Most of the traffic between Paris, Lyon and Italy passed through this gate.
At no. 39, a plaque recalls that Paul Verlaine died here in 1896. Ernest Hemingway rented a room on the top floor in order to be able to write in peace. On a 1989 building, another plaque evokes the "Cabaret du Roi Clovis", which was very popular in the 19th century.
Cross rue Clovis and stop at the corner with no. 21: the Clovis Tower is the only remnant of Sainte Geneviève's abbatial chapel. Sainte Geneviève is the patron saint of Paris and used to be buried in the chapel. The tower is now part of the Lycée Henri IV, one of the two "Grands Lycées" of France.
Opposite the tower, the presbytery of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont used to be the residence of the Duke of Orléans, the Regent's son, who preferred to stay away from the Court's depravity. The commanding general of the École Polytechnique (which was moved to Palaiseau in 1977) once had his residence at no. 21.
Follow rue Descartes and then rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève. Enter the courtyard at no. 34. It is a true delight, with its small vine-covered houses, its flowers and old trees...
Cross rue des Écoles and walk down to place Maubert. Past rue Monge and boulevard Saint-Germain, take rue de Bièvre. Late President François Mitterrand used to live at no. 22. It seems that Dante lived here, too, although there is no proof he was ever in Paris. It is a quiet, narrow street, with fine old houses and a few elegant shops and restaurants. There is also a lovely little square (public garden). With a surface of 40 square feet, it is among the smallest public gardens in town. At no. 25, an old sign evokes a candle factory. At no. 14, a pretty little statue of Saint Michael is all that remains of the prestigious "Collège Saint-Michel". At no. 1, a hook in the shape of a pig's tail, where horses used to be tied, can still be found. No. 1bis has a fine façade with wrought iron banisters.
There you are, on quai Montebello, along the Seine! To reach the closest Métro station, turn around and go back to place Maubert (M° Maubert-Mutualité).