6th Arrondissement: St-Germain-des-Prés, St-Sulpice & Luxembourg
M° St-Germain-des-Prés, Odéon, Mabillon, St-Sulpice, Luxembourg
Dominated for centuries by a vast Benedictine abbey, St-Germain-des-Prés came into vogue in the 20th century as the center of intellectual and artistic life, home to smoky jazz clubs and literary cafés. Although the neighborhood’s character has forever changed with the recent arrival of couture and designer clothing boutiques, its narrow side streets and passages are still full of art galleries, bookstores, and cozy café terraces.
Starting from the Place St-Michel, take the passage Rue de l’Hirondelle to the Rue Git-le-Coeur, turning right onto the Quai des Grands Augustins. This is the oldest quay in Paris, built in 1313. Turn left after the historic restaurant Lapérouse onto the Rue des Grands-Augustins, and explore the Rue Christine, Rue Dauphine and Rue André Mazet. Many of these buildings date back to the 17th century, when the neighborhood surrounding the Abbey at St-Germain-des-Prés became a fashionable place to live. Cross the Rue St-André-des-Arts, a busy street lined with crêpe stands, gift shops, Greek restaurants and art house cinemas, to the Cour du Commerce-St-André. This pleasant passage of cafés and gift boutiques was built in 1776 — look out for those uneven cobblestones! On the right is the back door of the country’s oldest café, Le Procope (13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, 6th M° Odéon). Opened in 1686, it was popular with actors from the Comédie Française, as well as the young Napoléon Bonaparte and revolutionaries such as Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire. Today it’s an upscale restaurant, but sometimes they’ll let you stop in for coffee at the lobby bar between 4pm-6pm (use the restrooms upstairs to get a good peek at the restored 18th-century décor).
Loop back up to the Carrefour de Buci, turning left onto the busy market street Rue de Buci. This is one of the prime people-watching streets in the neighborhood (particularly from the sidewalk terrace of the Le Bar du Marché). Take a right onto the Rue de Seine, cutting through the tiny Rue Jacques Callot to the Rue Guénégaud. On the left is the boutique of the Paris Mint (2 Rue Guénégaud, 6th). Turn left onto the Quai de Conti to visit the production workshops and coin museum of the Hôtel des Monnaies (11 Quai de Conti, 6th M° Mabillon). Created by Louis XV in 1775 to mint all of the country’s currency, today it’s reserved for commemorative pieces and medals. The museum is open Tuesday-Friday 11am-5:30pm, and weekends noon-5:30pm, entry €8 includes audio-guide. Museum Pass accepted. One-hour guided tours of the workshops are available Wednesdays and Fridays at 2:15pm. Tickets €3, free for kids under 16. Call to reserve a place Tel 01 40 46 55 35 or 01 40 46 55 30.
Continue along the quay to the grand Institute de France ( 23 Quai de Conti, 6th M° Mabillon). This impressive building, with its 17th-century dome by Le Vau, is where the 40 “immortals” of the Académie Française gather each year to bemoan the proliferation of franglais in the French vocabulary.
If you’re looking for a good spot to eat your picnic lunch, try the Pont des Arts (aka Passerelle des Arts), a popular pedestrian bridge with some of the best views in town. For more of an intimate setting, pass through the little archway in the Institute de France to the Place Gabriel Pierné (corner of Rue de Seine and Rue Mazarine), a quiet garden with benches shaped like open books.
Further along the quay is the prestigious fine arts academy, the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts (13 Quai Malaquis, 6th M° St-Germain-des-Prés Tel 01 47 03 50 00). There are regular arts exhibitions and a bookstore open to the public Tuesday-Sunday 1pm-7pm, exhibit entry €4. The rest of the school is off-limits to visitors except during the open house in June. Guided tours of the school are possible on Mondays during the school year with prior reservations, Tel 01 47 03 52 15.
Walk down the Rue Bonaparte, with art gallery detours along the Rue des Beaux-Arts and Rue Visconti. Turn left onto Rue Jacob, with its darling little boutiques and bookshops, to the Rue de Fürstenberg. This romantic square was originally part of the courtyard for the Palais Abbatial (the brick and stone building you can see at the far end of the street), with stables and housing for servants. Today it’s home to upscale interior decorating boutiques and the Musée Eugène Delacroix (6 Rue de Fürstenberg, 6th M° Mabillon Tel 01 44 41 86 50). This museum was the painter’s last residence, where he died in 1863, offering an intimate look at the artist’s work and also personal souvenirs, letters and photographs. Open daily except Tuesday, 9:30am-5pm. Entry €4, €2.60 for visitors 18-25, free for kids under 18, and everyone the 1st Sunday of the month. Museum Pass accepted.
American Independence Treaty
On September 3, 1783, representatives of the United States (Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams) and the King of England met at 58 Rue Jacob (the Hôtel de York) to sign the Treaty of Paris, in which England officially recognized the independence of the thirteen colonies. A plaque outside the building commemorates this historic event.
Follow the Rue de l’Abbaye to the entrance of the Eglise St-Germain-des- Prés (3 Place St-Germain-des-Prés, 6th M° St-Germain-des-Prés). From the Middle Ages up until the Revolution, this entire neighborhood belonged to the independent Benedictine abbey, with its own houses, stables, chapels, cloisters and prison. Closed down by the revolutionary Assembly and used for gunpowder storage, an explosion on August 19, 1794 destroyed most of the buildings. Today all that’s left of this once powerful abbey is the Palais Abbatial (converted into government offices) and the monastic church, St-Germain-des-Prés. The bell tower dates back to the original construction in the 11th century, although the rest of the building was altered throughout the centuries. Réné Descartes is buried inside (although his head is actually in the Musée de l’Homme).
Overlooking the Place St-Germain-des-Prés is the Café Deux Magots, and one block down, the Café Flore. These two traditional Parisian cafés were frequented by artists and writers throughout the 20th century such as Picasso, Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Verlaine, and Rimbaud. Today they still hang onto their literary roots, although most of the chic locals and tourists on the terrace don’t bother themselves with anything more existential than a pair of dark sunglasses (the better to discreetly people watch, my dear). Across the street is another historic landmark, the Brasserie Lipp, an Alsatian brasserie popular with French politicians since the 1920s.
Cross the busy Boulevard St-Germain, one of Haussmann’s Left Bank thoroughfares, to the Rue du Dragon, a tiny street dating back to the Middle Ages, known today for its upscale accessories boutiques. At the end of the street is the Carrefour de la Croix Rouge, the crossroads of the neighborhood’s prime shopping streets, punctuated by César’s Centaure statue. Bear right along the Rue de Sèvres, to the pedestrian-only Rue Récamier. At the back of the passage is a little garden, the Square Récamier, and the Espace EDF Electra (6 Rue Récamier, 6th M° Sèvres-Babylone Tel 01 53 63 23 45), a former electric station converted into a contemporary exposition center for the arts run by EDF (the electric company). Open Tuesday-Sunday, noon-7pm. Free entry.
At the corner of Rue de Sèvres and Boulevard Raspail is the majestic Hôtel Lutetia, the Left Bank’s only palace hotel, and the historic Bon Marché, the Left Bank’s only department store. Take a well-deserved break in the leafy gardens of the Square Boucicaut.
For those who want to see more of St-Germain-des-Prés, follow the upscale shopping trail from the Bon Marché, up the Rue du Bac, Rue Montalembert, Rue de l’Université and the Rue des Saints-Pères.
St-Sulpice & Luxembourg
The Place Saint-Sulpice is considered a very chic address (Catherine Deneuve lives here), with exclusive designer boutiques slowly edging out the Catholic bookstores selling crosses and statues of the Virgin. But no amount of contemporary glitz can overshadow the real star of the square, the massive Eglise St-Sulpice. Commissioned by the abbey in St-Germain-des-Prés for the local parishioners in 1646, it’s one of the largest churches in Paris, with several paintings by Delacroix and a world renowned organ built in 1862. Catch the free recitals on Sunday mornings at 11:30am.
Continue along the Rue St-Sulpice to the Place de l’Odéon, via Rue de Condé and Rue Crébillon. The Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe (Place de l’Odéon, 6th M° Odéon Tel 01 44 85 40 40) was the first national theatre, built in 1782 for the Comédie Française troupe. The theatre has always been at the center of political discourse, from the premier of Beaumarchais’ subversive play The Marriage of Figaro to the inflammatory 1968 anti-war play Paravents. Today it’s considered the place to go for contemporary theatre.
At the bottom of the street is Theatr’Hall (3 Carrefour de L’Odéon, 6th M° Odéon Tel 01 43 26 64 90), a theatre costume shop selling high-quality period clothing, capes, hats, wigs and Venetian masks.
Pass around the east side of the theatre to the entrance of the Jardin du Luxembourg (Rue de Vaugirard, 6th M° Odéon). This was originally the private garden of Marie de Medici’s Palais du Luxembourg, built in 1615 after the death of her husband Henri IV. Shortly after moving in she had a fall-out with Richelieu over the Franco-Spanish alliance and was banished to Cologne, where she died penniless. The formal gardens, tended by a nearby monastery until the Revolution, feature many statues, including a gallery of French queens surrounding the main fountain, and the dramatic Fontaine de Medici dating back to 1624. Around the edges of the garden are winding English-style paths (find the hidden mini Statue of Liberty), bee houses and trained fruit trees. Open to the public since Napoléon’s reign, the gardens are amongst the most popular in Paris. For kids there are pony rides, large playgrounds, marionettes, and a large basin where they can push around rented toy sailboats. Adults come to relax in the armchairs, enjoy a coffee in the garden café, or get in a bit of jogging. There are also open-air theatre productions, free musical concerts, and temporary arts exhibitions held throughout the year. The queen’s Italian-style palace is now home to the French Senate, which oversees prominent arts and culture exhibitions in the Orangerie and Musée du Luxembourg (entry 19 Rue de Vaugirard, 6th M° Odéon Tel 01 42 34 25 95 ). Open Friday-Monday 11am-10:30pm, Tuesday-Thursday 11am-7pm. Entry €9, €6 for visitors 13-25, €4 for kids 8-12. Audio-guide in English €4.50.
Exit at the south end of the gardens and make a right past the college buildings on Rue Michelet to Rue d’Assas. Turn right, and then watch out on the left for a nondescript passage leading to the Musée Zadkine (100 bis Rue d’Assas, M° Vavin or RER Port Royal Tel 01 55 42 77 20). This tiny museum was the home and atelier of the Russian-born artist and sculptor Ossip Zadkine from 1928 until his death in 1967. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm. Free entry into the permanent collection, temporary exhibits €3.50. Even if you don’t go into the museum, have a stroll through the charming sculpture garden at the entrance. While you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by the Lucernaire Forum (53 Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, 6th Tel 01 45 44 57 34 M° Vavin), a popular neighborhood cultural center and cinema with a cinema, theatre, art gallery, rare book shop, restaurant, bar, and a drama school. The lobby is a charming recreation of an old Parisian street, with bookstalls, fountain, benches, Paris street signs and authentic cobblestones pilfered during the May 1968 student uprising.
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