Saint Germain — 6th & 7th
ART OF LIVING ARTY
Saint Germain is a myth. The so-called Latin Quarter has been so influential and inspirational – think of Sartre, think of the events of May 1968 – that any sudden bursts of demonstration near La Sorbonne will get an immediate symbolic status. Now the neighborhood has moved to something different, balancing between the intellectual life and more down-to-earth pleasures. Yet the headquarters of French literature are still concentrated in a small set of streets, and gens-de-lettres and tv personalities play expected cameos in le Flore et le Deux Magots. After years of monetizing on the glory days, StMichel to StGermain are knitting their new costumes, with a touch of affordable luxury and loose urban elegance.
Going westward from St Michel will take you across an intricate net of streets and wonders, home of arty cinemas and small boutiques. Around Rue Saint André des Arts, then rue de Buci, what looks like a building entrance may as well lead you to some cobblestone alleys (called cour or passage). History prevails, and a drink at the Procope feels like a trip through time.
Unless you are caught in an existentialist quest, St Germain will seem right up to the minute. Boutiques and cafés drag an idle crowd biding endless time with renewed curiosity for shopping and doing-nothingness.
Leave the Deux-Magots behind and head down rue Bonaparte to rue Jacob and rue de Seine if you’re looking for inspiration. A dense network of galleries revolves around the national Ecole des Beaux-Arts, whose occasional thematic shows give an unconventional insight into art history.
Along the Seine, the discreetly elegant area contrasts with the ever-busy rue de Buci.
Slowly shifting to the noble 7th, benefiting from its view of the river, opposite the Louvre and Tuileries garden, the quai offers more than a romantic promenade. Further down, the Musée d‘Orsay has become a brilliant counterpart to the Louvre. The ever-growing show of XIXth century Art is not to be missed, especially if Impressionism is your heart’s favourite.
Back on rue des Saint-Pères, there’s definitely a change in moods from the extravaganza of the young cafés two streets away. The quiet residential surroundings of delicate St Sulpice live peacefully side-by-side with antique dealers and fashion. Look for a new outfit on rue du Cherche-Midi, rue Madame will provide a new Italian perfume, and macarons from Pierre Hermé will grab you no matter what. You’ll then think about life as Marie-Antoinette at Café de la Mairie, whose terrasse literally sits on Saint-Sulpice.
If you’re in a homecooking mood with some friends, you’ll finally hit le Marché St Germain or the historical Bon Marché. We don’t have the recipe for a good time, but you’ll sure have all the ingredients.
Points of interest
My Saint Germain
Alexis, painting artist
I’ve been living in the 6th arrondissement for 7 years and I am still totally in love with my neighbourhood. I would only leave it under duress!
Before living here, I used to think it was more a “showcase neighbourhood” just to increase your overdraft with luxury shopping, restaurants, chic clubs…
Actually, there is a real gap between the myth of Saint Germain des Prés and the lifestyle of the real inhabitants.
The charming village that became mine is full of good spots and nice small shops.
Of course it is possible to indulge oneself at The Bon Marché, where you can find anything you want from food to decorations and clothes.
But you can also go to rue du Cherche Midi, for example, to Martial and Damien, a great antiques shop to dig out the object of your dreams, reasonably priced, and have a drink at the friendly bar next door, the well-named Bar des Amis (67 rue du Cherche Midi).
After that, why not stay there to enjoy a nice meal with friends or go a little further to the Midi Vins, another great bistrot on 83 rue du Cherche Midi.
What a pleasure to walk between the cinemas at Odeon and the charming Jardins du Luxembourg, to walk among the gorgeous architecture of this neighbourhood every day, to get lost around the galleries of the rue de Seine, to walk on the banks facing the Louvre.
Believe me if you want, but I am sometimes moved to tears with all this beauty when I stroll around my neighbourhood.