Les bouquinistes – vintage booksellers along the river Seine

I was recently told that the Seine is said to be the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves. This of course refers to the ‘bouquinistes’, the second hand and antiquarian booksellers that have their iconic green boxes along the banks of the river. The booksellers were granted their concessions along the river in 1859, and there are now around 240 of them, with the boxes containing a total of over 300 000 books.  The concessions are highly prized and apparently hard to come by, and the bouquinistes were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.

The rules are quite strict, the boxes must have specific dimensions and all look the same. Each bouquiniste is allowed a maximum of 4 boxes: 3 must contain books, the fourth can sell stamps, souvenirs, old magazines or postcards. They must open 4 days a week minimum, whatever the weather (you’ll usually find them open in the afternoons).

Strolling along the riverside and exploring the bouquinistes is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Most of the books are in French, they range from paperbacks to collectors items, but for those who don’t read French you can also find some beautiful old posters (most are reproductions) and copies of old maps of the city, which I particularly love. The green boxes have become one of the well loved symbols of the city, the views across the river are spectacular, and you may even be able to pick up a treasure or two.

  • On the Right Bank from Pont Marie to Quai du Louvre, and the Left Bank from Quai de la Tournelle to Quai Voltaire
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Fashion at the Pierre Cardin Museum

Tucked away in a courtyard on the edge of the Marais is a fascinating and beautiful collection of clothes and furniture designed by Pierre Cardin. Set over 3 floors , this incredible collection traces his career from 1953 to the present day, and is a must see for anybody who is interested in fashion and design.

The collection is arranged chronologically, the 1950’s to 1970’s on the ground floor and the 1980’s and 1990’s downstairs, with the upstairs section showing evening and party wear and a room  dedicated to accessories – hats, sunglasses, jewellery, gloves and shoes. I particularly loved the futuristic pieces from his pret-a- porter collections of the 1960’s and 70’s with their the clean lines and bright colours.

The first couturier to show a pret-a-porter collection inspired by haute couture, Pierre Cardin caused a scandal with his collection in 1959 which made designer clothes available in a department store for the first time. He continued to experiment over the next 60 years, and as you follow his career and work through the museum it’s hard not to be taken aback by the imagination, creativity and craftsmanship on show.

I discovered that in the 1970’s he also designed and made furniture, and some of his beautiful pieces are also on show here.

I loved this museum and its amazing collection. The life and work of Pierre Cardin is fascinating, and the glimpse into his world that you get here certainly makes me want to see more.

  • Musée Pierre Cardin, 5 rue Saint Merri, 75004 Paris. metro: Rambuteau or Hotel de Ville

Open Wed/Thurs/Fri 11:00 – 18:00, Saturday & Sunday 13:00 – 18:00

Pierre Cardin Website (in English)

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Atelier Brancusi

The Pompidou Centre is one of the iconic building in Paris – love it or hate it, you certainly can’t miss it. However it’s easy to miss the much more discreet building just next to it. Designed by Renzo Piano, the Atelier Brancusi is almost invisible, yet this fascinating space is another of those tiny hidden museums that is well worth a visit.

Atelier Brancusi, Paris

Constantin Brancusi came to Paris from Romania in 1904, and from 1915 worked in a studio in the 15th arrondissement. Considered one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century, he was one of the pioneers of  the modernist movement, arriving Paris at a moment when the art world here was effervescent with new ideas. His friends included the leading figures of the artistic and intellectual scene in Paris at the time: Picasso, Modigliani, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Guillaume Apollinaire and Ezra Pound.

In these studios he produced most of his work, and many of these works he arranged in the studio space, often in groups.  The studio and the arrangement of the sculptures in relation to the space and to the other works surrounding them became integral to each sculpture. So much so that he often refused to sell them, if he did he would replace them with plaster casts.

In 1956 he bequeathed his studio and its entire contents to the French state, on condition that it would be reconstructed exactly as it was on the day of his death. Renzo Piano designed the current space, where we can see not only his sculptures, but tools, sketches, furniture and his library. Here we can view his work as he wished it to be viewed, and comprehend it as he wished it to be understood.

Another of his most famous works, Le Baiser, can be seen in Montparnasse Cemetery, which is also where he is buried.

  • Atelier Brancusi, Piazza in front of the Centre Pompidou (rue Rambuteau side)

Open daily 2-6pm, except Tuesdays and May 1.  Free entrance.

Paris Plages

Every summer, from mid-July to mid-August, 3.5km of the busy road running along the Seine in the centre of the city is closed off and transformed into a beach, complete with golden sand, palm trees, deck chairs and petanque players. Introduced by the socialist Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe in 2002, Parisians who were not leaving the city to go on summer holidays discovered the joy of going to the beach in the heart of their city, and since then it has become a Parisian institution and also been the inspiration for many other towns and cities around Europe.

There are plenty of deck chairs and parasols, food trucks and ice cream stalls, dancing and ‘baby foot’, children’s clubs and petanque balls on loan. The atmosphere is relaxed and laid back. On a sunny afternoon it’s a great place for a stroll along the riverside, or take a book and find a deckchair in the shade.

As well as the beach running along the Voie Goerges Pompidou, Paris Plages can be found alongside the canal in the Bassin de la Villette in north east Paris. There are also beach volleyball courts in front of the Hotel de Ville.

  • Voie Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris. métro: Pont Neuf/Hotel de Ville/Chatelet/Cité
  • Bassin de la Villette, 75019 Paris. metro: Stalingrad

Paris Plages (map)

The Prettiest Squares in Paris: Place des Vosges

The oldest and one of the most beautiful squares in Paris, the Places des Vosges is spectacular at any time of year. I like it in the winter, the bare trees mean that you get a wonderful view of the magnificent 17th century red brick buildings that line the square. Built under Henry IV between 1605 and 1612, it was one of the first squares to be planned and built in a symmetrical and harmonious style  – only the pavilions of the King and Queen facing each other across the park are taller than the other buildings. The buildings all look identical, their width equals their height and the roofs are half the height of the facade – although if you look closer you will see that the windows and wrought iron balconies are often different.

The arcades are full of cafés, restaurants and art galleries, and the apartments above are some of the most expensive real estate in Paris. Victor Hugo lived at number 6, his house is now a small museum. Located in the Marais, the square has been a fashionable place to stroll, relax and have parties since the 17th century, and today it is a wonderful place to explore or have a picnic – there are plenty of benches and in the summer months the grass is full of people picnicking and enjoying the sunshine. If you are in the Marais, don’t miss it, bring a picnic or a beautiful eclair from the nearby Eclair de Genie and enjoy relaxing in the spectacular surroundings.

  • Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris  metro: St Paul

Paris old & new – the rue des Jardins

Living in Paris is like living inside history, if that makes sense. The museums are not just full of collections to be looked at, they live and evolve, involving us as spectators and visitors. The ancient parts of the city co-exist with the modern, often they are alongside or on top of one another, so it’s hard to make the distinction unless you look closely – we can be so surrounded by history and beauty that it can be easy not to even notice it.

This basketball court in the Marais is a great example. Look closely and you’ll see that the old fortified city walls of King Philippe Auguste run alongside it. The players are bouncing their ball off a wall that dates back to the 13th century, despite the fact that it’s the longest remaining piece of the old city wall and is classified as a historic monument. Houses have also been built using the wall and we can see one of two remaining towers.

You will find this everywhere in Paris, old, less old, and modern all jumbled in together. It’s part of the charm of this beautiful city, history is alive and present in our everyday lives.

  • rue des Jardins, 75004 Paris. métro Pont Marie or St Paul
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The Ile St Louis in winter

The Ile St Louis is particularly beautiful in the winter, more so than in the summer in my opinion. The pale grey and white of the buildings and shutters blends with the grey Parisian skies, and is punctuated here and there by flowers, the black outline of a tree, or a few remaining yellow leaves. Much quieter than in the summer months, you can get a taste of how life used to be here in days gone by.

The Ile St Louis is the smaller of the two islands on the Seine in the heart of the city, and really feels like a separate small town. In fact those who lived there used to say that they were going to Paris, the mainland or even the continent when they left and crossed the bridges into the city. One of the oldest preserved sections of the city (and now boasting some of the most expensive real estate around), the island is filled with magnificent 17th century townhouses, many concealing beautiful courtyards and bearing plaques telling the stories of the nobles and famous residents who once lived there. One main street bisects the island and is filled with shops and cafés, the most famous of course being Berthillon, the ice cream parlour that brings people flocking here in the summer.

If you have a chance, go for a wander around the island. You can take a bottle of wine, buy a baguette and some cheese from the wonderful shop on the rue St Louis en l’Ile and eat it down by the riverside, followed by an ice cream and a stroll through the quiet streets.

  • Ile St Louis, 75004 Paris. metro: Sully Morland or Pont Marie

Eclairs in the Marais

Who can resist an eclair in Paris? Or anywhere else for that matter. I certainly can’t…

As we know, when it comes to food, the French take things to a different level, and eclairs of course are no exception. If you find yourself in the Marais, make a detour to the rue Pavée and a tiny shop called l’Eclair de Génie. You won’t regret it.

eclair-de-genie-paris-marais

The eclairs are absolutely beautiful, they look almost too good to eat. There is a wide array of delicious flavours and they change regularly so you can go back often and always find new ones.

I’ve been twice recently, the first time I chose raspberry, this time lemon and yuzu. Both were delicious! Get one and take it to the nearby Place des Vosges to enjoy on a bench. That way you get a double treat – eat an amazing French pastry in one of the most beautiful squares in the city.

  • l’Eclair de Génie, 14 rue Pavée, 75004 Paris.   metro: St Paul

Eclair de Genie website

The Flower Market on the Ile de la Cité

Located on the Ile de la Cité, right in the heart of Paris and just around the corner from Notre Dame, is the flower and bird market. Open daily from 8am to 7pm, it’s a profusion of flowers and plants, partly outdoors but also covered under metal market stalls built in the early 1900’s. The market has been here since 1808, and is a riot of colours and perfumes. It’s small and picturesque, on Sundays it becomes a bird market. It’s well worth a detour if you are in the area visiting Notre Dame or the Sainte Chapelle. The Ile de la Cité itself is beautiful and a wonderful place for a morning walk.

    • Place Louis Lepine and Quai de la Corse, 75004 Paris  metro: Cité

The best views in Paris? The towers of Notre Dame

Notre Dame cathedral is one of those must see places in Paris that can’t be missed. Who can visit it and not be inspired to read Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame?

notre-dame-cathedral-paris

However the part I like best is the towers. From here you get some of the best views in Paris. Built right in the heart of the city, the views beat even the Eiffel Tower in my opinion – you’re high enough to see for miles yet close enough to be able to pick out the details.

But even better? The gargoyles and especially the chimera. The gargoyles are used to drain water away from the cathedral, it usually runs out of their mouths. The chimera however are my favourites, they represent all kinds of imaginary beasts, many of them half animal and half human, and all looking out accross the city.

Even the roof of the cathedral itself is incredibly beautiful, and full of detail.

The lines can be long. Oh yes, and there are 387 steps!  And that’s not even right to the top, you can keep going if you want to. But it’s well worth the climb. And you can always book a skip the line tour, these include a walk around the beautiful Ile de la Cité, tons of fascinating history about the island and the cathedral, and of course you get whisked straight past those annoying lines…

  • Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. Ile de la Cité. métro Cité or St Michel

Open daily until 6.45pm

Berthillon on the Ile St Louis

Summer in Paris wouldn’t be the same without Berthillon ice cream. A family run establishment that has been situated on the Ile St Louis for 60 years, they are generally acknowledged to be the best in the city.

The list of flavours of ice creams and sorbets is incredibly long, and they are made with all natural ingredients, no preservatives or artificial sweeteners here. In a year they will produce over 60 different flavours, depending on the season. Their main shop is situated on the rue St Louis en l’Ile but they are sold by other shops on the island, we bought ours at one just around the corner to avoid the long lines.

Be careful, their main shop closes for the whole month of August! They are also closed Monday and Tuesday. The others retailers remain open though.

Make sure you don’t miss it – I can of course vouch for the fact that they are extremely delicious! Even friends who are not crazy about ice cream and who I insist try one end up agreeing they are wonderful.

  • Maison Berthillon, 31 rue St Louis en l’Ile, 75004 Paris. Metro: Pont Marie