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Open days – les Beaux-Arts de Paris

Les Beaux Arts is the most prestigious art school in Paris, and among the very best in the world. Every year in early July, at the end of the academic year, they open their doors to the public to show the work of their students and allow a rare visit to their spectacular site.

The school is set in the heart of St Germain des Près, facing the Louvre on the other side of the river. It covers 2 hectares (almost 5 acres) and the vast complex of buildings date from the 17th – 20th centuries – the school was originaly founded by Louis XIV. Students study here for 5 years, taught by contemporary artists and surrounded by an incredible collection of over 450 000 artworks, a huge library and four centuries of artistic excellence.

We were thrilled by the chance to see not only the beautiful buildings steeped in the history of art, but also the creativity and passion of today’s students, and their varied and fascinating work. The Beaux-Arts do not open their doors to the public very often, but when they do, a glimpse into their world is something not to be missed.

  • Ecole des Beaux Arts, 14 rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris. metro: St Germain des Près

Website (in English)

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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The prettiest squares in Paris – Place Furstenberg & La Maison du Chou

If you want to catch a glimpse of the St Germain des Près of days gone by, you should head for Place Furstenberg. Loved by filmmakers (remember the final scene in Scorsese’s Age of Innocence?) this charming little square is hidden just off the Boulevard St Germain. It’s worlds away from the designer boutiques and crowds on the boulevard, and if you didn’t go looking for it you would never know it was there.

It is, in my opinion, the prettiest square in Paris, at least it’s my favourite and always has been. It’s certainly the most discreet, perhaps the most elegant, and probably one of the quietest. The painter Delacroix had his studio here (now a small museum) and Claude Monet later had a studio above it. Now it’s home to 4 beautiful paulownia trees and a few small shops.

Another excellent reason to visit Place Furstenberg is La Maison du Chou. This tiny boutique sells melt-in-your-mouth choux pastries that are filled for you on the spot with your choice of fresh creamy fillings. Take away or eat in, there are a few small tables at the back of the shop where you can enjoy the cream puffs in the quiet with a cup of tea or coffee.

Slightly tangy and not too sweet (the filling is made with fromage blanc), delicate and delicious, they are a perfect match for the elegant beauty of their surroundings.

  • Place Furstenberg, 75006 Paris.  metro: St Germain des Près
  • La Maison du Chou. 7 rue de Furstenberg, 75006. Open Mon-Sun 11:00 – 19:00
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A hidden gem – the Musée Zadkine

Last weekend I discovered a tiny museum tucked away in a hidden courtyard behind the Luxembourg gardens. Former home and studios of Ossip Zadkine and his wife the painter  Valentine Prax, set a lovely garden in the heart of the 6th arrondissement, this beautiful museum houses a wonderful collection of his sculptures. A Russian born sculptor and  friend of Modigilani, Blaise Cendrars, Henry Miller and Max Jacob, Zadkine is considered one of the masters of cubism, and lived in this house for forty years from 1928. Valentine Prax bequeathed her legacy in order that it could be transformed into a museum. Here you can see his sculptures in bronze, limestone, granite, plaster and different kinds of wood, sometimes lacquered or overlaid with gold leaf. My favourite is Head of a Woman (main picture above) which used to be part of the designer Eileen Gray’s collection in her apartment in Paris.

The museum is very small and feels very intimate. Entry is free, and you don’t need long to visit it, although it really is worth spending some time there and enjoying the beauty of the artworks and the tranquility of their wonderful setting. I look forward to coming back in the summer and enjoying the peace and beauty of the gardens as well as the lovely museum. It’s the type of place I’d love to pop into whenever I’m nearby, just to spend a few moments imagining what it would be like to live and produce these beautiful works in such a wonderful place.

  • Musée Zadkine, 100 bis, rue d’Assis, 75006 Paris. métro: Vavin or Notre Dame des Champs

Free entry. Open 10:00 – 18:00 daily except Mondays and public holidays

Musée Zadkine website

Pain Poilane

Pain Poilane is reputed amongst many to be the best bread in Paris. A family run bakery established in 1932 in St Germain des Près, the bread is made the traditional way, using stone milled flour, water, sea salt from Brittany and yeast. Cooked in a wood fired oven, the big 2kg loaves are instantly recognizable, both in their texture and flavour.

Around 1000 loaves a day are exported to the US, Japan and the Middle East (I even heard a story about an American who loved it so much he placed an order to have a loaf couriered to him and then to his children in the US each week for life). You will often find it used for sandwiches in brasseries around the city, and you can buy a quarter or half a loaf if 2kg seems like too much!

  • 8 rue du Cherche Midi, 76006 Paris.  métro: Sevres Babylone or St Sulpice, closed Sunday
  • 49 Boulevard de Grenelle, 75015 Paris.  métro: Dupleix, closed Monday
  • 38 rue Debelleyme, 75003 Paris. métro: Filles du Calvaire or St Sebastien Froissart, closed Monday
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Beauty shopping in St Sulpice

Whenever I’m in need of a treat in the beauty department, or want to stock up with some French pharmacy products, I always head for St Sulpice in the 6th arrondissement. Not only is it a beautiful part of town, filled with chic clothes shops, all kinds of specialist boutiques, great restaurants and one of my favourite patissiers, it’s also a fantastic place to shop for all things beauty.

My favourite is a tiny shop tucked away behind the church of St Sulpice, on the rue de Tournon. Oh My Cream stocks brands that are otherwise hard to find in France – Tata Harper, Sunday Riley or RMS Beauty – alongside French favourites such as Joelle Ciocco, amongst many others. They also often do events and have a great website in English as well as in French.

A short walk away you can also find Aesop, Annick Goutal perfumes, and Kiehls (which also happens to be right next door to Pierre Hermé, the main reason for going there, although apparently they are not fans of the huge lines that form outside and block their doorway!) Just along from Pierre Hermé, on the corner of the rue Bonaparte and the rue du Four, is Citypharma. Much beloved by Parisians, international beauty editors and bloggers, this is the place to stock up on all those fantastic French pharmacy products, and at the best prices in the city. You’ll find La Roche Posay, Nuxe, Caudalie, Darphin and many, many more – it’s like an Aladdin’s cave of wonderful products, if you like that sort of thing! Unfortunately it’s not a very well kept secret, be prepared to push your way through the ailes and stand in line to pay, but it’s well worth it.

If all the shopping gets too much, get a macaroon or a cake from Pierre Hermé and take it to a bench in the square front of the church of St Sulpice to enjoy in the sunshine.

  • Oh My Cream! 3 rue de Tournon, 75006 Paris
  • CityPharma, 26 rue du Four, 75006 Paris

Metro: St Sulpice

Japan meets Paris – Sadaharu Aoki

Imagine a tiny shop, filled with jewel coloured cakes, each more beautiful than the last. Then imagine the best of French patisserie, infused with Japanese flavours – green tea, yuzu, wasabi or sesame. To me it’s a match made in heaven.

Sadaharu Aoki has been living and working in Paris for the past 20 years. He has 3 shops (the one at Port Royal is also a tea room) and a stand at Lafayette Gourmet, as well as supplying many of the couture houses during fashion week.

I’m a die hard fan of Pierre Hermé macaroons, but I have to admit that Sadaharu Aoki’s are amazingly delicious too. I love the flavours he uses, particularly the wasabi, earl grey and thé matcha. Slightly firmer than Pierre Hermé’s, the flavours are intense and beautiful.

Drop into one of his shops if you get a chance, they are a visual feast and a wonderful treat for your taste buds!

  • Sadaharu Aoki, 35 rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris / 56 Bd de Port Royal, 75005 Paris     25 rue Pérignon, 75015 Paris / Lafayette Gourmet, Bd Haussmann, 75009 Paris

Where to find Sadaharu Aoki in Paris

The mythical cafés of St Germain des Près

St Germain des Près is a part of Paris that evokes all kinds of images – jazz and be bop clubs swinging, Aragon, Apollinaire, Breton and and the Surrealist painters hanging out at the Deux Magots, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and the Paris intellectuals working in the Café de Flore….Picasso, Man Ray and Hemingway were also regulars of the area, Boris Vian even wrote a guide to the area in 1950 called ‘Le Manuel de St Germain des Près’

Nowadays the cafés and a few of the jazz clubs are still there, and St Germain des Près is a beautiful place to hang out in.

The famous triangle of cafés still exists. Brasserie Lipp is a favourite of politicians, journalists and editors. De Gaulle and Pompidou used to lunch here, Ben Barka was arrested here.

Jean Paul Sartre wrote of the Café Flore “Simone de Beauvoir and I more or less set up house at the Flore. We worked from 9am until noon, then we went out to lunch. At 2 we came back and talked with our friends till 4, when we got down to work again till 8. And after dinner people came to see us by appointment. It may seem strange, all this, but the Flore was like home to us…”

Les Deux Magots is where Ernest Hemingway used to be a regular, he reminisces about drinking here as a young writer receiving rejection slips in ‘A Moveable feast’, and in ‘The Sun also Rises’ this is where Jake Barnes meets up with Lady Brett.

deux-magots-paris

Nowadays you probably won’t find many struggling artists or writers in St Germain des Près, especially when you consider how much it now costs for a coffee in these particular cafés! But it’s a lively and fascinating place, great for shopping, meeting people or just relaxing for an afternoon. Bring a book by Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Hemingway or Boris Vian; there are many cafés to choose from so pick an outdoor table or one by the window, and indulge in one of the Parisian’s favourite pastimes – people watching.

  • Metro: St Germain des Près

The Luxembourg Gardens

The Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th arrondissement is one of the largest parks in Paris, and one of the favourites of the Parisians. It’s also home to the French Senate, housed in the Luxembourg Palace. The original gardens were begun in 1612 at the request of Marie de Medici, wife of Henry IV, who wanted to create a garden in the style of those she had known in Florence as a child.

It’s a wonderful place to go any time of year. In high summer people gather to listen to music played on the bandstand, children push old fashioned wooden sailing boats around the pond with long sticks or watch puppet shows, and everyone pulls up a chair and makes the most of the sunny days.

You can take the RER and get off at Luxembourg, or take the metro to Cluny and walk up the Boulevard St Michel. Being so close to the Latin Quarter, it’s a perfect place to relax after exploring the streets around the Pantheon.

  • Jardins du Luxembourg, 75006 Paris. RER: Luxembourg or métro Cluny La Sorbonne

Ice cream at Pierre Hermé

We’ve been back to Pierre Hermé, it’s hard to stay away…!
As the weather is so beautiful we decided to try the ice cream – I’ve been wanting to for a while, especially as it has such a fantastic name. Miss Gla Gla: ice cream in French is ‘glace’, and ‘gla gla’ is what tiny French children (or cartoon characters!) say when they are cold.

I chose Ispahan, which was originally the macaroon flavour which contributed to making him famous: rose, litchi and raspberry.

What can I say?

P1060557Heaven…

It’s sandwiched between 2 thin layers of macaroon and needless to say is amazingly delicious. Sitting on a shady bench on the square by St Sulpice Church on a Saturday afternoon and eating this was a real treat.

Miss Gla Gla is available all summer and there are several fantastic flavours to choose from, so don’t miss out!

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Pierre Hermé

  • 72 rue Bonparte, 75006 Paris. Metro: St Sulpice
  • 4 rue Cambon, 75001 Paris. Metro: Concorde
  • 39 avenue de l’Opera, 75002 Paris. Metro: Pyramides or Opera

 

Picasso in St Germain des Pres

Did you know that sitting in a tiny park, nestled next to the church of St Germain des Prés, is a statue by Pablo Picasso? Made of bronze and offered by Picasso to the city of Paris in 1959, it is the head of Dora Maar, and is dedicated to his friend the poet Guillaume Apollinaire.

Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso are said to have met on the terrace of the Deux Magots café just nearby.

  • Square Laurent Prache, 75006 Paris. Metro: St Germain des Pres

The best macaroons in Paris?

As far as I am concerned, Pierre Hermé is the king of macaroons, and believe me I have tried many…

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His shops are like tiny jewel boxes, filled with a mouth watering array of beautiful coloured gems, especially the one on the rue Bonaparte. He also makes the most beautiful and delicious cakes and chocolates, but the macaroons are what most people go for. Flavours change regularly with the seasons, so you can go often and never get bored. The thing that amazes me the most is how you can taste each flavour separately within often quite a complex mix, and yet they all harmonize together perfectly.

If you buy them in the shop on rue Cambon it’s just across from the Tuileries gardens, a perfect place to find a seat and enjoy them. If you’re at rue Bonaparte, the square outside St Sulpice church just opposite is lovely, and the café staff don’t seem to mind people having a coffee and eating them in there or on their terrace.

And this year I have discovered something even better, if you are a regular visitor to Paris, each month he brings out a new flavour in a series called ‘Les Jardins’. These are all based on fruit and flowers, and each time you buy one you get a card with it’s picture on. It’s a nice way to be encouraged to try new flavours, some strange sounding ones that I may have otherwise hesitated over turned out to be surprising discoveries!

Pierre Hermé

  • 72 rue Bonparte, 75006 Paris.  Metro: St Sulpice
  • 4 rue Cambon, 75001 Paris.  Metro: Concorde
  • 39 avenue de l’Opera, 75002 Paris.  Metro: Pyramides or Opera

Where to buy Pierre Hermé macarons