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)


Little India in the Passage Brady

The Passage Brady is one of approximately 20 covered passages left in Paris. These were the precursors of the modern shopping malls, where wealthy Parisians could shop whilst being sheltered from bad weather and muddy streets. It was built in 1828 by M Brady, and at 216 metres was the longest covered street in the city at the time (although it was later cut in half by the Boulevard de Strasbourg). In the 1970’s M Ponnoussamy opened the first Indian restaurant there, and it has since become home to a variety of good value Indian and Pakistani restaurants, grocery shops overflowing with fruit and vegetables, incense, herbs and all sorts of fragrant spices and a wonderful health food shop.  In 2002 it was classified as a historic monument.

A bit further down the rue du Faoubourg St Denis you will find the Passage du Prado. It was built in 1785 and is unfortunately very run down nowadays, however it’s still worth a visit for the interesting glass roof added in 1925, with decorations clearly reflecting the arts and crafts movement. The whole area around is fascinating to walk around, it’s a cultural melting pot, although gradually succumbing to gentrification, and is lively and colourful.

  • Passage Brady. 33 Boulevard de Strasbourg/46 rue du Fbg St Denis. metro: Chateau d’Eau
  • Passage du Prado. 12 rue du Fbg St Denis/18 Bd St Denis

Don’t forget to visit the other beautiful covered passages across the city!


La Ruche – legendary artists in the 15th arrondissement

La Ruche is an amazing hidden treasure, not only beautiful but steeped in incredible history.

It literally translates as ‘the beehive’, and is a group of artists’ studios in the 15th arrondissement – in fact it is one of the most important artistic centres of the 20th century – set in a beautiful semi-wild garden and locked behind huge wrought iron gates. It was called as such first because of its octagonal shape (like a large beehive) with the studios set into it like a honeycomb, and also to evoke the feverish work of the artists who lived and worked there.

In 1900 Alfred Boucher, a wealthy artist from a humble background, bought 5000m2 of land in the Vaugirard area in the south of the city, an unfashionable and cheap part of town in those days. At the end of the Universal Exhibition of 1900, he also bought the Wines of Bordeaux Pavilion from the exhibition, a temporary building with a metallic structure designed by Gustave Eiffel, and had it rebuilt on this land. The gates were from the Women’s Pavilion and the two caryatides flanking the main doors from the Indonesian Pavilion. His aim was to set up a group of artists’ studios, providing living, working and exhibition space to artists in need of help and patronage, as he had once been.

The studios were small, with no electricity and one tap shared between all of them, but rents were low, or even non-existant for the most impoverished. Artists came from all over Europe, staying anything from a few months to a lifetime (the oldest resident today is apparently over 90 and was born there to artist parents) and included Chagall, Soutine, Zadkine, Modigliani, Apollinaire, Brancusi, Blaise Cendrars and Diego Rivera, amongst many others.

La Ruche fell into decline during WWII and was almost demolished in the late 1960s, but it was saved by another group of artists in the early 70s and later renovated by the Seydoux Foundation (who apparently had initially planned to finance the renovations of the Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre, after it completely burned down they decided to renovate and restore La Ruche in it’s place).

Today is is home to 70 artists who either live or work there, or both, 23 of them in the central ‘beehive’ building. The studios are slightly larger than they were originally, and the surrounding buildings also form part of the community, all set in idyllic gardens. It’s not open to the public, I went as part of a guided visit which I booked in advance, but they do run occasionally and if you speak French it’s really worth doing. It’s a magical place, both for its charm and beauty, its incredible history and that of the artists who have passed through its doors, and for the continuing creative activity today.

  • La Ruche, 2 Passage de Dantzig, 75015 Paris. metro: Convention

Website (in French)


The Arenes de Lutece – a Roman arena in the Latin Quarter

Did you know that tucked away in the Latin Quarter is a Roman arena built in the first century that was once the site of gladiator combats? Nowadays the gladiators have been replaced by petanque players and footballers, but the arena is still clearly visible.

In it’s heyday it could hold 17,000 spectators, and was home to not only gladiators, but theatre and lion combats (it’s believed the cages under the seating area may have been to house the lions). Slaves, the poor and women sat at the top, Roman men sat on the best seats around the arena. It was one of the longest amphitheaters in Europe, but when Paris was sacked by the Barbarians in 290 AD most of the stone was taken away to be used elsewhere to defend the city, and the arena was eventually filled in and forgotten, for over 17 centuries.

It was rediscovered during works to build the rue Monge in 1860, Victor Hugo wrote a letter to the local council defending it from proposed destruction, but they were not restored until 1917. What you can see nowadays is mainly renovation, but it remains a fascinating place, almost unknown, apart from a few locals, and a tranquil place to sit and reflect on 20 centuries of Parisian history.

  • Arenes de Lutece, 49 rue Monge, 75005 Paris. metro: Cardinal Lemoine or Jussieu

La Grande Mosquée de Paris

The Grande Mosquée de Paris in the Latin Quarter was built from 1922 to 1926, initially to honor the 100 000 muslims from the French colonial empire who fell fighting for France in World War I. Constructed in the Hispano-Moorish style after the el-Qaraouiyyin mosque in Fez (one of the most ancient in the world) it is dominated by a spectacular 33m high square minaret – inspired by the Zitouna mosque in Tunisia – and is set around a beautiful central patio that is also reminiscent of the Alhambra in Granada. It serves as both a place of religious worship, a centre of Islamic culture and as a place of learning – it is home to a historic library and an Islamic school, and is an important symbol of Franco-Arab friendship.

It is the oldest mosque in France, and you can visit it with or without a guide (entry is 3€). It has been built and since restored by craftsmen from North Africa, and the traditional workmanship, particularly in the tiling and woodwork is extraordinarily beautiful. Note that entrance to the prayer rooms is restricted to Muslim visitors only.

From the rue Geoffrey St Hilaire you can enter two beautiful courtyards, where you can order a sweet pastry or a lokoum (Turkish delight) and then sit under the shade of a tree and wait for the waiters to pass by with trays of delicious hot mint tea. Sipping the sweet tea, smelling the jasmine blossoms on the trees and listening to the birds singing, you are a world away from the bustle of the city outside.

There is also a women only hammam and a restaurant serving typical North African food.

Café Grande Mosquée de Paris

  • Grande Mosquée de Paris, 2 Place Puits de l’Ermite, 75005. metro: Place Monge or Censier Daubenton

Mosque: open daily except Fridays, 9:00-12:00 and 14:00-18:00

Tea room and restaurant: open daily 12:00 – midnight

Art deco and art nouveau in the 7th arrondissement

The 7th arrondissement is a great place for a quiet stroll. It is bordered by the Eiffel Tower on one side and St Germain des Près on the other, is home to the spectacular gold domed Invalides (a military hospital and final resting place of Napoleon) and remains very residential and peaceful.

Invalides, Paris

Three main streets run through the 7th: the rue St Dominique, rue de i’Université and the rue de Grenelle, the area I explored here lies between the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides and is known as the Gros Caillou (or big rock, it seems there probably was one here many years ago). The rue St Dominique particularly is a favourite of mine, for its great food shops and lively but relaxed, typical Parisian buzz.

The area is also home to some beautiful art deco buildings, particularly along the riverside on the Quai d’Orsay, formerly the site of a large tobacco plant that we can still see references too in the friezes on some of the buildings.

Some of the city’s most spectacular art nouveau buildings can also be found in the Gros Caillou, most notably those designed by Jules Lavirotte in the early 1900’s.

And as always in Paris, don’t forget to explore the courtyards and passageways, they always hide some hidden treasures and rarely disappoint.

  • Le Gros Caillou. Area between the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides, 75007 Paris. metro: La Tour Maubourg

Mallet Stevens at the Villa Cavrois

The modernist Villa Cavrois is considered one of the greatest works of architect Robert Mallet Stevens. Located just to the north east of the city of Lille, about 220km north of Paris, it was commissioned in 1929 by wealthy industrialist Paul Cavrois to house his large family. It is a complete manifesto of the work of Mallet Stevens, he designed not only the building but the interiors, the furniture and the gardens. The result is spectacular.

Mallet Stevens had complete freedom with the design of the villa, as long as he stayed within budget. The yellow bricks of the facade were made specially for the house, the horizontal joints between them (over 200km total) were painstakingly painted by hand to accentuate the length and horizontality of the building. Mallet Stevens designed without ornamentation, but using the highest quality materials – exotic woods and marble, as well as modern industrial materials such as steel and glass. The proportions are large but not ostentatious, every detail is considered and the house conveys a sense of both luxury and simplicity. Modern technologies such as electricity, central heating, air conditioning, telephones between all rooms and a lift were installed. The rooms are not only beautiful, but also functional.

Light is present throughout the villa, both from the large windows and direct and indirect lighting. The house is divided into 2 wings, one for the parents, one for their 7 children and the personnel. Life in the villa revolved around the main points of it’s design: air, light, work, sports, hygiene, comfort and efficiency.

Requisitioned by the Germans during WWII, the villa was partially damaged. Parts of the interior were remodeled in 1947 to accommodate the evolving family. After the death of Madame Cavrois in 1986 the villa fell into disrepair, it was looted, ransacked and became a squat. An association was a formed to protect it – it was declared a national monument in 1990 but the destruction continued until it was bought by the state in 2001. Its restoration was finally entrusted to the Centre des Monuments National, this mammoth task took 12 years. The villa has been painstakingly restored to its former glory (some of the gardens had to unfortunately be sold off to pay for the works) and the result is breathtaking.

If you like architecture, design and outstanding craftsmanship, don’t miss a visit to the Villa Cavrois. If you are interested in seeing more work by Mallet Stevens in Paris, plan a visit to the rue Mallet Stevens in the 16th arrondissement or the Musée Mendjisky.

Also, if you are in Lille before 5 June 2016 don’t miss the exceptional Modigliani exhibition at the LAM (Modern Art Museum of Lille) in Villeneuve d’Asq.

  • Villa Cavrois, 60 avenue John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 59170 Croix

Open daily except Tuesdays, 10:30 – 18:30

Villa Cavrois website (in English)


Villages in Paris – the Villa Leandre

On the north east side of the Butte Montmartre, away from the crowds, step off the avenue Junot and all of a sudden you can find yourself transported onto an English street. This small cobbled street is very untypical of both Montmartre and Paris, with its brick houses with steep pitched roofs and their own front gardens. Originally lived in by artists and actors (Michel Piccoli apparently bought No. 10 for Juliette Greco – she never lived there), it’s now some of the most expensive real estate in Paris.

The Villa was built in 1926, most houses have been in the same families for generations. Before it was built, there were windmills at the bottom of the street. Residents tell of how it was lived in by both German soldiers and resistance fighters during the war. Nowadays it’s a calm and quiet haven, visited sometimes by film crews, a world away from the city surrounding it.

  • Villa Leandre, between 23 and 27 Avenue Junot, 75018 Paris. metro: Lamarck Caulaincourt

An enchanted forest in the Louvre

Set in the heart of the Cour Carré in the Louvre, is a magical, mirrored box that allows you to step into another world. Artist Eva Jospin’s Panorama is both architecture and art. The box is encased in steel, reflecting the beautiful buildings of the Louvre that surround it.

Louvre Cour Carré Eva Jospin

Inside, a mysterious forest grotto has been sculpted entirely from cardboard. Only a few visitors are allowed in at a time, it’s quiet, fragile, detailed and incredibly beautiful.

The Panorama has been designed specially for this site and is on show until August 28th. Admission is free.

  • Musée du Louvre, 75001 Paris. metro: Palais Royal Musée du Louvre

The Palais Royal in spring

The Palais Royal is one of my favourite places in Paris. I’ve already blogged about it here, in fact I love it so much it was my first ever post, but I couldn’t resist a few more photos after a rainy visit today. There is something very special about this hidden park. It’s tranquil, beautiful and a world away from the crowded streets just outside. If the sun shines you can get a coffee at Café Kitsuné and sit on a bench amongst the flowers listening to the fountains. If you are dodging April showers as we did today you can wander under the arches and enjoy window shopping in the small boutiques, more of which open each time I go there.

It’s always a pleasure to pop in there and enjoy the peace and beauty of these wonderful gardens, whatever the weather.

Palais Royal

  • Palais Royal, 75001 Paris. metro: Palais Royal Musée du Louvre (exit at Place Colette)

A day with Le Corbusier in Paris

With a little planning and a metro pass, fans of Le Corbusier can spend a full day in Paris visiting some of his most iconic works. Some are open for visits, others not, but all the ones listed below are easily visible and can be seen in one day – two if you want to head out to the suburbs and add the iconic Villa Savoye to your list. (Make sure you do the visits on a Saturday if you want to go inside his studio-apartment).

Start your day on the western side of Paris, in the 16th arrondissement at the Maison la Roche. Designed and built between 1923 and 1925 to show a collector’s extensive collection of modern art, it was one of his first experimental houses and demonstrates what Le Corbusier later identified as his ‘Five Points of a New Architecture’ – a building elevated on stilts, with a roof garden, horizontal strip windows, an open plan layout and free design of the facade – all made possible by his use of new materials such as concrete. The Maison la Roche is a wonderful example of one of Le Corbusier’s first purist villas.

After the Maison la Roche, it’s a short metro ride or walk to the Immeuble Molitor, including his own studio-apartment. Completed in 1934, it was where Le Corbusier lived and worked until his death in 1965. Here we can see how he expanded on his Five Points, and continued to work on the use of space and light. The Immeuble Molitor was the first residential building to be built with a facade made entirely of glass, and uses three different types of glass to obtain different effects with light. Like in the Maison la Roche, the furniture is sparse and leaves the architecture itself to take centre stage. (Note, as of March 2016 you need to make a reservation to visit, contact

If you have time, whilst you are in this area I recommend strolling over to the Villa Cook, another of Le Corbusier’s purist villas, built in 1926 for an American journalist. It also develops all of the principals that later became his Five Points (the open section of the ground floor has since been filled in). Even though it’s not open for visits it’s well worth the trip, as it’s sandwiched between two other spectacular modernist villas, the Villa Collinet (1926) by Robert Mallet Stevens and the Villa Dublin (1929) by Raymond Fischer.

Have a break for lunch, and then take the metro across town to the eastern side of Paris.

Start with the Maison-Atelier Ozenfant, situated on the end of a beautiful cobbled street that borders the Parc Montsouris in the 14th arrondissement. Built in 1923 as a house and studio for his friend the purist painter Amédée Ozenfant it was one of Le Corbusier’s first purist villas, and began to set out his ideas for his Five Points.

Le Corbusier-Maison Atelier d'Ozenfant-Paris

Head up through the beautiful Parc Montsouris, and into the Cité Universitaire – the international halls of residence for the Paris universities. First stop is the Pavillion Suisse, designed and built between 1930 and 1933. A metallic structure built on stilts, it develops Le Corbusier’s theory of a ‘machine for living’. The rooms are set on the top 3 corridors and the ground floor communal areas are decorated with murals and furniture by Le Corbusier – you can visit the ground floor for 2€.

A few hundred metres away is the Maison du Bresil, built in 1953. The project was begun by Brazilian architect Lucio Costa who called on his friend Le Corbusier, already experienced with the Pavillon Suisse, to help him. Le Corbusier changed the concept to such an extent that Costa abandoned the project to him. One again the building is elevated on columns, leaving an open space underneath for people to circulate and to provide the communal areas (these can also be visited for 1€).

Then it’s time to walk down the Boulevard to the Maison Planeix. Also built for an artist, it has the same basic structure as the Maison Ozenfant, the apartment section is beneath the artist’s studio. The Maison Planeix differs from the Villa La Roche, as it is an urban house built between 2 others, rather than occupying its own space. The facade is aligned with the other facades on the street. Built for painter and sculptor, Antonin Planeix, it adheres to four of the five points. The pilotis on the ground floor are sacrificed to make space for 2 workshops and a garage, which Planeix wanted to be included so he could rent them out. The pure geometric forms of the Maison Planeix also demonstrate Le Corbusier’s interest in cubist houses.

Le Corbusier-Maison Planeix-ParisAnother 15 minutes walk and you arrive at the Cité de Refuge (1933) built as a collective housing project for the Salvation Army. It also has a facade made completely of glass, and was one of the first buildings to be air conditioned, although it did not work perfectly at the time. It has recently undergone extensive renovations and some interior modifications, and can be visited by appointment.

If you have one more half day to spare, take the train to Poissy and don’t miss a visit to the Villa Savoye. This spectacular and iconic building,  built in 1928, is the culmination of Le Corbusier’s Five Points begun at the Villa Ozenfant in 1922, and showcases the completed idea of the ‘architectural promenade’, introduced in the Maison La Roche in 1925.

Villa Savoye-Le Corbusier-ParisAM: Take the metro to Jasmin. The Villa la Roche is at 10 Square du Docteur Blanche in the 16th arrondissement. Then take line 9 to Michel Ange Molitor (2 stops, can also be walked!) The Immeuble Molitor is at 24 rue Nungesser et Colis. Then walk to the Maison Cook, 6 rue Denfert Rochereau.

PM: Take the metro to Glacière (you can get over from the 16th easily with only 1 line change), the Maison Ozenfant is at 63 avenue Reille. Then walk up through the Parc Montsouris to the Cité Universitaire to see the Pavillon Suisse and Maison de Bresil (they are very close to each other, there’s a plan at the entry gates). After that it’s 10 minutes walk down to the Maison Planeix at 26 Boulevard Massena, then another 15-20 minutes to the Cité du Refuge, 12 rue Cantagrel.



Mallet Stevens at the Musée Mendjisky

For fans of Robert Mallet Stevens, I can highly recommend a visit to the Musée Mendjisky in the 15th arrondissement. The museum opened in 2014 in the former workshop of the master glass maker Louis Barillet, designed and built by Mallet Stevens in 1932. Later the studios of Maurice Mendjisky and his son Serge, it’s now a museum dedicated to the ‘Ecoles de Paris’, 2 generations of artists who made Paris the artistic capital of the world from 1900 – 1960.

Mallet Stevens designed the atelier as both a work space and a home for his friend Barillet. They knew each other well, and in 1929 when Mallet Stevens formed the Union of Modern Artists, Barillet was a member, as were Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé. The atelier has 4 floors which can be used as workshops or exhibition space, the most impressive being the main studio – with a double height ceiling and mezzanine level it’s flooded with light from a window that takes up almost all of the facade.


The beautiful stained glass windows both exterior and interior were designed by Barillet (he also worked with Mallet Stevens on the glass in the rue Mallet Stevens in the 16th arrondissement), as are the floor mosaics. The members of the Union of Modern Artists believed in a ‘total art’, where spaces would incorporate all disciplines.

Downstairs there is a permanent exhibition of the works of Maurice and Serge Mendjisky, and the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and performances. It also has a small but excellent bookshop for those interested in life and art in Paris in the 20th century.

  • Musée Mendjisky, 15 Square Vergennes, 75015 Paris. metro: Vaugirard

NOTE! The Musée Mendjisky will close its doors on December 31 2016, due to lack of visitors. The future of the building is still uncertain.

Website (in French)


Modernist architecture on the rue Mallet Stevens

Tucked away in the residential heart of the 16th arrondissement is the rue Mallet Stevens, named after the architect who designed all the 5 villas on it. Robert Mallet Stevens is widely regarded as one of the most influential French architects of the inter-war period, alongside Le Corbusier. As well as buildings, he also designed over 20 film sets, including one for Marcel l’Herbier’s silent film l’Inhumaine in 1924 – which is considered a masterpiece – and his building designs inspired Man Ray to make the film ‘The Mysteries of the Chateau de Dé’.

The rue Mallet Stevens was designed and built in the 1920’s. His style was resolutely modern, rational and without excess ornamentation. Some of the original buildings have had additional storeys added in the 1960’s, which has somewhat compromised their proportions, but the street still presents a harmonious view of his work and aesthetic. Number 10, studios built for the brothers Joel and Jan Martel, is the only one that still has it’s original proportions. Look out for their names above the letterbox, a beautiful detail that could easily go unnoticed. Doors and ironwork were designed by Jean Prouvé, the stained glass windows by Louis Barillet. These were villas for the rich bourgeoisie, smooth white cubes that played with volume, light and space.

Mallet Stevens asked for his archives to be destroyed after his death in 1945, and he was largely forgotten until a retrospective of his work was shown at the Pompidou Centre in 2005. He has built other projects in Paris, a fire station, a garage and another villa which I look forward to discovering, as well as the Villa Paul Poiret about 40km from Paris, which has just been sold at auction.

Number 12 is owned by the Fondation Hippocrene. It is sometimes open for contemporary art exhibitions and is a great chance to step inside one of these beautiful villas. If you are in the area, continue on down rue du Docteur Blanche for another few minutes and you will be rewarded by the chance to visit Le Corbusier’s Maison la Roche.

  • rue Mallet Stevens, 75016 Paris. metro: Ranelagh or Jasmin

Le Corbusier at the Maison la Roche

Paris and the surrounding area is a great place for fans of Le Corbusier to see his work. Tucked away in the 16th arrondissement, the Maison La Roche is a wonderful example, and of modernist architecture in France. It was designed and built between 1923 and 1925 by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret and is an experimental house, as was the Villa Savoye that he built after it in 1928. I also found it interesting as it was built for an art collector, specifically to display his collection, as was the Maison Louis Carré, built in 1956 by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, which I also visited recently.

Raoul La Roche had an outstanding collection of avant garde art, including works by Picasso, Braque, Leger and Gris. Le Corbusier was his friend, and told him ‘La Roche, someone who has a fine collection like yours needs to build a house worthy of it’. The result was the Maison La Roche and the Maison Jeanneret, two semi-detached houses designed and built for La Roche and for Le Corbusier’s brother Albert.

The Maison La Roche is split into two parts, the public gallery space and the private living space. Built over several floors, both spaces offer a series of perspectives and spectacular viewpoints, both inside and out. Natural light streams in through large windows and glazed areas, the lines of the house are clean and pure, the colours are balanced and chosen specifically to showcase the ‘architectural promenade’ that Le Corbusier wishes us to take through the building. Features seen in other of Le Corbusier’s buildings – such as ramps, lack of doors and interior walls, strip windows, as well as furniture designed with Charlotte Perriand – can be seen here, and as in his other buildings the architecture itself takes the place of any decoration.

A roof garden provides more spectacular views over the neighboring rooftops and provides a beautiful area for outdoor eating, relaxing and sunbathing. The terrace joins with that of the Maison Jeanneret – now home to the Fondation Le Corbusier, housing his archives (paintings, drawings, studies and photos, it can be visited if reserved in advance).

For fans of Le Corbusier, those who enjoy modern architecture, or any of us who like to look at beautiful works of art in any form, the Maison La Roche is not to be missed. Also make sure to make time for a visit to Le Corbusier’s own apartment and studio, which is also in the 16th arrondissement.

Maison La Roche, 10 square du Docteur Blanche, 75016 Paris  métro: Jasmin

Open: Monday 13:30 – 18:00, Tuesday-Saturday 10:00 – 18:00

Website (in English)


Renzo Piano at the Fondation Jerome Seydoux

Walk past on a grey day and you could almost not notice it. Perhaps you might look up and see the facade sculpted by Rodin while he was still a student. Take a step back, and suddenly you notice it, a glass creature discreetly peeping up over the rooftops. The old cinema, Le Rodin, has taken on a new form and a new life in the hands of Renzo Piano.

Fondation Pathé-Paris-Renzo Piano

This beautiful building, opened in late 2014, is now home to all of the non-film archives of Pathé, and also has a small cinema where they project silent films which students from the Conservatoire accompany live on the piano. You can visit the lobby, gardens and any temporary exhibitions, or buy a ticket for a film showing, but if you want to see the entire building you need to book a guided tour (Saturdays at 12:00 and in French).

Fondation Jerome Seydoux-Renzo Piano-Paris

The guided tour allows you to visit the incredible office space housed in the top of the building, and also gives you a much better understanding of the project – the origins and complexities of the enclosed site that led to the organic form of the building, and the visions and work of both Renzo Piano and Jerome Seydoux (the current President of Pathé). Renzo Piano saw a magic lantern, rising above the Parisian rooftops. His architect partners speak of a ‘creature’ – it made me think of the giant worm in Murakami’s Super Frog Saves Tokyo, although a much more benevolent version!

On the first floor there is currently fascinating exhibition of cameras and projectors, along with some of the original posters from the archives.

Even if the full guided tour is not for you, do look up, and then go in and enjoy this incredible building.

Open Tues – Fri 13:00-19:00 and Saturdays 11:30-19:00

To book a place on a guided tour email:

Website (in French)


La Villa des Arts

Hidden on a small street in the 18th arrondissement, at the foot of Montmartre cemetery, I discovered (again thanks to the Journées du Patrimoine) a beautiful and fascinating building, La Villa des Arts.  Built in 1888, the Villa des Arts has been home to artists such as Cezanne (he painted the Portrait of Ambroise Vollard here), Renoir and Picabia, to name but a few, and has witnessed almost every artistic movement through the work of its residents. Famous visitors to the artists in residence included Picasso, Joan Miro, Gertrude Stein, André Breton… Fellini also came here, filming Les Clowns, as did other cineastes such as James Ivory for his film Quartet.

The Villa consists of a group of artists studios set around a pretty courtyard garden. Belonging to the same family since 1888, in 2007 it was bought and renovated by the City of Paris – saved by its residents who formed an association to prevent real estate agents from buying and breaking up the studios. Today it is still home to artists of all kinds – painters, sculptors, filmmakers, photographers, writers and poets, and part of the building is also let out as social housing. In order to be able to rent one of the studios, you have to be a working artist, and apply via the Ville de Paris. It can be a long and complicated process, but it ensures that buildings such as these are preserved and remain true to their vocation.

Inside we were able to admire the magnificent monumental staircase, and beautiful ironwork on the balustrades and in the structure.

And finally, to really understand the size and scope of the Villa des Arts, head around to the rue Ganneron, from where you get a spectacular view of the studios overlooking the Montmartre Cemetery.

La Villa des Arts_Paris


There is also a gallery, run by the Association to promote the work of their artist members. Check out their Facebook page and website for information about events and visits. The Villa is not open to the public generally, but will open for special events such as the Journées du Patrimoine, and also occasionally for weekend visits guided by one of the residents.

  • La Villa des Arts, 15 rue Hégésippe Moreau, 75018 Paris. metro: La Fourche

Website (in French)


The studio – apartment of Le Corbusier

In the 16th arrondissement, on the west side of Paris, is the Immeuble Molitor, an apartment building designed and built by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret between 1931 and 1934. The top two floors were Le Corbusier’s own apartment and studio in which he painted daily throughout his life. The apartment building is oriented east-west and overlooks on one side the Stade Jean Bouin (home of Parisian rugby team Stade Francais) and on the other side Roland Garros (home of the French Open tennis Championships – I could hear the clapping from the women’s final as I was on the roof terrace!)

The apartment is open plan, spaces are closed with huge doors or mobile elements. Light streams in through the windows, refractive glass Nevada bricks and roof lights – Le Corbusier wished to replicate the light he experienced in his visits to the Mediterranean. Finding the light to be even too strong in the studio, he tempered it by adding wooden blinds on the eastern facade.

Le Corbusier furnished his home according to the esthetic codes of the Modernist Movement. The kitchen units were designed by Charlotte Perriand, and some of the iconic pieces of furniture designed by Le Corbusier can also be found in the living area.

The bed is interestingly placed high up so he could see the views across Boulogne, even when he was lying down.

On the 8th floor there is a guest suite and a roof terrace with spectacular views across out to the west of the city.

For fans of Le Corbusier, or all fans of architecture in general, this is a fascinating visit.  It’s only open on Saturdays. You can buy a combo ticket for reduced entry to the nearby Villa La Roche (my next visit!) If you have a bit more time and can take a day trip out of the city, don’t miss the Villa Savoye, one of Le Corbusier’s iconic masterpieces.

  • Immeuble Molitor, 24 rue Nungesser et Coli, 75016 Paris. metro: Michel Ange Molitor or Porte d’Auteuil

Open Saturdays 10:00 – 13:00 and 13:30 – 17:00

Studio-apartment of Le Corbusier


The Sainte Chapelle

The Sainte Chapelle is often overlooked by visitors to Paris. Thousands flock to Notre Dame just a few hundred metres away, some go further and wander around the beautiful Ile de la Cité, but the Sainte Chapelle, hidden away inside the grounds of the law courts, can go unnoticed.

Built in 1248 upon the orders of the King Saint-Louis, the Sainte Chapelle was to originally built to house the crown of thorns (today you can see this inside Notre Dame Cathedral). It’s a masterpiece of gothic architecture, and is probably most famous for it’s 600m2 of stained glass windows.

A huge restoration project on the windows has just been completed (April 2015) and they are spectacular. Two thirds of the glass is original. The Sainte Chapelle is small, and the effect of the light streaming in through the glass is breathtaking, filling the space with light and colour.

Next time don’t pass by! Look out for the spire as you pass the law courts on the Ile de la Cité. The lines can get long, so buy a timed entry ticket online, you don’t need long for the visit and it really is something very special.

Sainte Chapelle Paris-France

  • Sainte Chapelle, 8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris

Open daily 09:30 – 18:00 (17:00 in winter)

Sainte Chapelle website

Sleeping beauty – La Samaritaine

Nowadays it’s easy to walk right past the Samaritaine without even noticing her. At eye level there is not much to see. But look up, and you’ll discover a beautiful mixture of art deco and art nouveau shining in the sunlight.

The Samaritaine, once the biggest department store in Paris, has been sitting quietly empty since 2005. Built in 1870, it is now owned by LVMH, and destined to be transformed into a luxury hotel. However the plans have ben held up for some time now, amidst arguments and court cases over the protection and development of the building. In the meantime, if you’re walking past, ignore the rusty shutters and derelict looking ground floor, and look upwards. You might be surprised by what you see.

  • La Samaritaine, 19 rue de la Monnaie, 75001 Paris. metro: Pont Neuf

Time stands still in the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale

At the north eastern edge of the Bois de Vincennes, lies a half hidden glimpse into the past. The Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale was created for the Colonial Exhibition of 1907, and consisted of various different pavilions, each representing the colonies of the old French Empire – Indochina, Madagascar, Sudan, Guyana, the Congo and North Africa, including Tunisia and Morocco. Later used to grow and study plants brought back from these colonies, it is now almost completely derelict – the gardeners clear what is necessary to keep the pathways and buildings clear but otherwise nature has taken over once again.

The Indochina pavilion has been carefully restored, and gives a wonderful idea of how this fascinating site must have looked all those years ago, and could possibly look again. It’s now used for temporary art exhibitions.

It’s a strange and quite enchanting place, turn a corner in the wood and you suddenly come across a stupa, or a Chinese pavilion. Time really seems to have stood still here, and the contrast of these silent old buildings with the families picnicking nearby in the park is quite ethereal and beautiful.

  • Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale, 45 bis avenue de la Belle Gabrielle, 75012 Paris. metro: RER A Nogent sur Marne then 10 minutes walk. Open daily from 9:30, free entry.

Alvar Aalto at the Maison Louis Carré

About 40 minutes south west of Paris is a masterpiece of modern architecture. Louis Carré was an art collector with a gallery in Paris. In 1956 he commissioned the Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto to build a villa for him, and what you can visit today is an incredible combination of architecture and design, Aalto’s only remaining work in France. Louis Carré and Alvar Aalto met at the Venice Biennale in 1956 where Aalto opened his Finnish Pavilion, and became life long friends, with Carré giving Aalto free rein to design the house and all the fittings and furniture inside, even down to the door handles. The only requirements were a slate roof (to remind him of his native Brittany) and large enough walls for him to hang his huge collection of modern art.

Maison Louis Carre-Alvar Aalto-Paris

In the dining room you can see lights designed specially to light not only the table, but also the art on the walls.

The main room of the house is the large open plan living room, again filled with furniture and lighting either specially designed by Aalto for this house, or taken from his catalogue (Artek, still edited today). His Scandinavian roots and influences can be seen throughout the house (notice the windows, the air vents and the sauna with an exit into the garden) as can his love of Japanese architecture.

The house remains exactly as it was with all the furniture still in place, only missing the art collection of Louis Carré which was sold after his death.

Every detail in the house is a work of art, and the overall impression is spectacular – the house feels unique and incredibly special, yet it does not feel like a museum, and you can see and feel how it must have been a wonderful place to live and work.

Aalto also designed the gardens, and a swimming pool and pool house which were added in 1963. They are now totally derelict and awaiting renovation, but you can still imagine what it must have been like to sit here in the sun.

The Maison Louis Carré is only open on weekend afternoons, and you should call ahead to book a timed visit. Guided tours are given in English and in French and are included in the entrance price. We very much enjoyed ours, the guide was passionate and knowledgeable about the house and the life and work of both Alvar Aalto and Louis Carré. If you love architecture and design, and want to see something very special, try and visit the Maison Louis Carré. For modern architecture and design fans I also highly recommend a trip to the Villa Savoye to see Le Corbusier’s masterpiece.

  • Maison Louis Carré, 2 Chemin du Saint Sacrement, 78490 Bazoches sur Guyonne. tel: 0134 86 79 63

The Bourse de Commerce

You can’t miss this building as you go past it, it’s circular with a domed roof. What you perhaps don’t know is that it’s even more striking inside, and that it’s free to pop in and have a look.

The building as we see it today was built in 1889, and used as a trading hall and wheat exchange. Today it’s still in business and used by the grains sector. Currently we aren’t allowed to go right inside, but can enter the foyer and still get wonderful views of the inside of the dome through the glass doors. The spectacular frescos represent the history of trade with the 5 continents – America, Russia and the north, Asia, Africa, and Europe, and were inaugurated in 1889.

Whilst you’re in the area, take a short walk down rue Jean Jacques Rousseau towards the Louvre, and you will find the beautiful Galerie Verdo Dodat, nowadays home to Christian Louboutin, and just opposite the delicious café Claus, a fantastic place for breakfast, brunch or lunch.

UPDATE! François Pinault will finally be installing some of his incredible art collection in the Bourse de Commerce. Japanese architect Tadao Ando is tasked with the project of renovating the interior space, and the site should be open end of 2018.

  • Bourse de Commerce, 2 rue Viarmes, 75001 Paris. metro: Chatelet Les Halles


The Fondation Louis Vuitton

Designed by Frank Gehry, and open since last Monday, the Fondation Louis Vuitton is already becoming one of the major buildings in Paris.

Home to a contemporary art museum covering 11 000m2, the building sits on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne and looks like a huge cloud that has come to settle in the park. Encased in over 3 600 sheets of glass, it reflects the light, the colours and the trees and people around it.

I found the building really beautiful. I didn’t go in, I just wanted to initially see the building that everyone is talking about, and will visit the gallery another day (and to book in advance on the internet to avoid the huge queue!) so that will be for another post. But even just a visit to see the outside in the fading autumn sunshine is really spectacular.

Update! I’ve since been in. Inside there is a permanent exhibition, a space for temporary exhibitions (I was there for Olafur Eliasson) and a concert hall. The building is as beautiful and exciting inside as it is outside,

Book your tickets online, it’s quick and easy and you walk straight past the long lines. Check out their website also for musical events and temporary exhibitions. There’s also a restaurant and a beautiful bookshop.

  • Fondation Louis Vuitton, 8 avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, Bois de Boulogne, 75016 Paris

Open Monday, Wednesday & Thursday 12:00 to 19:00. Saturday and Sunday 11:00 to 20:00. Closed Tuesdays.

Take the metro to Les Sablons and follow the signs, it’s about at 10-15 minute walk. Otherwise you can get an electric shuttle bus for 1€ from Place Charles de Gaulle, on the corner of Avenue Friedland.

Fondation Louis Vuitton website

Le Corbusier at the Villa Savoye

Thirty three kilometers north west of Paris, in Poissy, is the Villa Savoye. Designed by Le Corbusier and built between 1929 and 1931, it’s a icon of 20th century modernist architecture. Originally built as a country retreat for the Savoye family, the city of Poissy has since surrounded it and even taken over some of the original 7 hectare gardens, leaving it hidden in a hectare of greenery close to the city centre.

Designed around Le Corbusier’s ‘Five Points’, the horizontal windows and open floor plan, the hanging garden and clean lines, make the building look incredibly contemporary. It’s hard to believe it’s over 80 years old.

The Savoye family lived in the Villa from 1931 until 1940. Occupied but the Germans and then the Allies, it was damaged during WWII, and was listed a historic monument in 1964 whilst Le Corbusier was still alive, a rare occurrence. Restored in the 1990’s, it is now run by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, and can be visited daily and even hired out for private events. It also hosts contemporary art events, and houses a few pieces of Le Corbusier’s iconic furniture designs.

I love the stark beauty of the Villa Savoye. It’s easy to get to if you have a car, but can also be reached by train and bus. Open daily except Mondays and national holidays, the opportunity to visit such a key and influential piece of architecture is not to be missed.

Take the RER A to Poissy and then bus No 50 direction La Coudraie. Bus stop ‘Villa Savoye’.

  • Villa Savoye, 82 rue de Villiers, 78300 Poissy.

Visit the Villa Savoye