Fred le Chevalier at the Bon Marché

I have loved the charming and poetic figures by street artist Fred le Chevalier ever since I first came accross one in Menilmontant a few years ago, I snapped a photo of it on my phone and have kept my eyes open for them ever since. Nowadays they often appear pasted on the walls around the Canal St Martin and the Marais, their fleeting presence, as the wind and rain gradually wear them away,  making them even more special.

At the moment in the Bon Marché department store on the left bank a whole collection of his characters are gathered for a great ball. They spin and whirl above the main hall, celebrating the city in which they live, charmed couples of all kinds, reminding us as Fred le Chevalier so often does that ‘love is never dirty’.

Outside on the walls and windows other characters are pasted. It’s perhaps not the same moment of surprise as when you stumble accross one hidden around a corner, but the city they inhabit remains a poetic and joyful one.

  • Le Bon Marché, 24 rue de Sevres, 75007 Paris. metro: Sevres Babylone

Until 15 October

Image

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)

Image

Good coffee in Paris. 3: Coutume Café

Coutume Café was one of the first – if not the first – of the new wave of speciality coffee bars to open in Paris, and is still one of the best. They roast the coffee on the premises and have a wide choice of brewing methods. The space is light and airy, more New York perhaps than Paris – it was a designed by Cut Architecture – and the clientele is eclectic and relaxed. They also serve delicious food, their Sunday brunches are always packed, and you can also enjoy light, healthy lunches and wonderful cakes.

Located in the 7th arrondissement, it’s the perfect place for a stop after some shopping at the nearby Bon Marché department store, and a is just short walk from the Invalides and the Rodin Museum. If you like good coffee, make sure you drop in and try one here.

Coutume is run by the same team that run Coutume Instituutti in the 5th arrondissement, and supplies roasted coffee beans to many cafés and restaurants across Paris.

  • Coutume Café, 47 rue de Babylone, 75007 Paris. metro: Saint François Xavier

Open Mon-Fri 08:00 – 18:00 and weekends 09:00 – 18:00.

Facebook page

Image

Open days – the gardens at Matignon

The Hotel Matignon is the residence and place of work of the French Prime Minister, and has been since 1935. It is a beautiful early 18th century mansion, set in a large park in the 7th arrondissement, at 3 hectares (7.5 acres) it is the largest private garden in the city.

Normally you can’t visit, but this weekend parks and gardens all across France open to the public for the Rendez-vous aux Jardins, and Matignon exceptionally opens the doors of its magnificent park.

The mansion once belonged to the Grimaldi family, princes of Monaco, and was then home to the Duchess of Galleria and later the Comte de Paris. The 18th century gardens are mainly laid out in the French formal style, but in the 19th century a more romantic section was also added, as was a spectacular double allée of 111 pleached limes.  Later an entertaining area was designed in front of the house. One of the gardeners described to us how the lawn was imagined to look like an ocean, with white flowers planted across it here and there in ribbons to ressemble the froth on the waves, and how banqueting tables would be laid under the trees, with carpets spread across the lawn to dance on.

Nowadays it’s perhaps a little less glamorous, especially as the government tries to cut back on their spending, but it’s still an incredible and beautiful garden, and such an expanse of lush greenery is something quite unexpected in the heart of a city.

  • Hotel Matignon, 57 rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris. Entrance to the gardens at 36 rue de Babylone. metro: rue du Bac or Varenne

Rendez-vous aux jardins continues tomorrow. Check their website (in English) for details of gardens participating.

Serge Gainsbourg in the rue de Verneuil

If you are interested in French culture you almost certainly know of Serge Gainsbourg. His wikipedia page describes him as a singer, songwriter, film composer, poet, painter, screenwriter, writer, actor and director. He’s most famous as a singer/songwriter, his huge output of music covering all genres from rock to funk to new wave – he even recorded a reggae version of the Marseillaise, the French national anthem. His lyrics were compared to poetry, he played with words and was clever, funny and often controversial, in life as well as in his art.  He is regarded by many as the greatest French popular singer ever.

Already a legend in life, after his death he also became a cult hero. The house in the 7th arrondissement where he lived from 1969 until his death in 1991 now belongs to his daughter, actress and singer Charlotte. There were stories that it would open as a museum, as inside it’s apparently left as it was when he died, but this did not happen, or at least has not happened yet. So fans from all around the world travel to pay homage to him on the walls of his house and garden.

The otherwise chic street in St Germain des Près seems to tolerate the colourful and ever evolving graffiti. Every now and then it will all get painted over, possibly by the local residents, but reappears almost immediately.

If you are interested in learning more about Gainsbourg and his work a good place to start is his wikipedia page or this Vanity Fair article. If you already know and love him, a trip to the rue de Verneuil is a must during a visit to Paris. You can also pay your respects at his grave in the Montparnasse Cemetery.

  • 5 bis rue de Verneuil, 75007 Paris. metro: rue du Bac

Iris in Paris

I often marvel at the way the ordinary in Paris can be made into something special. Today I stopped in at the Bon Marché department store to pick up a couple of things, and found myself in an amazing Iris Apfel exhibition. I love Iris Apfel – her style, sense of humor and attitude to life. Here she has imagined 10 occasions that she might take part in during a visit to Paris – fashion week, a visit to the flea markets, a dinner party, a cocktail evening or a night at the opera. She has put together an outfit for each from her own collection, she is seen wearing each one in an interview where she talks about fashion and her memories of visits to Paris. Each outfit has been loaned for the exhibition and is on display.

In the windows outside, the outfits have been recreated by illustrator Eric Giriat, who has placed her at the occasions she describes: in the front row at fashion week, at the opera or in the park. Inside you can buy items from a capsule collection of accessories she put together, including her trademark glasses and a wonderful silk scarf, also drawn by Giriat and depicting the Eiffel Tower wearing her other trademark, a string of bracelets.

Iris in Paris runs until April 16.

  • Le Bon Marché, 24 rue de Sevres, 75007 Paris. metro: Severs Babylone

Open Mon-Sat 10:00 – 20:00

Ai Weiwei at the Bon Marché

Le Bon Marché department store on the left bank is currently home to Ai Weiwei’s first work ever created for a retail space, allowing him as he put it ‘to encounter a new audience’. Er Xi – Child’s Play – begins outside in the department store windows, showing a prelude to the works inside. Depicting fantastical creatures alongside a contemporary storyline, many refer back to recurring themes in his own previous works as well as paying homage to Paris through both his father’s work when he lived in Paris in the 1920’s and 30’s as a young poet (‘Paris, tu es absurde’) and references to Marcel Duchamp.

The delicate and ethereal creatures floating in the main atrium above the cosmetics department were inspired by the 2000 year old Chinese traditional children’s stories Shan Hai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Seas) which Ai Weiwei laments have been lost to recent generations due to the censorship laws imposed in the PRC. Made by master Chinese kite makers from bamboo and white silk paper, the works were constructed using traditional methods and took a year to complete. Several are left in bamboo skeleton form, without paper, so we can better appreciate the intricate craftsmanship.

A 20 metro long dragon, broken into four parts, fills the gallery space. Here you can also watch a short film of Ai Weiwei explaining how the exhibition came about, and how he feels about Paris.

Don’t miss the ‘selfie wall’ upstairs, reminding us of Ai Weiwei’s prolific use of social media. When asked about exhibiting in a store as opposed to a museum or gallery space, Weiwei says “People experience the art as they go about their day and something unconsciously happens”.

Er Xi is at the Bon Marché until 20 February

  • Le Bon Marché, 24 rue de Sevres, 75007 Paris.  metro: Sevres Babylone
Image

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

Hermes pop up exhibition

Flaner is a French verb that is difficult to translate, perhaps because it’s a typically French pastime. It means to wander, to walk with no particular destination in mind, to sit on a café terrace and watch the world go by… It’s something that Parisians excel at, and Paris is the perfect place to practice it.

On the riverside in front of the Musée d’Orsay, Hemés have installed a pop up exhibition curated by the designer Hubert le Gall, ‘Dans l’oeil du Flaneur’, dedicated to this particular French art form. It take you on a walk through an imaginary and  magical Paris, where street lamps hang upside down, a café is home to strange objects left behind by their owners (and has a nightclub for dogs underneath it!), graffiti artists carry their spray cans in huge Birkin bags and you can peep through windows into houses where the objects seem to have taken on a life of their own.

Showcasing articles from their current collections and the Hermes archives, it’s a delightful trip into a whimsical Paris.

  • Dans l’Oeil du Flaneur, Port de Solferino, Berges de Seine, 75007 Paris.  Metro: Musée d’Orsay or Assemblée Nationale

Open 11:00 – 19:00 (22:00 Thursdays). Entry is free, but book online to avoid standing in line. Exhibition ends 5 October.

Website (in French)

Image

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
Image

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 Musée d’Orsay

If you only have time to visit one museum whilst you are in Paris, I would recommend considering the Musée d’Orsay. Set in a beautiful Beaux-Arts former railway station, the Musée d’Orsay houses the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in the world, and is also home to some of the world’s greatest masterpieces.

Built for the World Expo of 1900, the Parisians wanted a magnificent station to welcome visitors to their city, and they certainly got one. It was not used for very long though, as the new mainline electric trains proved too long for the short platforms. One of the last trains to arrive carried returning French prisoners of war. It fell into disrepair, and was even earmarked for demolition. Saved in the 1980’s and beautifully converted into a museum, you can still get a wonderful impression of how it must have looked when it was full of steam trains.

It’s less crowded the Louvre, the museum is filled with colour and light. Here you’ll find Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Gaugin, Cézanne, Rodin, Toulouse Lautrec, to name but a very few. These artists changed the face of art forever, and their lives in the rapidly changing city of Paris are as fascinating as their works and the artistic techniques they developed (hop up to Montmartre afterwards to learn more about their lives). The artworks are rotated regularly so the paintings often change, which I really like as it means you can keep going back, which I do. There are 2 cafés and a restaurant. I could happily spend a whole day here. Even if you only have a couple of hours, it’s really worth a visit.

Open Tuesday – Thursday 9.30 – 6.00.  Late opening Thursday until 9.15pm

Buy your ticket online in advance to avoid wairing in the often long lines! Or better still, book a guided tour and have the artworks, artists and the fascinating period they lived and workd in brought to life by a passionate expert guide. It makes all the difference.

  • Musée d’Orsay. 1 rue de la Legion d’Honneur, 75007 Paris  métro: Solferino or RER Musée d’Orsay

Musée d’Orsay website

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

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