Villages in Paris – the Square des Peupliers & rue Dieulafoy

I love the hidden corners of Paris that you can stumble upon and suddenly find yourself transported somewhere else, often to a small French town or village. The Sqaure des Peupliers is one of those places, a few narrow cobbled streets full of birdsong and the scent of flowers. Located in the 13th arrondissement, this tiny triangle of provincial France is a lovely detour in the spring and summer. Built in 1926 on the site of old quarries and the river bed of the Bievre, long since disappeared, grand building projects were not possible, and so a charming quarter of modest sized houses was built.

Nowadays, living in one of these houses is pretty much an impossible dream for most of us, but a stroll through the alleyways is available to everyone and is always a pleasure!

Whilst you are there, you can also see the nearby rue Dieulafoy, This street is very different to others in Paris. It’s lined with tall houses, each painted a different pastel colour, and each almost identical, with strange shaped slate roofs. The architect Henry Trésal designed the 44 identical houses in 1921. At the time they were aimed at middle class buyers, and were equipped with a modern bathroom and an obligatory 2.50m space between the house and the pavement, allowing today for some very pretty gardens. Many of the houses have been modified over the years, but you can still see the unity of the architecture in the street.

If you’re visiting the Butte Aux Cailles it’s well worth taking a few extra minutes to explore these two charming streets.

Square des Peupliers,  & rue Dieulafoy, 75013 Paris. metro: Tolbiac

link to map

 

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Balenciaga at the Musée Bourdelle

The Musée Bourdelle is currently hosting a beautiful exhibition curated by the Palais Galleria. The spectacular monumental sculptures of Bourdelle are juxtaposed with the fine details of Balenciaga haute couture, all the more striking as all the dresses and hats featured are black, inviting us to look more closely at the depth and the details, as we do with the sculptures.

I have been planning on visiting the Musée Bourdelle for a while, and this gave me the perfect excuse. The museum is set in the sculptor’s 19th century studio and appartments in Montparnasse, and was extended in 1992 by architect Christian de Portzamparc. The studio and museum is set around a sculpture garden and a leafy and peaceful courtyard which existed already when Antoine Bourdelle lived and worked there.

Antoine Bourdelle worked with Rodin, setting up a free sculpture school in Montparnasse in 1900. He later broke away from Rodin, and found fame from 1910 onwards. The museum is home to a wonderful range of his work, from huge bronze and marble figures to smaller works in plaster, as well as photographs and drawings.

Alongsidehis work, in the light of the artist’s studio, the Balenciaga dresses appear as sculptures themselves. The different tonalities of black on velvet, satin, wool and feathers suddenly become apparent, and the setting allows us to examine the creativity and work of both artists in ways that we may not have done otherwise.

The exhibition L’Oeuvre Noir runs until July 16, but even after it ends I would highly recommend a visit to this wonderful museum.

  • Musée Bourdelle. 18 rue Antoine Bourdelle, 75015 Paris. metro: Montparnasse or Falguière

Open daily 10:00 – 18:00 except Mondays

Website (in English)

link to map

Good coffee in Paris. 5: Strada café

Strada Café has been open since 2014, and serves up a wide range of excellent coffee, wonderful home made cakes, breakfasts, sandwiches and salads. The atmosphere is very relaxed, the free wifi means it’s a great place to while away a few hours, and the service is friendly and laid back. The one we went to is on rue Monge in the heart of the Latin Quarter, there is also one in the Marais.

  • Strada Café, 24 rue Monge, 75006 Paris. metro: Cardinal Lemoine

Open Mon-Fri 8:00 – 18:30, Sat & Sun 10:00 – 18:30

Strada Café website in English

Shakespeare and Company

It’s impossible to write about places to visit in Paris without talking about Shakespeare and Company. It’s a landmark, a piece of literary and Parisian history, an institution, a place of pilgrimage for young writers and literature lovers from all over the world, and now with the recent opening of their new café, a wonderful place to hang out and enjoy good food and great books.

The original Shakespeare and Company was founded in 1919 by an American, Sylvia Beach, on the rue de l’Odeon in the 6th arrondissement. Selling English language books, her shop became a meeting place for the writers of the ‘Lost Generation’ who flocked to Paris in the 1920s – Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, TS Eliot, Ezra Pound and many more, including perhaps most famously James Joyce, whose Ulysses she published for the first time in 1922 – nobody was prepared to publish it at the time. The shop you see today was opened in 1951 by another American, Geroge Whitman, and it also quickly became a mecca for writers of the Beat Generation such as Allen Ginsberg and William S Burroughs. In fact over 30,000 aspiring writers, or ‘Tumbleweeds’ as they are known, have stayed there over the years, the bookshop provides them with a free room in return for helping around the shop and reading a book a day! Don’t miss the motto above the door: ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise’.

shakespeare-company-cafe-paris

More recently, George Whitman’s dream of opening a literary café in the building next door, has been realised by his daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman, who now runs the bookshop. The café was opened in partnership with the popular Bob’s Bake Shop, serving mainly vegetarian food, good coffee, and George’s special recipe lemon pie.

It’s hard to do justice to such a fascinating and historic place as Shakespeare & Company in a short blog post. If you are interested in learning more about it I recommend you read this Vanity Fair article or check out the history section on the bookshop’s website. A great book I can also highly recommend is ‘Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation – A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties’ by Noel Riley Fitch.

Better still, drop in when you are in Paris, lose yourself amongst the thousands of books and the many rooms and corridors of the shop, or attend a poetry reading or a talk by a writer – you’ll soon feel the magic of this very special place.

  • Shakespeare and Company Bookshop, 37 rue de la Bucherie, 75005 Paris.  metro: St Michel

The main shop is open daily 10:00 – 23:00. The café is open Mon-Fri 9:30 – 19:00, Sat and Sun 9:30 – 20:00

Shakespeare & Company website

The Villa Vassilieff – Montparnasse

The Villa Vassilieff is a tiny piece of old Montparnasse, the Montparnasse of artist’s studios, low houses and small cobbled alleyways, before it was all torn down in the 1970’s to build the ultra-ugly Montparnasse Tower and the surrounding and equally ugly shopping centre and offices.

From 1910 onwards, penniless artists and writers came to live in Montparnasse from all over the world, deserting Montmartre and enjoying the creative and bohemian atmosphere, the cheap rents in artist’s communes  such as La Ruche, and the bars and cafés that served as both intellectual meeting places and became essential lifelines to the artists living in poverty with no heating and no kitchens.

The Villa Vassilieff was one of these communes, once the studio and academy of artist Marie Vassilieff, who then transformed it during WW1 into a canteen, ‘La Cantine des Artistes’. She fed artists and writers, who at the time could scarcely afford to feed themsleves, a hearty meal and a glass of wine for a couple of centimes – Picasso, Modigliani, Soutine, Matisse, Zadkine, Chagall, Braque, Max Jacob, Léger and Apollinaire, among others. During the war cafés were obliged by law to close early, but as Marie’s canteen was registered as a private club, it did not have to apply this rule, and became the meeting place for the local artistic community, filled each night with music and dancing.

In 1929 Marie moved her studio, and the Villa was occupied by architects, other artists and then a museum. It was almost demolished in 1992, saved by photographer Robert Doisneau and actress Juliette Binoche. In February 2016 it reopened after renovations as a residence and exhobition space for artists. Sponsors provide grants allowing 4 international artists to live and work there each year, and workshops and seminars are held regularly along with changning exhibitions, aimed at connecting past and present Montparnasse.

Take a step back in time into the Montparnasse of ‘Les Années folles’. In the Villa Vassilieff the office blocks and traffic outside are forgotten and you get a rare glimpse into a Paris of the past where it’s quite possible the spirits of some of the greatest artistic and literary figures still live on, as new life and creativity is breathed into the studios once again.

  • Villa Vassilieff, 21 avenue du Maine, 75014 Paris. metro: Montparnasse Bienvenue

Villa Vassilieff website (in English)

A Russian church hidden in the 15th arrondissement

Behind a very ordinary looking door on the rue Lecourbe is a tiny corner of the Russian countryside, a beautiful wooden church built of red cedar, with a profusion of flowers growing outside and two trees growing inside! The Russian Orthodox church of Saint Seraphin de Sarov was founded in 1933, built with donations – often very modest – from white Russians fleeing their country in the 1920’s, many of whom settled in the 15th arrondissement and worked in the nearby Renault and Citroen factories. The area offered affordable housing, proximity to work, and a sizeable Russian community settled there. The first chapel was built out of old sheds, with two of the trees on the plot remaining in the nave.

The current church was built in 1974, and still houses the two trees inside (only one is still living, the other is just the lower half of the trunk). It’s a world apart from the busy shopping street outside, a peaceful haven lit dimly by candles and chandeliers and fragrant with incense.

I visited the church a couple of weeks ago when it opened as part of the Journées du Patrimoine, it also sometimes opens for the Fete des Jardins. If you have a chance to visit make sure you do, it’s a magical and enchanting place, a little piece of history nestling in the city, entirely hidden and unknown to most of the passers by.

  • Eglise St Seraphin de Sarov, 91 rue Lecourbe, 75015 Paris. metro: Sevres Lecourbe or Volontaires

Website

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

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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)

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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)

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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
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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

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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.

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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

Good coffee in Paris. 2: Coutume Instituutti

This laid back café is housed inside the sleek and beautiful Finnish Institute in the 5th arrondissement. Not only does it serve wonderful coffee (check out their Facebook page for news about their speciality and seasonal brews) but also delicious traditional Finnish cakes and pastries. It’s bright, spacious and relaxed, the long tables are shared, it’s a great place to work (although look for the the notices on the tables, some are computer free spaces!) plays cool music and holds temporary exhibitions and evening concerts too.

  • Coutume Instituutti, 60 rue des Ecoles, 75005. metro: Odeon

NOTE! The café is currently closed as the Finnish institute is using the space to build KOTI, a 5 month pop up celebrating 100 years of Finnish independance.

Open Tues – Sat 9:00 – 18:00 and Sun 10:00 – 18:00

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
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Villages in Paris – La Butte Aux Cailles

The Butte aux Cailles is one of the most picturesque parts of Paris. Once a village on the outskirts of the city, with the river Bievre (now filled in) running through it and surrounded by windmills, it housed workers employed in the industries that grew up around the river – mainly tanners and laundries. It’s located in the 13th arrondissement in the south of the city, and a walk around the pretty streets can feel like taking a stroll though a small country town.

The area really feels special in the city. It’s located at the top of a small hill, and does not have a supermarket or any chain stores. The streets are narrow and often cobbled, the area was spared the modernisation under Haussmann that changed so much of the rest of the city, and you’ll find individual houses up here with their own gardens, something extremely rare in Paris. In the spring the wisteria and blossoms fill the streets with colour and the air with perfume. Several artists now have their studios here, and the once modest area is now seeing real estate prices rise faster than almost any other part of the city.

A walk around the Butte aux Cailles is a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon. There are plenty of cafés and small restaurants, lots of street art, and one of the oldest and most beautiful swimming pools in Paris, the Piscine de la Butte aux Cailles– built in 1924 it has both and indoor and outdoor pools.

Butte aux Cailles, Paris, swimming pool

 

Take a look at the drinking water fountain on Place Paul Verlaine, the small square in front of the swimming pool. It dispenses mineral water from an artesian well and you can often see locals filling up their bottles from it. The swimming pool also uses this water – the original Bains Douches built in 1908 used hot water also from the springs and the outdoor pools are still filled with this warm water.

Take the metro to Glacière or Corvisart and walk up the hill. The main heart of the area is the rue de la Butte aux Cailles, this street is picturesque during the day and a lively and fun place to have a drink or dinner in the evenings. Whatever the weather or the time of day, the Butte aux Cailles is one of the most charming areas in Paris.

  • Metro Glacière or Corvisart. 75013 Paris.

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

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

Find the Paris space invaders

Looking for space invaders in Paris is a great activity, for all sorts of reasons. The main reason I like it is that if forces you to look up, to take notice of your surroundings in a different way, to pay attention to parts of buildings that you would not normally look at. It’s a fantastic way to explore a city and also to keep children involved and excited. And of course it’s fun when you find a new one.

Many cities around the world have been invaded now, but Paris particularly is home to a vast array of these creatures of all sizes. Each one is mapped and catalogued by Invader, the artist who remains anonymous. He apparently attended the prestigious art school Les Beaux Arts in Paris, although according to his wikipedia page he tells people he attended a tiling school on Mars.

There is also a great app you can download onto your phone called Flash Invaders. Each time you find one you photograph it through the app, you are given a score and entered into a table where you compete with others all over the world to find the most. The app works across all cities and has very cool 80’s graphics and sound.

So if you are visiting Paris with children, download the app and enjoy the hunt. It will allow you to walk the streets for hours! And even if you don’t have children, keep your eyes open. It’s free art, a different way of looking at the city, and a great surprise every time you find one.

And don’t just look for these creatures, other ‘visitors’ are popping up all around the city!

Invader’s website (in English)

Les Grands Voisins

In the 14th arrondissement, the Hopital Saint Vincent de Paul has been closed since 2011. In a few years this old maternity hospital – parts of which date back to the 17th century – will become a vast eco-quarter. In the meantime, three associations have transformed it into a shared space where people live, create, work and form a community that supports itself and each other.

Les Grands Voisins provides a home for those in need, a space for artists and artisans to create and work, a meeting space for associations and clubs to provide classes, cultural activities and much more.  It relies on its residents to take care of it and of each other – old hospital furniture is reused and recycled, plants and bees thrive in the gardens and the space is open to the public to come and participate, meet the residents, and join the community effort. It’s a different way of living in the heart of the city.

During a visit you can find all kinds of treasures – amongst them a second hand shop selling everything from books to vintage crockery, a potter making beautiful, delicate bowls, teapots and lights, and a wonderful plant nursery and concept store that also runs workshops – Mama Petula

The lingerie – the old laundry – is now a café and meeting place, also hosting debates and concerts. A board on the wall lists the activities for the week: yoga, qi gong, community barbecues, workshops and more. The atmosphere is friendly, joyful and convivial, it’s a breath of fresh air in a city where such community spirit and generosity can sometimes seem hard to find.

600 people live at Les Grands Voisins, 300 work there in over 70 associations, workshops and companies. Eighty students still study at the midwifery school. This weekend they participated in the 48 Hours of Urban Agriculture that was taking place across the city. There is always something going on and visitors are welcome. Take some time to stop in and support this impressive community before the hospital is torn down and disappears.

  • Les Grands Voisins, Hôpital Saint Vincent de Paul, 82 avenue Denfert Rochereau, 75014. metro: Denfert Rochereau

Open Wed-Sat 10:00 – 23:00. Sun 10:00 – 21:00

Les Grands Voisins Facebook page

 

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 reservation@fondationlecorbusier.fr)

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.

 

The Paris Catacombs

Did you know that almost 200 miles of tunnels run the length and breadth of the city of Paris? Quarried since the Roman times to excavate the limestone used to build the city, the  digging only stopped in the late 18th century when the buildings above began to collapse into sink holes.

Paris Catacombs

Shored up and made safe by the city of Paris Mines Inspectors and engineers, from 1786 the Catacombs then became the final resting place of over 6 million Parisians. At that time the city’s cemeteries were located in the very centre of Paris, the shallow mass graves were overflowing and spreading decay and disease. It was decided to dig up the bodies, burn off the flesh and remove the bones to the catacombs – processions led by priests made their way through the city and the bones were blessed on arrival. The quarrymen of the catacombs now had a new task, stacking the millions of bones underground.

Today you can visit a small section of the catacombs, but beware! Not of the ghosts – although apparently there are several – but of the long lines. Here again I’d suggest taking a tour, not only do you get to skip the line and learn a lot more about this fascinating piece of Parisian history than you would if you went alone, but since January 2016 you also get to visit parts of the Catacombs that individual visitors don’t, the amazing sculptures by a quarryman called Decure (he sculpted the prison in Port Mahon where he had previously been held prisoner for years by the English), the quarrymen’s foot bath and the altar where the bones were blessed.

Decure worked on the sculptures in secret for 5 years before being crushed when a tunnel collapsed on top of him.

The Catacombs – indeed the whole network of tunnels running under the city – were also used during World War II by the French Resistance fighters, although the Nazis also used sections of them too. Nowadays they are also home to parties, film showings, you can go for a swim there, or walk for miles under the city. However it’s not only illegal but extremely dangerous, lose yourself in the tunnels (only the section open to visitors is lit) and who knows when you may be found? On my visit yesterday I learned that the last person to get lost in there was found 11 years later….

  • Paris Catacombs, Place Denfert Rochereau, 75014 Paris. metro: Denfert Rochereau

Open daily (except Mondays) 10:00 – 20:00

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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)

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
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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: accueil@fondationpathe.com

Website (in French)

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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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Rosa Bonheur sur Seine

I recently discovered what I think is going to be my new favourite café/bar in Paris. Rosa Bonheur in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont is already a firm fixture both during the day for well priced, simple food and at night as a bar and ‘guingette’. Now you can enjoy the same home cooking and atmosphere on the banks of the Seine, just by the beautiful Pont Alexandre III. The café is on a barge moored on the riverside, and on the river bank they also have a wood fired oven where they make pizzas and a take away tapas bar, with plenty of tables to sit and enjoy. At night there is music and dancing, they have a choir, petanque in the summer…. check out their Facebook page for upcoming events.

Not only is the atmosphere laid back and relaxed, the views from the window are spectacular. My favourite thing (apart of course from the delicious and huge slices of cake)? A traditional ‘baby foot’ with a twist – all female players!

  • Rosa Bonheur sur Seine, Quai d’Orsay, Pont des Invalides, 75007 Paris. metro: Invalides

Open Monday – Sunday, 12:00 – 1:30am (midnight on Sunday) Opening hours change depending on the season, check the website below.

Rosa Bonheur website

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)

Sparkling water drinking fountains in Paris

Recently I discovered that not only are there 1200 drinking water fountains across Paris, but that they are not only beautiful, like the Wallace fountains, they now include fountains providing fizzy drinking water.

Fizzy-water drinking fountain ParisYou may think that this is just Paris, where people are so chic that they even need sparkling water coming out of their fountains, and it’s true that it’s cool and delicious on a hot day, but it’s more than that. The French drink vast amounts of mineral water, producing the equivalent vast amounts of plastic bottle waste. The fountains known as ‘La Petillante’ – or she who sparkles – are actually dispensing tap water that is cooled and carbonated on the spot, in a campaign to try and make tap water more acceptable to locals. And it seems to be making everyone happy, I’ve stopped by 2 recently, one on the Berges de Seine by the riverside, providing a cool drink to happy runners, tourists and locals enjoying the sunshine by the river, and one in the Parc André Citroen, where a woman in front of me was filling up about 10 glass bottles. This one has even gone a step further, and a vending machine sells reusable water bottles (designed by Philippe Starck of course, this is Paris…)

The other nice thing about these fountains, is that currently they are all located in or near beautiful parks or gardens, so you an always find a place to sit and enjoy a drink.

So keep your bottle handy, and check out the map below for up to date details of their locations as more are installed (as well as locations of all the drinking water fountains in Paris including the Wallace fountains). Sitting by the riverside enjoying the views and a cool, fresh drink of sparkling water isn’t a bad way to spend a sunny afternoon in Paris.

map of drinking water fountains in Paris (in French)

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Springtime in Paris

It may be a cliché, but it’s hard to resist Paris in the springtime, when the cherry blossoms fill the Champ de Mars, and the flower markets spill over with peonies and hyacinths.

Rose Bakery

Much as I love French pastries, sometimes it’s really nice to have a taste of home. Rose Bakery has managed the seemingly impossible and seduced the Parisians with their British cakes, lunches and brunches. It was the carrot cake that initially made them popular, and people keep coming back for the fresh, organic, homemade food and juices. All the ingredients are sourced locally and change with the seasons, or even daily depending on what is delivered. The kitchenware is handmade and comes from a cooperative in Norfolk. The food is simple, fresh and delicious.

Part café, part grocery shop, you can eat in or take away. Weekend brunches and lunch times are especially popular, go early if you want to be sure to find a table. The atmosphere is relaxed and laid back and the decor minimalist.

There are now 3 Rose Bakeries in Paris, the original one here on rue des Martyrs, one in the Marais and one inside the Bon Marché department store. They are also a great place to pick up English teabags, Marigold bouillon (which I have not managed to find anywhere else in Paris) and some great recipe books.

  • 46 rue des Martyrs, 75009 Paris. metro: St Georges
  • 30 rue Debelleyme, 75003 Paris. metro: Filles du Calvaire
  • le Bon Marché, 24 rue de Sevres, 75007 Paris. metro Sevres Babylone