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Modernist architects and modern artists in the Villa Seurat

Built between 1924 and 1926, the Villa Seurat is a group of remarkable artist’s homes and studios, eight of them built by the Modernist architect André Lurçat. 1920’s Paris – and more particularly Montparnasse – was home to an extraordinary community of artists and writers of all nationalities. They frequent the salons of Gertrude Stein, gather at Shakespeare and Company – located in Odeon at the time and run by Sylvia Beach – and drink and dance at the infamous cafés of Montparnasse – La Coupole, le Dome, la Closerie des Lilas, and the cantine and academy of Marie Vassilieff, the Villa Vassilieff. Today, a walk down this small cul-de-sac is a treat for any fans of modernist architecture, and delving into its enthralling history, and that of its residents (Soutine, Henry Miller – who wrote Tropic of Cancer here, Anais Nin, Dali, Chana Orloff, Jean Lurçat to name but a few) is to take a step into the heart of  Paris during ‘Les Années Folles’.

I visited today and was lucky to be able to have a guided visit inside No 7 bis, the atelier of sculptor Chana Orloff, today lived in and lovingly restored by her grandchildren. This house and studio was designed by her friend Auguste Perret in 1926. The double height workshop and showroom allowed for her monumental sculptures. It was destroyed under the Nazi occupation during WWII (she was Jewish) but she bought it back in 1945. I found the story of her life and work extremely compelling, along with those of her friends and contemporaries – Modigliani, Soutine, Zadkine and Chagall, amongst many others. The studio is open by appointment, or on special open weekends such as this one. (it was part of the programme during Paris Face Cachée 2017).

Even if you are not able to go inside any of the studios, a short stroll down the Villa Seurat is a must for lovers of modernist art and architecture alike.

For a full list of architects and residents of the Villa Seurat check the wikipedia page.

  • Villa Seurat, 75014 Paris.  metro: Alesia

Good coffee in Paris. 6: Blackburn Coffee

Unlike other new-ish cafés, Blackburn Coffee is not located in one of the hip parts of the city. Although not too far from the Canal St Martin,  it sits on the rue du Faubourg St Martin in the 10th arrondissement, probably soon to be newly fashionable, but currently in a bit of a no man’s land. This is perhaps what gives it the special, cosy atmosphere that I so enjoyed.

Blackburn Coffee seems to be a café where local people come to meet friends, it’s not only  occupied by quiet types working on their Macbooks, but is also filled with laughter, along with great coffee and delicious home cooked food and cakes. It’s well worth a detour, you’ll get a warm welcome and you may even get to discover a new part of the city…

  • Blackburn Coffee, 52 rue du Faubourg St Martin, 75010  metro: Chateau d’Eau

open Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 – 21:00

website (in English)

Villages in Paris – Le village de Charonne

The Village de Charonne in the 20th arrondissement is sometimes referred to as the last village in Paris. Just a few steps away from the busy peripherique ring road, the village was annexed to the city of Paris in 1860 along with Belleville, Vaugirard, Montmartre, Les Batignolles and others – 11 villages and communes in total, finally making up the 20 arrondissements we know today. Prior to this, they were independant villages, often very bucolic, the countryside on the edge of the city.

Traces of many of these former villages can still be found in the city, although most of them are now becoming gentrified. Charonne still retains the feel of an authentic village, although it remains to be seen how long it will be able to sustain that for. The romanesque church of St Germain de Charonne, parts of which date back to the 12th century, sits in what would have been the heart of the village, with the old main street, the rue Saint Blaise, running down from it. Looking down from the terrace of the church you really can feel like you are in a French country village, despite the high rise blocks just a few hundred metres away.

Charonne was a quiet place where rich Parisians had their country houses. The fertile soil was covered with vineyards, and the abundance of wine gave rise to over 200 dance halls or ‘guinguettes’. You can also find the Pavillon de l’Ermitage, a small folly belonging to the Duchess of Orleans – daughter of Louis XIV and his mistress Madame de Montespan – all that remains of the enormous Chateau de Bagnolet. Otherwise there are no major monuments and no reason for any tourists to visit here. Just a charming slice of old Paris, with some of the country houses still hidden around street corners, winding cobbled streets and quiet squares where you can have a drink under the shade of the magnolia trees. But I would visit soon if you can, the clock is ticking and the authenticity of this small corner of French countryside risks disappearing.

metro: Porte de Bagnolet

Hermes hors les murs

Last weekend, and all through this week, the master craftsmen and women from Hermes have left their workshops and taken up residence at the Carreau du Temple in the Marais to showcase their skills, passion and exquisite craftsmanship. Ten different metiers are carefuly demonstrated and explained – I particularly enjoyed watching a bag being hand stitched, gloves being cut out and the edges of the famous scarves being handrolled. You can gather right around the workbenches and chat to the artisans about their work, the studies that took them there, day to day life in the Hermes ateliers, and the techniques that they are demonstrating.

There is also a creative workshop if you want to join in, a bookshop, an organic café, and a wide programme of presentations and discussion forums thoughout the week. It’s a rare chance to see first hand and up close the incredible craftsmanship that goes into making these beautiful pieces of work.

Until 26 Nov 2016. Entry is free.

  • Le Carreau du Temple, 4 rue Eugene Spuller, 75003 Paris.  metro: Temple

Website (in English)

Good coffee in Paris. 4: Fondation Café

This tiny café serves up not only a fantastic cup of coffee, but also a delicious selection of cakes and a tasty avocado on toast, complete with chili powder and salt. The decor is minimalist (check out the 2 beautiful Jean Prouvé Potence lights), the coffee machine being the main attraction, and with 3 small tables inside and just a few more outside, you can also get your coffee to go if you can’t find a seat. Opened in 2013 by an Australian barista who had previously worked at Ten Belles, the café has recently changed hands, but continues to attract a non-stop stream of customers and rave reviews for the quality of the cofféé and the warm welcome.

  • Fondation Café, 16 rue Dupetit Thouars, 75003 Paris.  metro: Temple

Open 8:00 – 18:00 weekdays and 9:00 – 18:00 weekends

Fondation café Facebook page

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Villages in Paris – Belleville

For me, Belleville is one of the most fascinating and charming parts of Paris. Spanning 4 arrondissements in the north east of the city, it’s home to a hugely diverse population and an eclectic mix of artist’s studios, Chinese supermarkets, excellent and reasonably priced restaurants, and hip new bars, along with the coffee roasting house that supplies many of the new wave of cafés currently reviving the coffee drinking scene in Paris. Once a village on the outskirts of the city, pockets of it also retain the charm of old Paris, with hidden alleyways and courtyards where you can still find the small worker’s houses of years gone by, winding cobblestone streets, and a village atmosphere that’s a world away from the grand boulevards of central Paris.

Belleville and neighboouring Menilmontant were once home to vineyards, then to migrant workers from rural France, and after WW1 welcomed immigrants from Poland and Armenia along with a sizeable Jewish community from Central Europe. They were followed by workers from the former French colonies in North Africa, and Chinese immigrants arrived in the 1980’s, forming a substantial Chinese quarter in the area immediately around Belleville metro. Nowadays these communities co-exist alongside each other, along with a new wave of artists and young professionals, now turning the area into not only one of the most culturally diverse parts of the city, but also one of the coolest areas of the city, home to venues such as La Bellevilloise and the Belleville Brulerie.

Successuve renovation projects over the years have demolished a lot of the old Belleville, but some parts of it still remain, a wonderful example being the Villa Castel (see also main photo) at 16 rue de Transvaal.

Nowadays, the juxtaposition of a jumble of architectural styles – not all of them beautiful – certainly adds to the eclectic charm of the area. Edith Piaf was from Belleville (although the legend that she was born on a doorstep is apparently not true), and some of my favourite French films were filmed here – Jules et Jim, Casque d’Or (her house is also here), Le Ballon Rouge and more recently l’Ecume des Jours, based on the Boris Vian novel.

Belleville is also home to a beautiful park, established in 1988 it’s the highest park in Paris and has spectacular views over the city. It’s also has a community garden and small vineyard. Stop in at the bakery Le Panorama Gourmand at the top of the park (10 rue des Envierges) and pick up a picnic to enjoy with the locals and some of the best views in the city.

metros: Belleville/Jourdain/Pyrenées

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The Tour de France on the Champs Elysées

If you’re in Paris for the end of the Tour de France, even if you’re not a cycling fan, the arrival on the Champs Elysées is a French sporting tradition that is not to be missed. This incredible race takes place over 3 weeks each summer and has done since 1903 (except for during the two world wars). It criss-crosses the country, taking in some spectacular scenery along the way, including incredible, gruelling mountain stages in both the Alps and the Pyrenées, and the route is lined with over 12 million spectators each year.

It’s a mythical and magnificent race, and it ends on the Champs Elysées. It’s the perfect place to watch it, they lap 8 times up and down the avenue and around the Arc de Triomphe, so you have plenty of chances to spot the yellow jersey. This year I was lucky enough to get invited to watch it from the terrace on the top of the Arc de Triomphe, and as a big fan of the Tour it was a huge treat.

Even if you’re not in Paris, if you happen to be in France in July, check the website and see if it’s coming to a place near you.

Tour de France website (in English)

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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!

JR and the disappearing Louvre pyramid

French street artist JR has an installation currently at the Louvre which is surprising to say the least, and lends itself perfectly to the grey days we are having at the moment. He has made the famous glass pyramid disappear.

JR Louvre pyramid, Paris

The pyramid was designed by Chinese-American architect I M Pei and unveiled in 1989 to general criticism and controversy in Paris (as it has to be said are most of the major architectural developments in this city, starting with the Eiffel Tower)! Now instead of seeing the pyramid itself, probably the most photographed part of the structure of the Louvre, we see what has been hiding behind it, the section of the building that has been largely ignored for all these years.

JR Louvre Pyramid - Paris

Instead of snapping selfies, visitors are invited to look at their surroundings in a different way, and to spend more time deciding which is the best viewpoint for their photo to allow the pyramid to completely disappear (the sides slope, so you have to be in just the right place to ensure it looks flat). By removing the pyramid, JR takes the Louvre back to its original state, yet his digital photography work is resolutely modern, and reminds us that the pyramid itself is too.

At the Louvre until June 27th 2016.

JR’s website (in English)

 

Open days – artists’ studios in Belleville

Last weekend over 120 artists’ studios and galleries around Belleville, showing work by 250 artists, opened their doors to the public. I really love these open days – not only do they give you a chance to discover the work of the artists, to meet the artists themselves and talk to them about their work, but they also open up hidden courtyards and passages, and encourage you to explore the city in a different way.

Belleville is a fascinating part of Paris, a cultural melting pot which still holds on to the village atmosphere of its past. Now home to a vibrant and diverse community of artists, you can wander the streets with the map provided and push open the doors into a sometimes hidden world.

The atmosphere at these open days is always festive and joyful, the artists are welcoming and you constantly bump into people strolling the streets armed with the map as you are. There is often music and always plenty of places to eat, and on a sunny day it’s a wonderful way to explore a part of the city that is full of creative energy.

The open days in Belleville are held once a year on the last weekend in May (this year they have been extended across 2 weekends), and this is the biggest of the open days held around the city. If you are here at other times of the year there are the open days in Abbesses in November, around Père Lachaise in late April, and several others throughout the year. All the open days are free.

metros: Belleville, Pyrénées or Jourdain, 75020 Paris

website (in English)

Good coffee in Paris. 1: Ten Belles

Gone are the days when it’s impossible to get a decent coffee in Paris. Café culture is something that is so French, it was always hard to understand why the coffee was so terrible, and why the locals – who care so much about their food and wine – never seemed to mind.  Now a burgeoning coffee scene is ensuring that sitting on a café terrace in Paris can be even more of a pleasure than before. Ten Belles is one of the best amongst the new style cafés that have popped up around the city in the past couple of years. The coffee beans are roasted in Paris at the Belleville Brulerie, and you can get cakes, soups and sandwiches too.

The coffee changes with the seasons, and the food and drinks can be taken out, an especially good thing as the café is almost always packed, and the beautiful and now uber fashionable Canal Saint Martin is right nearby. If you want more picnic food, drop into the lovely grocery shop Myrthe right next door.

  • Ten Belles, 10 rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010 Paris. metro: Jacques Bonsergent

Open daily 9:00 – 5:00pm.

Ten Belles Facebook page

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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)

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)

Monet at the Musée Marmottan

Lovers of Monet should make sure to include a visit to the Musée Marmottan in the 16th arrondissement. Much less famous than the Musée d’Orsay or the Orangerie (which houses his Nympheas), this discreet museum is in fact home to the largest collection of Monet’s paintings in the world. Monet’s son Michel donated his entire collection to the Museum in 1966, and even though only around 10% of it is on show at any one time, it’s spectacular. In 1940 the museum had already received a donation of Impressioniist works, including ‘Impression Soleil Levant’, Monet’s painting which gave the movement it’s name.

The collection is housed in a magnificent ‘hotel particulier’ or Parisian mansion, which is partly furnished and also home to the world’s leading collection of paintings by Berthe Morisot, the first female Impressionist painter, and a wonderful collection of illuminations. The museum also shows temporary exhibitions, and you can buy a ticket that also includes entrance to Giverny – Monet’s incredible garden in Normandy, to see the real life inspiration for the beautiful works housed here.

(Photos are not allowed inside the museum).

  • Musée Marmottan, 2 rue Louis Boilly, 75016 Paris.  metro: La Muette

Open daily 10:00 – 18:00 except Mondays, open until 21:00 Thursdays

Musée Marmottan website (in English)

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.

 

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Fashion at the Pierre Cardin Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pierre Cardin Website (in English)

The real Chinese quarter in Paris – Belleville

Many visitors to Paris will hear that the Chinese quarter is in the 13th arrondissement. Today I took a fascinating guided walk of Belleville (spread across the 19th and 20th arrondissements) and learned otherwise. The tour was part of an initiative called ‘Paris Face Cachée’, or Hidden Paris – organized once a year in February, it puts on guided visits of lesser known parts of the city or in buildings that do not normally allow access to the general public.

Belleville is home to a large Chinese and Indo-Chinese population. It’s not the oldest Chinese community in the city, dating back only around 15 years, but our guide explained it’s now the most authentic within the city, as the Chinese communities both live and work here. This part of the city has always been, and still is, one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the city. Formerly home to the working classes when it was a village outside the city, throughout the 20th century it became home to successive waves of immigrants – Armenians, Greeks, Jews and North Africans – turning it now into a fascinating and diverse part of the city. More recently, artists and young professionals (or ‘Bobos’ as they are known here, bourgeois/bohemians) have begun to gentrify the quarter, but it is so far still managing to hold onto it’s ethnic diversity.

Some of the best places to eat in the neighborhood were pointed out to us during our visit,

along with a supermarket selling everything you could need to rustle up your own Chinese feast at home – Chen Market.

The Chinese part of Belleville is located immediately around the metro. It’s not the most architecturally interesting part of Paris – much of it was redeveloped in the 1970s, but there are still a few vestiges remaining of the old buildings. It is though a fascinating part of the city both culturally and historically, and a wonderful place to stroll around and stop for something to eat.

  • Belleville Chinese Paris
  • area around Belleville metro, 75020/75019/75011/75010

Restaurants: Raviolis du Nord Est: 11 rue Civiale, 75010.  Wenzhou: 24 rue de Belleville, 75020.  Dongfa: 26 rue de Belleville, 75020.  Best Doufu: corner of Bd de la Villette and rue Civiale, 75010.

Paris Face Cachée website (in French)

 

 

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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

A walk around Montmartre

Montmartre can be a complete tourist trap. I wonder if it isn’t possibly the single biggest disappointment for many visitors to Paris. Yet Montmartre is beautiful, it’s a village lost in time, the Paris of years gone by, lived in not only by famous, sometimes almost mythical ghosts, but by real people who are passionate about their little piece of Paris, and who love and nurture it. You just have to know where to go, and where not to.

Start at the back of the ‘Butte’ – the hill that Montmartre sits upon. Walk up from Lamarck Caulaincourt and you will find yourself in the heart of the village. See the Maison Rose, the pink house made famous by Utrillo’s painting, pass the Lapin Agile, the (in)famous Cabaret (still in existence today) where Picasso and others would drink and pay with paintings as they were penniless (did you know in 1905 Picasso gave a painting – ‘Au Lapin Agile: l’Arlequin au verre’ to the owner, Frédé, who later sold it for $20 – in 1989 it sold for $41 million and is now in the Met in New York…Picasso is the Harlequin and Frédé is playing the guitar). Don’t miss the beautiful vineyard, and if you want to learn more about the area and it’s fascinating history, pop into the wonderful Montmartre Museum.

I personally think the views of the Sacré Coeur from the back are the most beautiful.

Sacre Coeur-Montmartre-Paris

I have to be honest I’m not a big fan of the Place du Tertre (the Artist’s square with all the painters), but it is interesting to walk through and will take you down the front of the ‘Butte’ towards Abbesses, which is another very interesting part of Montmartre, much more lively and full of wonderful food shops and cafés, including the bakery that won the highly coveted ‘Best baguette in Paris 2015′! Don’t miss Jean Marais’ sculpture of the Man Who Walked through Walls (read the story by Marcel Aymé), the old windmills known as the Moulin de la Galette, originally for grinding flour (Montmartre had many of them in the days when it was a village outside Paris) and later a dance hall immortalised by Renoir amongst others  – check out his famous painting in the Musée d’Orsay. Also stop by the Bateau Lavoir, once the studios of Picasso, Max Jacob, Modigliani, Juan Gris and the birthplace of cubism.

Finish on the rue des Abbesses and the rue Lepic. Fans of the film Amelie Poulain can see the Café des Deux Moulins where she worked and the grocery store Collignon, if you haven’t seen it, make sure you watch it after your visit! The ‘I love you wall’ is also at Abbesses, and is fun to look at – a wall that we normally would associate with being a symbol of separation and barriers is transformed into a place of love and sharing.

Montmartre is one of my favourite parts of Paris. Whilst up there recently I met a 93 year old lady who told me she had lived there since 1933, and that nothing much had changed – except that maybe there were a few more cars! Get some comfortable shoes on (there are cobblestones everywhere) and a street map, and lose yourself in a part of Paris that is different to any other.

  • metro Lamarck Caulaincourt or Abbesses. if you prefer to go up via the Moulin Rouge, take the metro to Blanche.

 

 

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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)

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Fred le Chevalier around the Canal St Martin

Recently whilst wandering around the Canal Saint Martin I was delighted to see some new works by my favourite street artist, Fred le Chevalier, and decided it was time for another post. Previously to be found around Menilmontant, his beautiful and poetic drawings can now be seen more often in the Canal Saint Martin area in the 10th arrondissement, also sometimes in the Marais and parts of the 11th arrondissement.

I always find it such a delight to come across one of these drawings, they are pasted on the walls and disappear gradually depending on the weather, offering fleeting moments of gladness when you see one. They seem especially poignant now in the area that was hit so tragically by the attacks in November. ‘Invent monsters to scare away our fears’ is often something he writes under his drawings. Musicians play to a monster with death pinned onto his lapel, a child snuggles up to a great beast.

Fred Le Chevalier-Paris 2Other drawings show benevolent angels looking down on us, or scenes of comfort and peace. Each time I come across one of his works I am reminded that not only that it is possible to confront our fears, but also that art, beauty and joy still surround us every day.

If you are interested in his work you can see more on his Facebook page.

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Villages in Paris – la rue Cremieux

Blink and you could be in a village in the west of Ireland. Or perhaps Portobello Road in London. The rue Cremieux in the 12th arrondissement is one of the most picturesque streets in Paris. The street is only 144 metres long and 7.5 metres wide – thirty five houses, no more than 2 storeys high and with a kitchen in the basement, were built in 1857 for local workers, and in 1993 it was repaved and became pedestrian only.

The brightly painted houses and tranquil atmosphere of the street are a world away from the busy Gare de Lyon just around the corner. If the bustle of the city gets a bit too much, step off into the rue Cremieux, and the roar of the city around you could almost transform, just for a moment, into the roar of waves crashing onto an Irish beach.

  • rue Cremieux, between the rue de Lyon and rue de Bercy, 75012. metro: Gare de Lyon or Quai de la Rapée

Cosmic Christmas at the Galeries Lafayette

It doesn’t feel like Christmas at the moment in Paris with the unusually warm weather we’re having, but I still couldn’t resist popping into the Galeries Lafayette to have a look at this year’s tree.

After last year’s upside-down Christmas tree this season they have gone for a gold and glitter extravaganza – a cosmic tree made from meteorites under a shower of stars.  It’s always a pleasure to admire the gorgeous glass dome, and impossible not to love Paris when she’s at her glamorous and over the top best for Christmas.

Cosmic-Christmas-Galeries Lafayette-Paris

  • Galeries Lafayette, 40 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009 Paris. Metro: Chausée d’Antin Lafayette, Havre Caumartin, Opera, Auber
  • Open Mon – Sat 9:30 – 20:00 (21:00 on Thursday)
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Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Pere Lachaise cemetery is a beautiful place to spend a few hours exploring. Final resting place of Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, Alice B Toklas, Oscar Wilde (see main picture), Marcel Proust, Colette, Isadora Duncan and many, many more, it’s the largest cemetery in Paris and one of the most famous in the world (many say it’s also the most beautiful).  Opened in 1804, probably its best known resident nowadays is Jim Morrison, still attracting guitar playing fans from around to world who come to pay homage at his grave.

Situated in the 20th arrondissement, on the east side of the city, it covers 48 hectares (almost 120 acres), and is beautiful and tranquil at any time of the year. I was last there in late October as the trees were turning gold, one of the prettiest times to visit in my opinion. Not only can you find every style of tombstone imaginable, but also a huge variety of trees  – over 5000 in fact from 50 different species. Wear comfortable shoes and be ready to walk up and down a few hills, download their online map or pick one up at the entrance, and enjoy a few hours away from the noise and bustle of the city.

The cemetery is open daily from 8:00 to 18:00 (it opens at 8.30 on Saturday and 9:00 on Sunday).

Cimetière du Père Lachaise, 16 rue du Repos, 75020 Paris. métro: Gambetta or Père Lachaise

Map in English

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Open days – Artists studios from Anvers to Abbesses

This weekend it was the turn of 120 artists living and working in the 9th and 18th arrondissements – between approximately Anvers and Abbesses – to open their workshops, galleries, shops and sometimes even their homes to the public. Organised by the artists association ‘d’Anvers aux Abbesses’ it takes place each year on the 3rd weekend of November, and this year celebrates it’s 20th anniversary.

It’s a wonderful way to spend a day – you get to explore areas that you may not otherwise visit, to step into hidden courtyards, down tiny stairways into workshops, or go up the stairs into apartments and studios, all filled with amazing works of contemporary art. More than that, it’s a chance to meet the artists, to talk to them about their work, buy works if you wish and show them your support.

The association organizing the weekend provides a free, easy to follow map with a list of all the artists and their mediums. You can wander around and visit as many or as few as you like, in any order. The area around Montmartre is also full of lively cafés and restaurants and there are plenty of places to stop and relax between visits. On a beautiful crisp, sunny day like today, Paris is at her creative and beautiful best.

Anvers aux Abbesses artists association website (in French)

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Yves Saint Laurent at the Salon du Vintage

It’s the Autumn edition of the Salon du Vintage this weekend at the Carreau du Temple in the Marais. Not only do we have the chance to peruse and buy from an incredible range of vintage clothes stands, but there is also a wonderful collection of the iconic ‘Sahariennes’ by Yves St Laurent on show.

First presented in 1968, the Saharienne became one of the emblematic pieces in the Yves Saint Laurent collections, and was remodeled many times over the years. The beautiful pieces on show here range from 1969 to 1980 and are from the collection of Olivier Chatenet.

As well as this amazing collection, there is huge range of vintage clothes stands to suit all budgets. If you are looking for quality vintage clothes or some iconic designer pieces, this is the place to come. There’s also an exhibition of designer chairs from 1960 – 1990, mid-century modern furniture, vinyl records and handmade jewellery.

The Salon du Vintage is open again tomorrow 18 October, and is held several times a year, usually in the Marais. Check out their website for upcoming editions and locations.

  • Salon du Vintage, Carreau du Temple, 4 rue Eugene Spuller, 75003 Paris

Salon du Vintage website (in French)

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Atelier Brancusi

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

Atelier Brancusi, Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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)

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La Maison du Pastel

At the back of a small courtyard in the Marais there is a tiny shop, open one afternoon a week for 4 hours, selling the finest handmade artist’s pastels. La Maison du Pastel opened its doors for a few small group visits this weekend for the Journées du Patrimoine, and I was lucky enough to be able to get myself a place on the list.

Maison du Pastel - Paris

La Maison du Pastel is home to the Pastels Roché, owned and run by the Roché family since 1865, (although it was started in 1720, five years after the death of Louis XIV, making it the oldest pastel house in the world). We were welcomed by Isabelle Roché who took over the family business from cousins 15 years ago, and who has put all her passion and energy into bringing the declining business back to life.

Suppliers of exceptional quality pastels to artists such as Degas, Whistler, Redon and Vuillard, Pastels Roché were producing over 1600 different shades by the 1930s (other quality pastel makers – and there are fewer then 20 of them in the world – produce between 500 and 600). In 1937 they won a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition. During World War II the business was almost completely destroyed, it was revived by the Roché family and run through the 1960s and 70s with some success, thanks to artists such as Sam Szafran, until it eventually started to decline in the 1980s.

The pastels are still made in the original atelier in the countryside 60km outside of Paris, all are handmade from start to finish – from mixing the pigments to rolling each individual pastel. The exact ingredients used are secret, and the results are beautiful, intense shades with an incredible depth of colour, beloved by artists the world over. Isabelle has brought the palette of shades back to just over 1000, the business had almost disappeared when she took over in 2000, and she and her American assistant Margaret continue to develop not only the business but also the amazing range of colours, still producing everything themselves.

Spending an hour listening to the fascinating history of the Pastels Roché, witnessing the passion, hand work and perseverance that has gone into creating and maintaining this very special family business, and watching box after box of beautiful and luminous jewel-like colours being opened on the counter before us, was a joy and a privilege. Artist or not, a visit to this tiny shop is a very special moment.

  • La Maison du Pastel, 20 rue Rambuteau, 75003 Paris.  métro: Rambuteau

Open Thursday 14:00 – 18:00 or by appointment

La Maison du Pastel (website in English)