I always think of Paris as a city split into 20 parts because of the 20 arrondissements and with that in mind, I started thinking about writing posts on each individual district of Paris because there’s so much to see and do in this beautiful city. It wouldn’t be right if you didn’t give each district your undivided attention and immerse yourself in everything it has to offer and my first choice is my favourite part of Paris, the Latin Quarter. Just the word arrondissement conjures up romantic images because French is such a sensual language, it’s weird I know but couple that with the iconic blue and green street signs that are so quintissentially Parisian are the reasons I get so excited when I set foot in Paris….. I look up at those familiar signs and I feel at home. So when I decided to start the blog, I wanted to write about and concentrate on one or two arrondissements at a time. Paris, undoubtedly the most romantic city in the world, there isn’t a film, a book or magazine that doesn’t depict the city in this light, but Paris is so much more than this. All you need to do is to wander off the predictable tourist traps and Paris is yours for the taking, it’ll mesmerise and seduce you until it has you firmly in it’s grip squeezing you tighter and tighter with each visit as it did me the very first time I set foot in Paris and it has only intensified with each visit. Paris’ image is that of romance and it’s a city envied the world over for that reason alone, isn’t it the first place you visit with a new lover? One imagines romantic trysts in luxurious hotels and all the other clichés so common for this city but the thing is, Paris screams romance wherever you are because each little cobblestone alleyway, each walk along the Seine, each quiet little bistro becomes your romantic story through the experiences and memories you create and share. Each time I arrive in Paris, it’s like that romance begins all over again, tantalsing memories come flooding back and I tingle all over to be in the city that I adore so much and so yes, it really is the most romantic city in the world and where better to embrace this romance than the magical Latin Quarter.
To know Paris is to first know that it is divided into districts known as “arrondissements” and each one has its own unique style and vibe and of course they are all separated by the River Seine – the Left Bank or Rive Gauche, my favourite part of Paris and the Right Bank, Rive Droite. The best way to see Paris is very much dependent on how long you’re there but concentrating on a couple of arrondissments close to each other is a good start. If you look at the map below, they start in the centre and spiral out so each arrondissement is next to it’s corresponding number. These arrondissements also fall into little districts of Paris such as Montmartre (18) the Marais (3 & 4) the Latin Quarter/St Germain (5 & 6) and Montparnasse (14 & 15) are just some examples. Each has its own magic and charm. My destination of choice is the Latin Quarter.
What could be more exciting and more convenient than to hop on a train from London and in a little over 2 hours, you’re in a foreign city experiencing European café culture. That’s the beauty of Eurostar! I honestly don’t know why I didn’t listen to my husband and just about everyone else when they used to ask, “why are you flying to Paris?” and indeed, why was I? It’s so simple, head over to Eurostar’s website, select your dates and book, it couldn’t be simpler.
Arriving at St Pancras station is a doddle, for me, it’s about 30 minutes on the Metropolitan line from my home. There isn’t the fuss and bother of checking in 2 hours before like when you fly, all you need is 30-45 minutes. Having said that, I like to check in an hour before as sometimes St Pancras can get very busy at peak times and holidays and I don’t like the stress and worry wondering if I’ll make it on time. I like to check in, sit down and have a coffee first. Security is usually a breeze, pop your baggage on a tray, same system as at the airport and walk through the metal-detector security and you’re done.
ARRIVING AT GARE DU NORD
Gare du Nord is the station you’ll arrive at from London, when you get off the train, you can either catch the metro downstairs or head over to the taxi rank, 15-20 euros is usually all you’ll need to get to your hotel which will surely be in the centre of the city. It’s well organised, you’ll probably have to wait about 10 minutes sometimes longer depending on time of day to queue to get a taxi.
WHERE TO STAY
One of my favourite hotel’s is the Hotel D’Aubusson in Saint-Germain-des-pres (6th, Latin Quarter district) right by the Pont Neuf on rue Dauphine. It’s a charming and stylish 17th century style hotel with an antique filled dining area, stunning fireplace, refined rooms with period features and a cool cocktail/piano bar. The best bit and this is why it has me going back again and again is its Jazz Bar, the famous Café Laurent has live jazz music from Wednesday to Sunday so be sure to book your stay between these days. It also has a delightful courtyard which is open during the summer months and weather permitting. Click on the link to read more on the HotelDAubusson.
Just off the Saint-Germain-des-pres and just off Rue Bonaparte is the delightful boutique hotel, HoteldeLAbbaye. It’s an oasis of serenity and calm in a bustling city with a tranquil garden, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in peaceful Montmartre. The rooms are all quite different, chic, classic and luxurious, the lobby of the hotel is intimate, cosy and comforting, the perfect place to enjoy a drink at the bar.
WHAT TO DO
You’re here for little over 24 hours so what do you do? Well, the secret is not too much, don’t try and cover the whole of Paris. Saint-German and the Latin Quarter is rich in history and romance with it’s cobbled streets and alleyways, its calling out to be discovered. First stop, a visit to ShakespeareandCompany book shop, even if you’re not a lover of books, step inside, trust me, you’ll be hooked. It feels like you’re in an Aladdin’s cave full of literary gems, you’re sure to find that rare book you’ve been searching your whole life for. I spent about an hour in here flicking through the many books, there’s also a new café next door to enjoy a good coffee while browsing your purchase, problem is, I love books so much, I left confused, I just didn’t know what to buy!! Then there’s hubby about to scream at me but with the new coffee shop next door, he’ll be fine sitting outside with a coffee and fag while I take even longer getting confused next time! Paris has many bookshops waiting for you to dicover on the many trips I feel sure you’ll be making to this culture rich city. Shakespeare and Company is right near the Notre Dame Cathedral, if you’re in Paris for a longer than 24 hours, it’s one of Paris’ top ten things to see.
Just next door is a long narrow street called rue de la Harpe, it dates back to the Roman times. It’s very atmospheric with lots of shops, cafés, restaurants especially Greek and Italian and lots of souvenirs, it’s quite medieval looking and reminds me very much of the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, it leads on to Rue Saint-Séverin and comes to end at Boulevard Saint-Germain. Meander around this area, off boulevard Saint-Germain where it meets with rue Saint-Andre-des-Arts, you’ll be rewarded with the most enchanting passage, Cour de Commerce-Saint-Andre, a narrow cobble-stoned alleyway full of unique shops and bistros, one of the oldest in Paris is Le Procope, great for bistro classics such as duck confit, snails, foie gras, French onion soup and tarte tatin.
How can you go to Boulevard Saint-Germain and not visit the most iconic cafés, Café de Flore and Le Deux Magots, just sitting down and people watching is a favourite Parisian pastime, more on that later. Crossing over these cafés to Rue Bonaparte you’ll be visiting one of Paris’ best loved patisseries for macaron’s, it’s an essential part of your visit to Paris and something delicious to take home.
Just of Pierre Herme (rue Bonaparte) and Rue Jacob is an oasis of calm, the beautiful square Place Furstemberg, there used to be a quaint cake shop here but unfortunately, it has closed down now. Located here is the Church of Saint-Sulpice which is situated on the pretty square Place Saint-Sulpice. I think it’s better to visit somewhere less touristy rather than expend your precious time queuing to get into the Notre-Dame, leave that for a longer visit. Opposite Le Deux Magots on Place Saint-Germain-des-pres, is the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-pres which is also worth a visit, these two ecclesiastical gems are surely enough to satisfy the cultural side of your trip.
Other prominent streets in this area worth a visit are rue de Buci, rue de Seine and the around the corner on Rue Lobineau, you’ll find a covered market, Marche Saint-Germain which is open 6 days a week full of grocers, fishmongers, charcuterie, cheese, Italian and Greek deli’s. There are many other famous streets in Paris dedicated to the foodie such as Rue Mouffetard and rue Montorguil. Mouffetard is in the 5th arrondissement so it’s your best bet as you’re in the Latin Quarter but take a 5 minute taxi ride to Montorguil, both are a paradise for food lover’s like me, an array of bistro’s, patisseries and deli’s line both market streets, you’ll return to it again and again. If you love snails, I recommend you stop by L’Escargot Montorguil. Take a cab to the 7th and visit Rue Saint-Dominique, another street full of restaurants and culinary delights, patisseries and boulangeries. For a food obsessed person like me, it’s cake heaven and no one makes pastries like the French.
At the end of rue Mouffetard less than a 10 minute walk is the Pantheon, modelled on the Pantheon in Rome – “A temple to all gods” It was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, it’s somewhere you need to visit and must be squeezed into your itinerary. Beneath this imposing building is the burial place of notable Parisians such as Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Marie Curie.
Just outside the Pantheon is a good café called Le Comptoir du Pantheon where I had a really good value and delicious breakfast as my hotel was around the corner, sometimes having breakfast other than at the hotel is better value and more enjoyable unless you’re staying in a five* deluxe hotel. On the Île de la Cité, one of Paris’ islands which is about 5 minutes from the Hotel D’Aubusson is a charming little street called Rue Chanoinesse, wondering off the beaten track is how I made many of my favourite discoveries, don’t miss the Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole – I won’t say any more, just go and have a look, you won’t be disappointed.
Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis are two of Paris’ islands and are connected by the bridge Pont Saint-Louis, both islands are charming full of lovely shops and cafés. The grande dame of all glaces is Berthillon which serves take-away ice cream and has a sit-down Salon de thé (tea house) where you can enjoy scrumptious sundaes, rich Parisian hot chocolate, patisserie and hot and cold drinks. Oh, and don’t forget to visit Cafe St Regis on Île Saint-Louis, perfect for cocktails, coffee, lunch or dinner…..just sit down and watch the world go by. These are just some of my favourite things to do in the Latin Quarter and perfectly doable on a short trip to Paris, the beauty is just to wander off and discover YOUR Paris.
WHAT TO EAT
Where to start! There are so many cafés, bistros and restaurants to visit in Paris, here are just a few of my favourites which won’t really break the bank and are close by. If you’re going to be staying at Hotel D’Aubusson, you’ll be within walking distance to one of my favourite restaurants where I spent my birthday a couple of years ago, LesBouquinistes. Les Bouquinistes is a Guy Savoy restaurant, a six-dish tasting menu starts at 78 euros per person. This restaurant is situated in my favourite part of Paris near the book sellers along the river Seine les bouquinistes hence the name of the restaurant, it’s literally right around the corner from the hotel and is opposite another famous restaurant, Lapérouse which visually is a work of art. Less than 5 minutes from Les Bouquinistes is a sandy square called Place Dauphine right by Pont Neuf, you can take a romantic stroll here after your meal, it’s dotted with lovely shops and a really good restaurant called RestaurantPaul.
If you prefer something a bit more casual (5 minute cab ride away) then Josephine Chez Dumonet must be on your list of restaurants for quintessential Parisian vibes and excellent food. Its large portions and comforting food has earned it consistently high reviews. I had the best confit of duck here where the meat just fell apart and the fluffiest Grand Marnier Soufflé as light as a cloud with an unmistakable hint of my favourite liqueur, Grand Marnier.
When I visited Paris in October, I ate at probably the most famous bistro in the city, Bistro Paul Bert on rue Paul Bert. When you step inside, you know why booking is essential, it’s full of locals and that’s always a good sign. Though it’s in the 11th arrondissement in the Bastille, it really isn’t that far from the Latin Quarter and it will always be in my top 10 of restaurants in Paris. They serve the best steak in the whole city, take my word for it, you’ll not be disappointed. Do not be under the impression that you can ask for a well-done steak, they will look at you in horror and probably throw you out! Once you’ve eaten here, you’ll know why it’s always so busy.
On Boulevard Saint-Germain opposite Café de Flore is one of Paris’ most legendary brasseries, Brasserie Lipp where I had a decent lunch just before I left Paris one year, it’s beautiful inside, typical of a grand Parisian brasserie with brass detailing, wooden floors and crisp white tablecloths, it’s a Parisian institution.
Polidor is one of the oldest bistros in Paris, it first opened in 1845. The interior of the restaurant is basically unchanged for over 100 years, and the style of cooking remains that of the late 19th century. It was featured in the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris” and it’s for this reason alone that I wanted to visit. It really is as old and historic as is depicted in the film, this was a favourite of Ernest Hemingway’s. The food is pretty good too although I would probably choose to eat lunch here because it’s so casual. In fact, if you want to enjoy an evening of jazz if you’re staying at the Hotel D’Abusson, a great idea is to grab a baguette on the move for lunch and have an early dinner here at 6pm, head back to the hotel, shower and get ready for an evening of cocktails and jazz, CaféLaurent opens at 8pm up until 11:30pm.
Last but by no means least, a visit to either Café de Flore or Le Deux Magots is an absolute must, it’s where the phrase “café intellectualising” was coined all those years ago when it was frequented by literary giants such Ernest Hemingway and John F Fitzgerald. You will have the most decadent hot chocolate to die for, so rich and almost soporific, it left me in a dreamy trance the first time I tasted this soup like hot chocolate, of course, they serve delicious light lunches, mind the price though, it’s quite expensive, no surprise there.
Paris is just full of the prettiest facades and the bistro Le Petit Zinc is so pretty to look at but it isn’t just a “pretty face” it serves great food too. In the evening, this square is positively buzzing with atmosphere, we had the best seafood platter/tower full of unusual shellfish and oysters of course, Le Petit Zinc is located on rue Saint-Benoit.
Well, that’s it! There is so much more that I can add to this post about the Latin Quarter of Paris, it’s a vibrant part of the city, so romantic, so enchanting and full of history, just wander off and discover a little bit of Paris that remains intimate and special to you and in the words of Audrey Hepburn, “Paris is always a good idea” and indeed it is.
Most of the photos here are my own, more arrondissements to come, finally, this song is one of my favourite French songs by singer Nicoletta and is all about Saint-Germain-des-pres.
33 Rue Dauphine
+33 1 43 29 43 43
Hotel de L’Abbaye
10 Rue Cassette
+33 1 45 44 38 11