The 7th Arrondissement: Latin Quarter and St. Michel
St. Michel is one of Paris’ most charming areas. It is a timeless testament to Paris’ origins, being one of the only areas of Paris preserved from before Haussmanization (the re-structuring and re-organization of Paris). The narrow streets are perfect for an afternoon of strolling and discovering, and you can see the buildings that lean in towards each other, creating a picturesque scene. One can imagine intellectuals hanging around, discussing politics and literature, and debating issues of utmost important – like whether to drink white or red wine. The streets of St. Michel are where the French Revolution was planned, and later became a hub for intellectuals who wanted to escape the rich parts of Paris and be surrounded by the ages-old architecture of Paris, pre-Revolution. Hemingway and his comrades could have been found here, perhaps buying books at Shakespeare & Company, and it is one of the most truly Parisian parts of the city, though often crowded by tourists.
The famous church stands on the island on the Seine, partially separated from St. Michel and yet as much a part of it as the narrow streets that lead you there. Personally, I was disgraced by how much this beautiful place of worship has turned into a tourist attraction, even featuring museum-like exhibitions. While exploring this area, I suggest viewing it from the exterior and skipping the inside, especially if you take offense to rude tourists being disrespectful inside churches. Make sure to walk all the way around the church if you can – it is amazing to marvel at.
Shakespeare & Company
Hemingway’s famous haunt, once owned by Sylvia Beach, is a lovely little English-language bookstore slightly hidden behind trees and tucked away next to two much larger cafes. While it’s not cheap, the prices are not outlandish, and it remains as much a quiet and humble spot as it was in Hemingway’s time. If you’re as much a fan of the expat writers as I am, go in and buy one of their books and mark your pages with a free Shakespeare & Co. bookmark. I highly suggesting visiting this little shop, especially if you are a literary fanatic like I am!
Les Deux Magots
The famous restaurant once frequented by the expat intellectuals previously discussed, this expensive little restaurant is technically in St. Germain-des-Pres, part of the Latin Quarter but farther north than St. Michel. It faces L’Eglise St. Germain, a lovely little church bordered by such haute-couture shops as Dior and Louis Vuitton. If you’ve got the funds, stop in for a coffee and be reminded of the great thinkers that once sat there and wrote, but if not, it’s just as fun to walk by and check out the well-dressed Parisians enjoying their 6 Euro cafe.
I have only visited the outside of this impressive building, but it is a fascinating sight to see. It is a place where “great and honorable men” are buried, and was built as a way of glorifying French heroes as a way to build national pride and unify the state. The piazza in front is surrounded by the buildings of La Sorbonne, the famous university from which such renowned thinkers as Voltaire graduated, and is a must-see when in the Latin Quarter.
Musee de Cluny
The Parisian Middle-Ages museum is a hidden gem amid such giants as the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay. If you are interested at all in history, it is worth a visit and is one of the less crowded and more humble spots in the guidebooks.
The Latin Quarter is one of the best places to stroll along the Seine, and perhaps take a break and sit and enjoy a coffee in a cafe. Some of the best views can be found from Pont Neuf, where you can see the Grand Palais and the top of the Eiffel Tower. It’s quite common to take a bottle of wine and picnic by the Seine, enjoying some quality time with friends. Bread, cheese, and wine are always necessary when doing this, or a lovely pastry from my favorite shop, Gerard Mulot.
Sweets and Such
The Latin Quarter has both very expensive restaurants, and really good deals (“les bons marches”). One of my favorite places to eat is La Grande Epicerie at Le Bon Marche (for more information check out my previous post, “Get Lost!”), where you can get a delicious sandwich, pastry, and drink for about 10 Euro. Even cheaper are the ethnic restaurants off of Boulevard St. Michel, or a crepe a the stand by L’Eglise St. Germain on Boulevard St. Germain. A must-visit is Gerard Mulot (see above link), where the pastries should be considered art and are reasonably priced, and you can get a sandwich or other incredible dishes for very reasonable prices (under 10 Euro for lunch). There are great bars in St. Michel as well, whether you’re looking for a low-key night or a club with sparkling drinks. For the former, check out Chez George on Rue des Canettes: cheap drinks and a young, student crowd. For the latter, head to the Fontaine St. Michel, where a little street off the main road will take you to a variety of clubs. You’ll be able to find drinks like these:
Whatever your pleasure, the best way to discover this arrondissement is to just wonder down the streets and see what you find. It’s got a variety of different sights and flavors, and you’ll be able to find something to enjoy no matter your preferences or budget (I would know). Just remember to honor its intellects, and have at least one intelligent conversation as you stroll through the streets or sip a coffee. Perhaps you could discuss the greves going on in France at the moment…