If you are searching for a district that features much of what is emblematic about Paris, St. Germain des Pres is the ideal choice (metro stop: St. Germain des Pres, line 4). The Paris of our imagination - the cafes, shops, restaurants, museums and gardens - all of this can be found in the heart of St. Germain. It contains centuries old architecture, world renowned cafes, fashionable boutiques and meandering side streets dotted with unique bookshops. Walk in any direction; you will be delightfully surprised by what you find.
Small Village, Bohemian Enclave, the Height of Chic
The quarter is named after church St. Germain-des-Prés which dates back 1500 years. One of the oldest churches in Paris, it is a unique example of roman architecture. The remains of the original church in the center of the St. Germain des Pres Abbey have disappeared. The current church was part of the St. Benedictine Abbey dating back to the sixth century. It is located at Pl. St-Germain-des-Prés in the heart of the district. Tucked into one of the side chapels, you will find the tomb of philosopher René Descartes.
In the seventeenth century St. Germain became a favorite of intellectuals. The "Encyclopedists" gathered at the Landelle Cafe on the rue de Buci or at Procope, which still exists and is the oldest café in Paris. The future revolutionaries Jean-Paul Marat and Georges Danton were residents of the neighborhood at one time.
After World War II, St. Germain buzzed with prominent intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus, debating the implications of Existentialism at either Café les Deux Magots, or Café de Flore. Also part of the mix were young artists and writers like Picasso, who once lived on Rue de Seine, and an irrepressible Ernest Hemingway breathing in the atmosphere and tucking away tidbits for later inspiration. His memoir, "A Moveable Feast," is a vivid depiction of those times, as is his first novel "A Sun Also Rises."
While still bubbling with youthful energy, St.Germain's gritty past has now morphed into a sophisticated present featuring eclectic bookstores, design shops, high-end art galleries, boutique hotels, historic cafes and restaurants. Indeed, the district has been strongly affected by gentrification and is now one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Paris.
To See and Be Seen, or Just Search for an Unusual Book
St. Germain is the perfect neighborhood in which to people-watch. A seat at any of the many cafes offers you the opportunity to breathe in the flavor of Parisian street life. Of course, while you are watching others, it is likely that others will be watching you. While Café les Deux Magots, Café de Floré and Café Le Procope are historical landmarks, there are numerous other establishments perfect for sipping an espresso and watching the parade go by. If you prefer to go to a no-frills Paris cafe, try the Café de la Mairie right on the square. Or, make your way over to the busy crossroads of Carrefour de Buci, where you can also stroll by flower markets, and boutiques.
Perhaps you'd prefer to read a book while you sip your cafe? St. Germain is the neighborhood in which to find unique and delightful bookstores. Librairie Taschen is worth checking out for cheap, high-quality art books (2 Rue de Buci). If you speak French you will delight in the offerings at L'Ecume des Pages (174 bd Saint-Germain).
So Much to See, How Does One Choose?
St.Germain is replete with so many landmarks and attractions, it is likely, whatever your interest, you will find more than enough to entertain your eyes, ears, and palate. A walk down the rue Bonaparte will lead you to the École des Beaux Arts, the historic School of Fine Arts in Paris. At the turn of the century, this was the most prestigious art academy in the world. Delacroix, Fragonard, Ingres, Degas, Monet and Renoir, were some of the notables to pass through here before anyone knew their names.
The elegant Baroque Church de St.-Suplice, standing in a fountain adorned square, is a must-see for lovers of art and architecture. The plain facade, modeled on Wren's St. Paul's Cathedral in London, was designed by Florentine architect G. N. Servandoni. In the first side chapel are frescoes by Eugène Delacroix. The church regularly hosts organ concerts filling the space with the exquisite tone of its renowned 18th-century Clicquot organ. Once your auditory needs are satisfied, don't forget to satisfy your stomach with pastries from Pâtisserie Pierre Herme (72 Rue Bonaparte) and Pâtisserie Gérard-Mulot (76 Rue de Seine). They are considered to have some of the most delicious desserts in Paris.
More than Just What You See
Some say the best way to explore a neighborhood is by foot. One of the walking tours geared towards discovering this area's incomparable food offerings is "Baguette to Bistro: Culinary Traditions of Paris," a group walk featuring some of the city's finest food shops led by a chef or food journalist. You might learn the best technique for telling baguettes apart at Eric Kayser, one of Paris' best bakeries. Or, perhaps, you'll have a chat with a wine seller over a small aperitif, or marvel at the perfect culinary creations available at Dalloyau. Pay special attention when you pass by two of the city's top establishments: Gaya by Pierre Gagnaire (44 Rue du Bac) and l'Atelier Joel Robuchon (Hôtel du Pont Royal (Angle rue du Bac). The walk ends at the Grand Epicerie of the Bon Marche department store (24 Rue de Sèvres).
And Don't Forget the Music
If you'd like to experience another part of the history of St. Germain, spend some time at Café Laurent. Opened by François Laurent in 1690, it has been frequented by many distinguished intellectuals, philosophers and jazz musicians. The cafe puts on Jazz concerts every Wednesday and Saturday and can be found hidden on the ground floor of the hotel l'Aubusson. Be forewarned, the atmosphere is trés chic and the check will be trés chère (expensive).
For another type of experience try Caveau des Légendes. Located on the historic rue Jacob, it is "a medieval tavern lit by iron lanterns hung from a vaulted ceiling and candelabras on the stone walls." There are musical nights featuring jazz from the 1950's to the present. Visit on Wednesday, and you will be treated to "clairvoyant night." The tarot readings are optional.
Take note: If you happen to be visiting this area at the end of May through the beginning of June, the neighborhood "plays" host to the Jazz Festival of Saint-Germain-de- Prés, a "must-hear" for every jazz and world music lover.
Don't Stop Now
• Stroll through the Beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg - a favorite of joggers and tennis aficionados. You may also catch an old-fashioned game of Boule (Rue de Vaugirard, Boulevard St. Michel, Rue Auguste-Comte and Rue Guyneme).
• Visit the Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe (Place de l'Odéon) one of France's six national Theatres.
• On the rue de Seine, explore some of the high-end art galleries specializing in 19th and 20th century masters, prints, and photographs (Place de l'Odéon). Make sure to stop at the Musée d'Orsay, home to a world-class collection of Impressionist paintings in a converted Belle Époque railway station on the Seine (1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneu).
• Save time for the Musée National Eugène Delacroix - sketches & paintings by enigmatic artist Delacroix, displayed in his house, studio & small museum (6 Rue de Furstenberg).
• Experience the Galerie Kamel Mennour's grand premises in a hôtel particulier(townhouse). Past shows have featured a cross-generational mix, such as Claude Lévêque, France's representative at the 2009 Venice Biennale and Huang Yong-Ping (47 rue Saint-André des Arts).
• Check out a bevy of "uber" fashionable shops like Louis Vuitton, (170 Boulevard Saint-Germain) Christian Dior (38 Rue de Sèvres) and Sonia Rykiel (175 Boulevard Saint-Germain). Or, leave some euros at Ralph Lauren (173 Boulevard St.Germain), or Giorgio Armani (149 Boulevard St. Germain) - they both have their own adjoining restaurants for you to replenish your energy after you shop.
Words fail when trying to do justice to the rich history and pulsating present of this quintessentially Parisian neighborhood. It is an area meant to be experienced through all of your senses. If you choose to stay here, you will return home with a full understanding and appreciation of the Parisian way of life.
Vacation rentals in Saint Germain des Pres