For a leisurely weekend soaking up the atmosphere, make for the Left Bank to the south of the stunning River Seine. This used to be the bohemian cultural centre of Paris, drawing artists, writers and philosophers as well as students from all over the world. Today there’s rather less philosophy but the charm of the past underpins today’s Parisian chic.
City of Dreams
To get a flavour of Paris of the past and present, there is nowhere better than the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank. It’s picturesque, atmospheric and buzzing, with countless enticing shops, cafés and restaurants. Admire it first from the Île de la Cite in the middle of the River Seine. Stand in front of the lovely Notre Dame Cathedral with its wonderful rose window and tall steeple soaring up to the sky. Look up at the gargoyles and you can easily imagine hunchbacked Quasimodo swinging down the bell ropes to rescue the beautiful Esmeralda...
Cross over to the Left Bank, looking down from the bridge to the bateaux-mouches sightseeing boats below. From the quai, make a detour into Rue de la Bûcherie to see quirky Shakespeare & Company, the iconic English language bookshop and library that featured in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.
Plunge further into the heart of the student Latin Quarter, home of the historic Sorbonne and other prestigious institutes of learning and of the wonderful Jardin des Plantes, the country’s main botanical garden. In the Middle Ages when well-heeled students from all over Europe studied and socialised here, Latin was the common language. Today students still come, although most are from more mainstream backgrounds and are more likely to speak English than Latin. They still surge around the Place and Boulevard St Michel (and you’ll see that the metro station still has its enchanting art deco entrance and sign) and neighbouring streets, which are lined with student bookshops and cafés. There are also countless small Vietnamese, Moroccan and other African restaurants offering traditional dishes at modest prices.
Students and tourists fill the pavement cafés here and in fashionable Boulevard Saint Germain. Many of the cafés still have traditional wicker chairs and zinc topped tables. Stop awhile and drink in the atmosphere with your coffee as you people-watch.
For a calm stroll through some stunning gardens, make for the Jardins de Luxembourg, the second largest park in Paris, with its stunning statues, monuments, fountains (look out for the fabulous Medici fountain) and water features. It’s a paradise for adults seeking calm and for children who appreciate traditional entertainment – there’s a vintage carousel, a lake for sailing model boats and sometimes even a puppet show. The garden is a charming reminder of Paris of the past.