The heart of cafe culture in Paris – Saint Germain

Jazz music whispers softly out of well-placed speakers as the neighboring table to the right debates the best route to take to the Louvre, and the woman to the left leafs through Le Monde, glazing over articles with such haste that you suspect her of waiting on a secret lover or private eye. Whoever he is, he arrives, dressed in snug jeans, a black sweater, sunglasses and a scarf and oozes fashion as he slides gracefully into the seat next to the woman, and she places the newspaper on round cafe table and reaches suddenly nonchalantly for her espresso.

Ah, people watching at a cafe…

Sure you will visit the Louvre, the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, but if you have not spent the day in a cafe in Saint Germain people watching, you have not experienced the true feeling of Paris. There is no area better for this ultimate Parisian experience than Saint-Germain.  Sartre held his heated discussions on existentialism at Cafe de Flore (on Saint-Germain Boulevard and Le Tabou (rue Dauphine),where Simone de Beavoir and Albert Camus were also known to hang, while Hemingway soaked up the atmosphere at Brasserie Lipp right nearby. Though unlikely you would run in to Picasso or Sartre today, you will run elbows with rich and famous, fashionable bigwigs, artists both staving and commissioned, wiry intellectual types and of course, fellow tourists,  in the cafes of Saint-Germain, located on the Left Bank (Rive Gauche) across the Seine from the Tuileries.

While your conversation may more match those of the group next to you debating directions to the next attraction, you can lose yourself in thought imagining what it would have been like to frequent Le Deux Magot at the same time as the writers of the ‘Lost Generation’ of the 20s and 30s and the existentialists who together transformed 20th century thought. The world’s first coffeehouse, Le Procope was built in 1686, but don’t expect any coffee at this venue in the Rue de l’Ancienne-Comedie, unless it accompanies your meal at the fine dining restaurant in its place.

You can easily book an apartment in Saint-Germain in order to take advantage of this, the heart of cafe culture in Paris. In addition to being near some of the most famous and interesting cafes in Paris, the Saint-Germain area has some of the best museums, restaurants, galleries and shops in the City of Lights.

This carefree and relaxed area of Paris lies in the 6th arrondissement, and is one of the best areas to book an apartment in to experience Paris as a local during your time in the city. This is the best neighborhood to wander without a plan, so explore the area freely.  If you head east you’ll hit the Musee D’Orsay, the eastern border before hitting Invalides and the Eiffel Tower quarter, to the north you can wander until the river Seine, to the south you arrive at the Luxembourg quarter, while the Latin Quarter borders Saint-Germain to the West.

Your centre of gravity is the Boulevard Saint-Germain, a major thoroughfare you will crisscross several times,  and the most important part of Baron Hausmann’s renovation of Paris in the 1850s and 1860s. The wide boulevard with spacious sidewalks made the cafe culture possible, replacing numerous small streets which still jut out in places in small, aimless sections. Boulevard Saint-Germain has high end shopping available such as Armani , Rykiel and Zadig et Voltaire and nearby you can find the Institut d’Etudes Politques on Boulevard Raspail, which is one of the finest political science schools in Europe.   Saint-Germain played a notable role in American politics, as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams signed the Treaty of Paris here to recognise the independence of US colonies.

Dont be afraid to stray off the main Boulevard and lose yourself in the maze of tiny streets between Boulevard St German and the Seine where you will find everything from retro clothes shops to antique shops. You might first shuffle along Rue Princesse and hop in to the Village Voice English language bookstore. It was the intellectual bookstores in Saint-Germain which attracted T.S. Elliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound, along with Parisians Andre Gide and Paul Valery.

Perhaps you pass the Rue de Grenelle and its excellent market Marche de Grenelle.  At 6, rue de Fuerstenberg, dip in to the Musee Eugene Delacroix, where the romantic painter lived between 1857-1863 to be near his work at the St-Sulpice Church on the Place Saint-Sulpice – a church only slightly smaller than Notre Dame and the second largest in the city.

Saint-Germain mixes the intellectual with art, fashion and riches, the latter can be seen at the money museum – the Musee de la Monnaie, at 11 Quai de Conti. The former French mint now houses an extensive collection of historical coins and medallions.

Not quite original enough for you? How about the Musee de la Legion d’Honneur in 2, rue de Bellechasse – the only museum dedicated to the highest honors awarded by countries worldwide as well as an expansive collection of the art of gold and medals form orders of knighthood.

Hold on to your hat as you pass 9, Cour du Commerce St-Andre. Actually hold on to your head, as this is where Dr Guillotin put the final touches on the decapitating machine.

Don’t miss Arty Dandy in 1, rue de Furstenberg which offers arty objects considered ‘social metaphors’ for modern life, contemporary unqiue and limited edition pieces unlike any other shopping you’ll do in Paris.

La Boutique Assouline in 35, rue Bonaparte is a luxury bookshop, where it is possible to dedicate hours discovering lifestyle and fashion books, exclusive accessories and masculine indoor candles with scents such as pipe, cigar, wood and leather.

Just out the bookshop’s door you’ll stumble upon France’s leading school of fine art, Ecole Nationele Superieure des Beaux-Arts is quartered in the Palais des Etudes at 14, rue Bonaparte.

Hungry?  The Alcazar and Côté Bergamote are both trendy venues in Saint-Germain, or why not visit La Cremerie Caves Miard? The food market on Rue de Buci overflows with mouthwatering delights, and Fish La Boisonnerie has friendly, English-speaking staff serving up fresh fish and good wine. If you find yourself near the tourist office, why not take a load off at La Lozere for some very special three course oldfashioned French cooking.  Of course if you’ve fallen for the cafe imagery in the text above, then La Palette is a very authentic Parisian cafe around the corner from the Beaux-Arts. For a more upscale dining experience, La Rotisserie d’en Face on Rue Christine serves elegant eats with uber trendy diners. Allard on Rue Saint-André des Arts offers great food and Le Comptoir de Relais on 9 carrefour de l’Odéon is a casual yet very popular Brasserie.

How to get there:

Saint-Germain is served by the Metro – exit at Saint-Germain-des-Pres, Mabillion or Odeon for central locations in Saint-Germain.

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