Unusual Paris: unique spots you’ll not find in city-guides – Part 2
August 8, 2016
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As we’ve seen in this post, it is still possible to discover a lot of unknown places, streets and hideouts around Paris, away of the crowded main attractions and famous spots.
This time we’ll dive in the mythical “Rive Gauche”, the left bank. The historical place for intellectuals, Universities and bohemian life…
–Yes, you’ll be able to brag about these places later, too–
Let’s start on the eastern side of the 13 eme arrondissement.
1- La Butte aux Cailles
Meaning “The Hill of Quails”, this is one of the lesser-known neighborhoods in the city, not invaded yet by modernity or tourists.
Standing out among the beautiful cobblestoned streets, tiny houses and Art Nouveau architecture, and the omnipresent graffitis work of local artists, are the quiet Place Paul Verlaine –housing a 19th century spring-drinkable water well– and the Art-Nouveau pool opened in 1924, which also recives the water from the well–.
–Metro Place d’Italie–
2- Square René Le Gall
This Art Deco greeny square, also known as the Jardin des Gobelins, was built in 1937 over the underground river Bièvre (Beaver) –flowing from the south of the city, its section crossing through the 13th and 5th arrondissements was totally covered in 1912–.
An enjoyable place with its square flower beds, the geometric rose garden with four mini concrete pavilions and an obelisk, and a fake Baroque grotto on the Rue de Croulebarbe entrance.
3- Arènes de Lutèce
The ruins of this amphitheater of the Gaulo-Roman era –built between 1st and 2nd centuries DC– were discovered in 1869 during the excavations of Haussmann’s urban reform, becoming a visible sample of the ancient history of the city in the middle of the 19th century buildings.
Gladiator fights, games and theatre plays were carried here, with a capacity for more than 15,000 spectators.
Today, it’s a place for Parisians to play less bloody but still popular games like football and petanque.
4- Place de la Contrescarpe
Heart of the Mouffetard district, this square was formed in 1852 close to the ancient gate Bordet, part of the rampart enclosure of Philippe Auguste.
The many dancing halls and cabarets surrounding it, made this square the place for amusement and gathering for the people of the neighborhood.
Today those cabarets and halls were replaced by lively bars and cafes, still gathering neighbors and visitors.
5- Metro Cluny-La Sorbonne
Named after the Hôtel de Cluny –now Musée de Cluny– the station was first opened in 1930, closed in 1939, and reopened in 1988 incorporating “La Sorbonne” to its name.
Its main attractive are the beautiful, brightly colored mosaics on the ceilings. The most famous and important piece being artist Jean Bazaine’s “Les Oiseaux” (The Birds).
Also, written on the curved ceiling are the names of important French former neighbors of the Quartier, like Richelieu, Robespierre, Molière and Rabelais.
6- Musée national du Moyen Age
The National Museum of Middle Ages, better known as Musée Cluny, contains one of the most complete medieval art and crafts collections in the world.
Its privileged location in the heart of the Latin Quarter includes the ruins of the Gaul-Roman baths of Lutetia –from the late 1st century–, a private mansion built in the second half of the 15th century –l’Hôtel des abbés de Cluny, or just Hotel de Cluny– and a medieval-inspired garden almost hidden from the surrounding streets.
7- Medieval Sain Germain
Rue Galande will be our access to this small area, one of the few remnants of Paris’ Medieval times, among the wide and busy avenues.
Opened in 1202 between the Rue St. Julien le Pauvre and a corner of the Place Maubert, this is one of the oldest streets of the left bank: origins can be traced back to Roman times, when it was part of the road between Lutetia –Paris– and Lugdunum –Lyon–.
Our route continues for another ancient Gallo-Roman road, Rue Saint-Severin.
Another one of the old and most picturesque streets in the district, which got its name after the church it borders.
We follow by Rue de la Harpe and rightward by Rue de la Huchette.
Finally, we arrive to Rue du Chat qui Pêche.
With a width of 1.8 and a length of 29 meters, the “Street of the Fishing Cat” looks like just a tiny lane between two buildings, but is actually the narrowest street in Paris.
Built in 1540, it was originally an alley to access the banks of the Seine, long before the docks were built.
Behind its odd name lays an old, grim legend involving alchemy and –quite obviously– a fishing-skilled black cat.
Time to cross the river Seine towards the historical heart of the city: the Île de la Cité, settled about 2,000 years ago by a tribe of fishermen –the Parisii–.
8- Medieval Île de la Cité
After the mandatory visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, we follow through Rue d’Arcole for a short walk through this small area where traces of medieval Paris are still preserved: low houses, narrow cobbled streets and ancient lampposts …
Our path follows by Rue Chanoinesse where we’ll find the old inn Au Vieux Paris founded in 1594, turning left by the narrow Rue des Chantres towards Rue des Ursins, then turning right in Rue de la Colombe, and again to the left in Quai aux Fleures.
9- Marché aux Fleurs
The flower market located on Place Louis Lépine has been a traditional landmark for locals and tourists since the early 19th century.
Occupying vast open-air stands and the cast–iron Art Nouveau pavilions, the market exhibits seasonal and exotic flowers, orchids, and potted shrubs.
At the Cité station entrance we find the chance to admire one of the last original Hector Guimard Art Nouveau Métro signs.
In 2014, the market added “Reine Elizabeth II” to its name, after the Queen’s visit to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
10- Place Dauphine
In 1609 King Henry IV (my favorite among the French kings) commissioned the construction of this square for his son Louis, the Dauphin –heir to the throne–, who later became Louis XIII.
Over time the name of the square was “feminized” to Dauphine –I have no clue why–.
Surrounded by quaint cafes, and baroque buildings with stone and brick walls and slate roofs, the triangular shape of the square symbolizes the nation with the aroyal figure as head of it.
Leaving the square towards the Pont Neuf, we’ll immediately notice the equestrian statue of King Henry IV, rising above our next destination.
11- Square du Vert-Galant.
Vert-Galant –green gallant– was the nickname the people of Paris gave to King Henri IV, due to his characteristic philander spirit.
Filled with trees and vegetation, with amazing views of the Seine and the Musée du Louvre, this tiny square built in tribute to the King –and his many mistresses– was designated in 2007 Espace Vert Écologique (ecological green space).
We’ll leave the island through the Pont Neuf –paradoxically meaning “New Bridge”, but actually the oldest and one of the most famous bridges in Paris– towards Saint Germain.
12- Place de Furstenberg
One of the tiniest squares in Paris, a few steps away from the noisy and crowded Boulevard Saint Germain.
Discreet and charming, this is one of the most romantic places of Paris, either when the paulownias are blooming in spring, or when the fallen leaves cover the floor in autumn. And especially at night when the lights of the chandelier–style street lamp turn on.
It was not by chance that the famous painter Eugène Delacroix chose this place to install his studio -and home- in 1857.
13- Maison Deyrolle
Another place I’ve only discovered after watching a movie –this time Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”–.
Founded in 1831,Maison Deyrolle is perhaps the most famous house in Paris devoted to entomology and taxidermy. Both a unique museum and a retail shop, it exhibits a wide collection of wild animals and a specialized book-shop at the street level. Back in 2008 La Maison was victim of a fierce fire, that destroyed much of the content of its galleries. Thanks to the help of charity auctions and people’s donations, the Maison was reopened in 2009, completely restored and refurbished.
Photo: www.deyrolle.com @DR
Photo: www.deyrolle.com @Parisian Days
Due to its vast experience and rich history, the Maison received in 2010 the label of Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (Enterprise of Living Heritage), an acknowledge as prominent representative of French heritage.
14- Metro Varenne (Line 13)
Like the Louvre-Rivoli station, this is also an art–devoted one, with the permanent display of replicas of the works exhibited in the nearby Rodin Museum.
Quite predictable, the centerpiece is the replica of Rodin’s famous sculpture Le Penseur (the Thinker) –which, by the way, was originally named The Poet, after Dante Alighieri–.
So, while waiting for your train to arrive you can take a rest on the station’s benches, watching and enjoying the exhibited sculptures for free.
15- Petite Ceinture
The Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture (“little belt”) was a circular railway built under Napoleon III (between 1852–1869), to connect the main railway stations located inside the fortified walls that surrounded the city.
Finally abandoned in the 1970’s, the free advance of nature led to the growth of a wide urban biodiversity.
Up to mid-2016, four sections were gradually open to the public:
– The first one in the 16eme arrondissement, between Porte d’Auteuil and Gare de la Muette.
– Later, a 200 meters-long trail in the 12eme arrondissement, accessible from 21 Rue Rottembourg.
– A 1,5 kilometers-long path in the 15eme arrondissement between Place Balard and Rue Olivier de Serres, with the entrance at 99 Rue Olivier de Serres.
– The last one in the 13eme arrondissement, opened in September 2015, running from Charles Trenet garden to Moulin de la Pointe garden. Access is at 60 Rue Damesme.
16- Rue des Thermopyles
One of the most beautiful but lesser-known cobblestoned streets in Paris, perhaps because it is way off the most crowded neighborhoods.
A quiet and peaceful 280 meters-long paved path, sided by low buildings with colorful doors and façades covered by wisterias and vines.
As most of these calm verdant passages and streets, it’s better to visit in Spring when the flowers are fully blooming.
–14eme arrondissement, Metro Pernety – (Line 13)–
Usual time for food and drinks, so let’s see a few of the many great places we can find in these side of the Seine.
– Café Laurent
Discretely hidden on the ground floor of the luxury Hotel l’Aubusson, it is great for a gorgeous afternoon tea or coffee, and even better for a Jazz concert night.
Noteworthy at this little-known cafe is “Le Grand Salon”, a majestic place with huge ceiling beams, antique furniture and a monumental fireplace.
During the hot season don’t miss the intimate terrace, with privileged views of the Latin Quarter skyline.
Opened by François Laurent in 1690, its saloons were frequented by several generations of intellectuals and influential people like Voltaire, Rousseau, Sartre or Camus.
33 Rue Dauphine, 6eme arrondissement
Starting in 1845 as a crémerie –dairy products sale–, it became a full-fledged restaurant by the end of the 19th century.
Remaining almost unchanged since those times, the salons’ décor keeps the classic wood paneling, huge mirrors, and glass-shaded lamps.
A highlight: the blackboard announcing that the house “no longer accepts checks or credit cards since 1845”.
Yes, we’ll have to be aware that this is a cash-only place. And be ready to share the long-communal tables with the other clients.
Food is certainly not on the inventive side, but solid traditional cuisine.
A final paragraph for the toilettes, so you’ll not be surprised.
They’re nowadays a rarity of other times –thank God–: the ancient “loo” style toilet without a seat…
41 Rue Monsieur le Prince, 6eme arrondissement
– Chez L’Ami Jean
This small and vibrant bistro is often acclaimed as the best one in Paris.
I cannot give that for granted, but it is for sure the oldest Basque restaurant in the city, opened in 1931.
Today, the talented chef Stéphane Jego offers his hedonistic version of a Basque menu, in a lively traditional –and minuscule– bistro setting.
Expect to spend more than a few euros here, since it’s not on the cheap side.
27 Rue Malar, 7eme arrondissement
– Je, The… Me
With its own place in the register of the directory of historical monuments of Paris, this former grocery -we can still see the old shelves covering the walls- has become a small, cozy bistro, where the cuisine of chef Jacky Larsonneur exhibits its distinct character.
Today it’s not as little-known as a few years ago, thanks to its appeareance in the TV show of the mediatic chef Anthony Bourdain.
4 Rue d’Alleray, 15eme arrondissement
Are you interested in discovering other Parisian places out of the tourist guides and main attractions?
I’ll include more beautiful and discreet places in future posts.
Mail me or leave your comment below and let me know what kind of places you prefer: streets and alleyways, markets, squares and parks, art-related spots and museums, restaurants and speakeasies?
As always, don’t wait for a “better” time, start preparing your next trip right now, and keep in mind:
“Life is about the journey, and not the destination”.