The Must-See Saint-Germain-des-Prés

4 minutes of reading
article published on 21/04/2023

It’s time for a little tour through one of the most classically charming neighborhoods of the capital: Saint-Germain-de-Prés. Have you heard of it? It’s the little village in the big city with history around every corner, famous inhabitants, monuments, and a variety of beautiful streets, including some avenues where shopping is truly a way of life. Throw in the chic bistros and fabulous restaurants, and you’re guaranteed to never have a dull moment in this neighborhood where art, culture, and heritage blend flawlessly. We’re taking you to the enchanting Saint-Germain-de-Prés… direction rive gauche!

Saint-Germain-Des-Prés : Atmosphere, Charm and Heritage

But first, why is “Saint-Germain-des-Prés” named thus?

Ready to go back in time? Childebert I, son of Clovis, founded the Abbey of Saint Vincent. In 543, Childebert began to seek the counsel of a bishop named Germain, and to commemorate him after his death, the abbey was renamed the Church of Saint Germain des Prés. When you climb the stairs of the Parisian metro to exit the conveniently named Saint-Germain-des-Prés metro station, the first thing you’ll notice is the sweet smell of roasted chestnuts that wafts through this specific corner in colder months. Turn to your right, and you’ll find yourself in front of the church in all its glory. Make sure you go inside; its nave is one of the last testaments to the beauty of Romanesque art in Paris.

Art is ever-present in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which explains why the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts stands proudly on rue Bonaparte, with art galleries dotting the neighboring streets. Staying on our artistic theme rive gauche and rive droite (left bank and right bank, respectively) are connected by the Pont des Arts, which connects the Institut de France with the Académie Française, and the Palais du Louvre, formerly called the Palais des Arts. Pont des Arts, the first metal bridge in Paris, was built in 1804 and is also connected to more than a few legends…curious about which ones? Rewind will tell you all about them here. The Pont des Arts has always had a romantic ambiance to it. Up until 2015, lovers sealed their love eternal with padlocks along the bridge’s railings. It’s also famous for its relaxed, chic atmosphere in the summer, warm summer breezes, people taking pictures, wanderers enjoying the view, lovers basking in the sunshine, and foodies indulging in picnics along the famous banks of the Seine. The icing on the cake? Artists and musicians enchant everyone with their beautiful paintings and sweet melodies day and night. #ladolcevita

This chic neighborhood is also home to the famous Boulevard Saint-Germain, lined with a flurry of stores, gates covered in crawling ivy, and a slew of restaurants and terraces that entice you to stay for hours sipping a glass of wine.

Not far away, you’ll find the Italian Restaurant Marcello (like Marcello Mastroianni), slinging ravioli, croquettes, mozza, and charcuterie selections all day long.

By now, you’ve got it. The 6th arrondissement is not lacking in charm. It’s even adorned with numerous charming bookstores, narrow cobbled streets and impasses, hidden squares to be explored, notably the Place Fürstenberg, and even some luxurious gardens, such as the Jardin du Luxembourg, with its wealth of fountains, statues (even a Statue of Liberty), and gorgeous ponds. Yes, charm is all around you here, but you’ll also find juicy historical gossip. Does Joséphine de Bauharnais, Napoleon’s crush, or Madame Claude, the famous madam of the 1960s, mean anything to you? These scandals were born in this area and left their mark on it. Rewind has done some research on them just for you, here (+ link Girls on fire in the Latin Quarter). Press ON, and let yourself be guided while following their fascinating story.

As far as shopping is concerned, there won’t be slim pickings: shops, local businesses, and luxury boutiques such as Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior… have flourished and still thrive there. Of course, we can’t forget the famous Bon Marché, at one time a simple haberdashery and not the icon of shopping that we know today. However, times have changed, and lovers of trendy brands will find a treasure trove of fashion there!

Who were the famed inhabitants in Saint-Germain-des-Prés?

This part of Paris is known for locals and those who called this neighborhood home during their artistic ventures. At one time, many artists, writers, and poets, including Balzac, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Sand, Manet, and Delacroix, all frequented the local cafés and terraces. With Montmartre (+link), it was THE spot for artists in Paris. And yes, even Picasso and Maurice Utrillo had studios here. The 6th became “the place to be” in the artistic sphere. Speaking of Delacroix, the artist has a museum in his name: the Eugène Delacroix National Museum, where you can see his apartment and his studio just a few steps from the legendary Saint-Sulpice church.

In the 20th century, during the Second World War, artists met in cafés, which became a sort of headquarters for them since they were the only places where they could easily meet with friends. Among the most famous Les Deux Magots, the Brasserie Lipp with its sublime mosaics and frescoes, and the Café de Flore made famous thanks to Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. They and their friends used to talk philosophy and literature there. And some of the couple’s works were written in this café. We realize we may be talking a lot about coffee here, but don’t worry, we’ve got tea people covered too! If you’re more of a tea person, Arnaud, founder of Thé-ritoires, is there for you to discover his delicious teas and sip your tea of choice in one of his classic checkered armchairs, surrounded by a genuinely British ambiance.

A creative whirlwind animates Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and one of the keystone places in the neighborhood’s history is a hotel by the name of La Louisiane, where many creative geniuses passed through over the years: the singer Juliette Gréco, the musician Miles Davis, the painter Salvador Dali, the sculptor Alberto Giacometti… Even today, the hotel welcomes celebrities such as famous directors Jane Campion and Quentin Tarantino.

At the time, the theater also had a vibrant presence in the area, notably thanks to Samuel Beckett or Jean Cocteau. And let’s not forget the music scene, with Léo Ferré, Charles Aznavour or Charles Trenet… Finally, if one day, while strolling along, you come across a house whose facade is covered with graffiti, it’s probably Serge Gainsbourg’s. This private mansion of 135 square meters (about 1,400 feet) hasn’t changed a bit since the artist’s death.

In the 60s, luxury and fashion also found their place on the left bank. Beautiful brands such as Sonia Rykiel or Yves Saint Laurent settled there. So chic!

As you can see, Saint-Germain-des-Prés is one of Paris’s art, culture, and luxury hot spots for a good reason. Its mesmerizing monuments, elegant shops, bustling streets, and super Instagrammable gardens and squares make it one of Paris’s most popular and visited places. Looking for a universe that mixes heritage, historical visits, shopping, and gastronomy? Look no further!

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