The name evokes dreams! For some, it is the image, the very spirit of Paris. The Paris of artists, studying at the majestic Ecole des Beaux Arts; the Paris of writers, drinking on the terraces of Flore and Deux Magots; the Paris of party-goers, who used to cram into Tabou and now into Montana; the Paris of romantic lovers coming to kiss on Place Fürstenberg... In truth, every Paris is here – and everyone chooses their own.
The intimate layout of the former enclosure of the arrogant St Germain des Prés abbey never ceases to amaze. A treasure trove nestles on each side of the beautiful boulevard Saint Germain. And it’s difficult to know where to start because everything is beautiful.
Is there a more beautiful view of Paris than the Institut de France opening onto the Pont de Arts and the Louvre? Is there anywhere more delightful to visit than the Musée Delacroix, nestled in Place Fürstenberg? Is there any street narrower and prettier than rue Visconti, where Racine died? Is there any mansion more irresistible than the one on rue des Beaux Arts, dear to Wilde and Borges? Is there any neo-classical building more beautiful than the imposing Monnaie de Paris? And what about the quays, flooded with sunshine and history, which have been on first name terms with Vert Galant and the Louvre since the dawn of time.
In fact, Saint-Germain-des-Prés is not a just a neighbourhood, it is a state of mind.
There is something for every taste and every mood. A cheese-cake in the hidden Heure Gourmande, passage Dauphine; a dive into the superb Vuitton store at the corner of rue St Benoît; a book bought on a whim at eleven o'clock in the evening at the Ecume des Pages after a few glasses of Pouilly Fumé at the Flore; enthusiastic students leaving Penninghen school of art clutching their sketch pads; members of the Académie Française in their distinctive green embroidered uniforms hurrying to write their dictionaries on a Thursday afternoon; a sandwich with Poilâne bread eaten in the Chai de l’Abbaye; Indian fabrics at Simrane, unlikely artists in rue de Seine galleries, innumerable restaurants that celebrate the joys of a Paris that never sleeps...
For a view over an unchanged St Germain des Prés, just stop off at the Brasserie Lipp, for a weekday lunch. Politics, publishing, cinema, the media, all rub shoulders on the benches where their elders did the same over a century ago.