On my first trip to Paris in 1976, a number of people said I must visit the Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood on the Left Bank/Le Rive Gauche. I was told it was quintessential Paris, filled with outdoor cafes, beautiful architecture, chic fashion boutiques, lush gardens and squares, and charming hotels. I more than took their advice and booked my hotel in the heart of Saint Germain. Once I arrived, I was smitten, and everything I was told about the neighborhood was way beyond what I expected. For the next 20 years (before I moved to the city permanently), Saint Germain remained my go-to place when I traveled to Paris. Below is a list of my favorite places and attractions there.
Cafe De Flore And Cafe Les Deux Magots
Just a few doors down from my hotel, on the Boulevard Saint Germain, were the legendary and historic Cafe De Flore and Cafe Les Deux Magots. It was at the Cafe de Flore that I savored my first dark and bitter cup of French coffee and tasted my first croissant. I still vividly remember it being so flaky that I had to spend 10 minutes brushing the crumbs off my clothes. The best part was sitting on the sidewalk and admiring the chicly dressed Parisian women and well-groomed men walking by. For much of the 20th century, both cafes were the places where artists, writers, poets, and musicians would gather. Picasso, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Alice B. Toklas were fixtures at the cafes in the 1920s and 1930s, followed by the intellectual literary set such as Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean Paul Sartre in the 1940s and ’50s, and in the 1960s and 70s, Brigitte Bardot, Miles Davis, Yves Montand, Jean Seberg, Yves Saint Laurent, and Jean Paul Belmondo were frequently sighted.
Once the domain of Maria de Medici from the Italian royal Medici family, the sumptuous Luxembourg Gardens is a splendid place to spend a morning or afternoon. The 60-acre public park was part of the Luxembourg Palace, which was built in 1612. A bounty of activities and sites await you including a puppet show, tennis courts, a bee apiary, which produces honey, a pond where you can rent a boat to float in, a historic statue garden with sculptures of all the queens of France, chess tables, and a carousel. You can also relax on a classic, green metal park chair under a tree in the glorious Medici Fountain or admire the flowers, exotic plants, and trees.
Le Bon Marche And La Grande Epicerie
Take a stroll through the most elegant department store in Paris, Le Bon Marche, where the chicest Parisians shop. Chanel, Balenciaga, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, and Dior are among the high fashion brands sold at Le Bon Marche, along with more casual brands such as Chloe, Vanessa Bruno, and Isabel Marant. Discover how French women maintain their almost no-makeup look at the beauty and cosmetics counters. Le Bon Marche also has an extensive men’s clothing department, cool clothes and toys for kids, and a fabulous home furnishings and tabletop department.
In a separate building adjacent to Le Bon Marche are their legendary food halls, La Grande Epicerie. Stocked with an astounding selection of French and international gourmet food products, do not visit on an empty stomach, or you will risk having an empty wallet.
Tour the various departments including fresh, local seafood, which also has fresh oysters you can eat on the spot, French cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, Comte, and goat, dreamy pastries baked on the premises, prepared foods, an Iberian ham bar, a dairy department with over 50 kinds of yogurt, a butcher, fresh-baked breads, and even a section with over 50 brands of bottled water.
Saint Sulpice Church
The second-largest church in Paris after Notre Dame, Saint Sulpice is a lesser-known but equally significant church. The original church on the site was built in the 13th century, but the current church was constructed in 1646, and it’s a Baroque and Romanesque architectural gem. The impressive limestone facade has Roman, Doric, and Ionic columns, and inside, the side chapels have extraordinary murals, including the above-mentioned Eugene Delacroix pieces. The Grand Organ is one of the most famous in the world, and prestigious organists are invited to play the organ for the frequent concerts held in the church.
Saint Sulpice is a Roman Catholic church and still has regular daily mass. Parts of the book The Davinci Code took place in Saint Sulpice, and a facsimile was used in the film.
Just across the square from where Le Bon Marche is located, is the grand Hotel Lutetia. The Art Nouveau masterpiece sculpted in limestone was constructed in 1910 and owned by the Le Bon Marche specifically to house their wealthy clientele traveling from abroad. It was the first large-scale hotel to be built on the Left Bank, and in 2018, the hotel reopened after a multi-million-euro renovation. The least expensive room costs approximately $1,000 a night, so if that’s not in your budget, enjoy a drink or snack at the Bar Josephine, named after Josephine Baker, who frequently stayed at the hotel, or a meal at the Le Saint Germain Lounge. You could also try an aromatherapy massage at their spa. Former VIP guests include Picasso, Charles DeGaulle, Peggy Guggenheim, and James Joyce, who wrote part of Ulysses in the hotel.
Eugene Delacroix Museum
Hidden in a courtyard behind a set of enormous doors is the Eugene Delacroix Museum. The museum is the former home and studio of the artist who lived there in the early to mid-1800s. Delacroix painted one of his most significant works, three murals: The Battle of Jacob with the Angel, Saint Michael Slaying the Dragon, and The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple at the nearby Saint Sulpice Church. The museum features a large number of Delacroix’s paintings, and drawings, prints, and writings are on display, as well as some of his personal possessions. There’s also a lovely garden in the back of the museum.
Called the Picasso of pastry by a food critic and using it as his hashtag, #picassoofpastry, Pierre Herme more than deserves the title with his innovative pastry creations. His most popular treats are his macarons, especially his more dating flavors such as passion fruit and chocolate, caviar, foie gras, lychee, olive oil, and grapefruit. Other outstanding Pierre Herme pastries include a vanilla tart, a hazelnut and praline Millefeuille, a caramel tart, a passion fruit and orange cheesecake, and my personal favorite: a sugar-glazed croissant with bits of candied raspberry. Pick up a box of their excellent chocolates as a gift.
For more Paris inspiration, consider 9 Adorable Outdoor Cafes In Paris With Fantastic Views and 9 Reasons Why Montmartre Is My Favorite Neighborhood In Paris.