Paris, summertime. This feeling of having Paris to yourself
Paris summertime! Go for an incredible walk in the only major metropolis in the world where everything stops from July 15 to August 15. A summer in Paris! The pleasure of being alone. To have the city to yourself. Choose the shady side of the streets in the overwhelming sunlight. Find some freshness in churches, palaces and ventilated terraces*. The Parisians are gone. Unconscious, they left the key to their city to anyone who wants to seize it. So enjoy it. Power is on vacation. The bakers are closed. Paris is empty. Everywhere it says: closed because of annual leave. So, give up your tourist rags. Usurp those of absent Parisians and leave without a guide, adrift in this city that is said to be the most beautiful in the world.
*Covid health pass. A Covid health pass is required this year for anyone over the age of 12 to enter a cinema, theatre, museum, concert, restaurant, café, or taking a long-distance train.
In Paris, place de la Concorde, the monarchy faces the Republic
You left le Jardin des Tuileries and went up the rue de Rivoli. Here is the emblematic Place de la Concorde where the people guillotined their king. In front of you, on the other side of the Seine, left bank, the Republic is represented by the National Assembly (the Chamber of Deputies). In your back, the Monarchy! It is symbolized by two huge palaces separated as it should be by the rue Royale leading to l’Eglise de la Madeleine. Their construction began in 1758. What were they intended for? Nothing. To make figuration! One of them will eventually serve as the Crown’s Furniture Store. There will be stored in particular the jewels of the Crown (stolen during the Revolution). This palace could have been as it was envisaged, the setting of the festivities of the marriage of the future Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. This was not the case. But it was opposite, at the site of the Obelisk, that they suffered the torment of the guillotine.
In 1789, the Ministry of The Marine settled there in a part of the Hotel. It will remain there until 2015 (from there comes the name that designates it today: hôtel de la marine). For a few years, it has been masterfully restored and luxuriously refurnished as it was in the eighteenth century. It has just opened to the public. Not being able to go to the Palace of Versailles, no doubt, it is here that you must go because l’hôtel de la marine is today, the most beautiful, the most incredible Palace of Paris. So, are you ready to experience an immersion in a great palace du siècle des Lumières ?
The Republic’s Holidays
We will leave the Madeleine church, take a right in the rue Royale, the famous rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, place of power on holiday. Indescribable show where the biggest luxury houses, Embassies, Banks (the Rothschild Bank in particular), 5-star hotels including the mythical Ritz, painting galleries … safely near the Presidential Palace of the Elysée Palace. Here, nothing is really closed but everything can be seen from afar, across the street. Only the superbly crafted grid of the Ministry of the Interior is approachable. Otherwise, circulate, there is almost nothing to see.
Palais de l’Elysé 55, rue du faubourg Saint-Honoré : absent for holidays
Very frequentable neighbours: on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, on the same sidewalk, you will pass the Residence of the U.S. Ambassador*. Even closer to the Elysée, the British Embassy. There is accosted, the Ambassador’s residence with its large park, rose garden, orangery and grand piano. Is it the discreet charm of an embassy that pleased Sir Winston Churchill so much. Yet the future under the rule of the very Francophile and French-speaking Boris Johnson is uncertain! No doubt it will be necessary to remove the “Great” of Britain (Brexit oblige!) if things “get worse” empire(nt) in french in the kingdom of his gracious majesty. Finally, at a block from the Elysée Palace, at 49 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the Colombian Embassy is located. No, it is not all smoke and mirrors. A dubious joke that only the French will understand with their expression: jeter de la poudre aux yeux (throw powder in the eyes).
*An Ambassador still not appointed by the administration of the new president.
The president at The Fort de Brégançon on the Mediterranean coast
Finally, here is the Elysée Palace. Its big gate is closed. The court of honour is empty. The police are watching. The president is on vacation. He took his summer quarters at the Fort of Brégançon* for a holiday that is said to be “quiet and studious”.
*The Fort of Brégançon is located on the shores of the Mediterranean, on the territory of the commune of Bormes-les-Mimosas in the department of Var.
The Pont Alexandre III, the most emblematic bridge in Paris
Then, by Avenue Marigny and under police surveillance, let’s go down to the Champs Elysées, marking a stop in front of the Grille du Coq, Avenue Gabriel (access to the very private garden of the Elysée Palace!). So here’s the most beautiful avenue in the world. Would there be a few scents of tear gas left? Not only this string of tricolour flags, a reminder of the arrival of the Tour de France or the impressive Military Parade of July 14th that impressed a Donald Trump va-t-en guerre. You could cross (a little attention anyway!) the Avenue at the beginning of august blindfolded to arrive at one of the most majestic perspectives of the capital. Imagine, between the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, this huge green breakthrough that leads to the Invalides. First you have to cross the Seine on the Alexandre III bridge, a masterpiece full of gilding and lampposts; a bridge that was intended to be the symbol of a Franco-Russian friendship (1891) as ephemeral as all the peace treaties of the Middle East. We’re now on the left bank. Let the two Chambres sleep (National Assembly and Senate). Besides, aren’t they on vacation?
Le Petit and le Grand Palais before crossing le Pont Alexandre III
Le Petit Palais framed by the girl on the trottinette and the statue of Churchill. Created for the Paris World’s Fair in 1900, le Petit Palais (Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris) in front of the Grand Palais presents works by Monet, Sisley, Courbet, Fragonard, Greuze… (Photo FC)
Le Pont Alexandre III (1900) is one of the most emblematic of the capital, due to its architecture and geographical location. Its four ends are flanked by monumental pylons 17 meters high, decorated at their top with golden bronze. They represent the Fame of Arts, Science, Commerce and Industry. This bridge connects the Grand and Petit Palais to the Invalides. To cross it is to enjoy a panoramic view especially of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine. For sure you’ll stop at the ice cream man in his old 4L and you’ll have some ice cream to lick at the end of the bridge (Photo FC)
“Under the Alexandre III bridge flows the Seine and our love. Shall I remember. how joy always followed grief?…”
Parody of Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem Mirabeau bridge (Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine…).
Passing the left bank
Passing left bank is the Paris of intellectuals, artists, cafes and surprising encounters (Paris, la bohème as we liked to say!). But at the corner of this huge esplanade of the Invalides and la rue de l’Université, the world is heard. A handful of irreducible Mauritanians, in the middle of summer, raise the voice, that of the black people of Mauritania led by their young and charismatic leader. For the public, two goofy policemen and a few stray tourists. On the megaphone, they demand justice: down with slavery (would it really be abolished in this country!), protest of the new president, questioning of a draft fisheries agreement with the Chinese and especially the infamous collusion between France and this shamed regime.
*The president Mohamed Ould El-Ghazouani was at the same time invested in 2019, despite a disputed election.
The deputies are on holiday and the nuns have given up their large garden
A few hundred meters away, a silence of lead reigns over the Chamber, Place du Palais Bourbon. The National Assembly is in the field (on holiday). If the doors are open it is for maintenance. And then, they are already thinking about the plan to reduce parliamentarians (a 25 % reduction in the number of MPs and senators and the introduction of 20 % proportional). But the slingshot is in motion led by Senators. They are said to be standing up against the reform. Many say they will not hold: age, political blur, lack of leaders…
“C’est un jardin extraordinaire ” (Charles Trenet)
Before joining them at the Palais du Luxembourg (15 minutes walk), let’s pass (it’s on the way) through one of the most secret gardens in Paris. Easy to find, it is on rue de Babylone, just behind the Hôtel Matignon, the Prime Minister’s residence and right next to Yves Saint Laurent’s house. This is Catherine Labouré’s very discreet, very wild garden. Imagine an orchard and a nuns’ vegetable garden in the heart of Paris. Eric is there, he is the volunteer gardener. He will tell you that the nuns gave up their huge garden at the request of a former President de la Republique and his very devout wife. Sadely deceased, but the French remember it to the point of putting him at the top of all the popularity polls (Photos FC)
Garçon, 2 cafés please, Le Flore and les Deux Magots and book me a room with a view at The Lutetia.
The Senate is much higher, normal for the Upper Chambre. It occupies the Luxembourg Palace and bon prince, he left to the pleb, free access to his garden. But before joining this illustrious institution (some wonder what it still does in the Republic), let us pass three lieux incontournabes of Parisian life. Hotel Lutetia is located in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district (it faces the Bon Marché). This hotel, which aspires to the title of Palace, has just been completely restored by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. It was built in 1910 and was intended to be the forerunner of Art Deco. If the rooms range from 300 to 800 euros, it is possible to reduce the expense during these hot weather by landing at the bar, the Bar Josephine (and its jazz club), ode to the Belle époque.
Les Deux Magots and Le Flore, the custodians of Surrealism and Existentialism
These two cafés, Les deux Magots and Le Flore, a few steps from each other, are the symbols of the literary history of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It is true that they have hosted for more than a century the All-Paris of l’Art et de la Littérature. The list is long. It is first by names such as Alfred Jarry, Foujita, Guillaume Apollinaire, Elsa Triolet, Louis Aragon, André Gide, Jean Giraudoux, Picasso, Fernand Léger. The Surrealism of André Breton, Existentialism with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (a room bears the name of one of her novels: Les Mandarins) were born there. For Le Flore, names like Françoise Sagan, Picasso, Giacometti, Boris Vian found themselves there. The existentialist couple Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir had their seats there (Photo FC).
The Senate behind its Palace hides the most beautiful garden in Paris, the garden of Luxembourg
The Luxembourg Palace has been the seat of the Senate since 1799. It was Marie de Medici who had bought this estate in 1612 where she had her palace built in 1615 when she had become Regent of the Kingdom on the death of the king Henry IV. What a mimicry! Its current President (very good political tactician) looks jovial and gargantuan. As you could think, he does not come from the professions of mouth but he was a veterinarian. He would share with Marie de Medici this overweight that characterized her. Should it be to weigh down the painting, add the immoderate taste of the regent for the painter Rubens world famous for his sensual nudes, with generous shapes.
Besides this noble assembly is known by the recurrent and restorative naps of its members after it is true of solid lunches. A book has caused a scandal: Un paradis fiscal pour des parlementaires fantômes (a tax haven for shadow MPs). But these are just rumors. Hasn’t the senate become a counter-power today?
An avant-goût of Luxembourg Garden
But before going to frolic (laze around or flirt, it depends!) in this garden that many consider to be the most beautiful city garden in the world, a few stops are necessary. We are in this district of the Odeon, the Sorbonne, Luxembourg, Panthéon at the very beginning of the Rue de Vaugirard, the longest street in Paris. Don’t hesitate to walk, it’s all in a handkerchief (un mouchoir de poche in french).
Le Panthéon. On the pediment of what was an ancient church: “Aux grands hommes la Patrie reconnaissante”
The Luxembourg garden in the heart of summer: freshness, encounters, love, fantasy, dancing and…running!
This extraordinary 25-hectare garden, which was created on the initiative of Queen Marie de Medici in 1612, is a jardin à la française and a jardin à l’anglaise. In between are a geometric forest and a large basin. You will also discover an orchard, a beehive to learn about beekeeping, greenhouses with a collection of orchids and a rose garden. The garden has 106 statues scattered throughout the park, the monumental Medici fountain, the Orangery, the kiosque à musique. Activities and facilities for children are numerous: puppets, rides, slides… Adults, Parisiens or tourists, play chess, tennis, bridge…
For fans of “footing” (what we say in french!), it is a “must” to run in Luxembourg
By focusing on taking the “outside” along the gates of the park, one manages to travel some 2 kilometers. It takes about ten minutes. 4 to 6 laps are therefore required to result in a session of 40 minutes to an hour.
In le jardin du Luxembourg, how many photos are taken in front of the famous Medici fountain?
In the Luxembourg garden, when dog and tourist chat in admiring silence!
In the Luxembourg garden, when it’s good to rest from a long day of heatwave (Photo FC)
In the Luxembourg garden, beware, the beehive is a few steps from the bowling alleys
In the Luxembourg garden, dance on Sunday evenings. It’s Belle Epoque under le kiosque à musique (the bandstand)
The Chinese Falun Gong movement occupies La Fontaine Saint-Michel, at the bottom of boul’Mich (Boulevard Saint-Michel)
From the Luxembourg garden, going down to the Seine, the Boulevard Saint-Michel, your first stop will be on the right for the Sorbonne closed for holidays but not the many café terraces.
The Fontaine Saint-Michel favorite meeting place (rendez-vous) of students of the Latin Quarter
If there is a place to meet in Paris, it is here, the monumental Fountain of Saint-Michel. It is a 5-minute walk from the Luxembourg Garden and very close to the River Seine. On this Sunday afternoon, the fountain is occupied by the Chinese Movement Falun Dafa (traditional Chinese practice of improving body and mind). He is now being persecuted by the ruling Communist Party. The slogans are unequivocal: stop forced organ removals in China; an immediate halt to the genocide; release of prisoners of conscience imprisoned.
Notre-Dame-de-Paris, objective: a reopening in 2024.
At the bottom of Boulevard Saint-Michel, take a right and go down to the quays. The two towers of the facades of Notre-Dame seem miraculously preserved. The rest is only scaffolding, support arches, cranes and giant umbrella to protect the site from the weather. After more than two years of work, Notre-Dame Cathedral is currently completing the securing of its site. Last march, the project of restoration of the frame of the nave and the choir was validated with finally the drawing closest to the original construction. A thousand selected oaks will be used to rebuild the spire, the transept frame and the adjacent spans of Notre-Dame
€830 million in donations. This incredible restoration is made possible thanks to donations. Some €830 million was raised from 350,000 donors. Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, rector of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris assured: visitors will not recognize the cathedral after the works, because it will be brighter. See you in 2024 to see it!
Which Parisian church can replace Notre-Dame? Nothing is decided yet, it’s up to you to choose between two?
1/The Church of St. Sulpice famous thanks to Da Vinci Code
The Church of Saint-Sulpice, a stone’s throw from the Luxembourg garden, is the largest church in Paris after Notre Dame (it can hold at least 2000). Its exceptional dimensions and its Latin cross plan are directly inspired by Notre-Dame de Paris. Saint-Sulpice, built in the 17th century, is located in Saint-Sulpice Square, in the heart of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district. It should be noted that the church became famous thanks to the film Da Vinci Code, a film based on Dan Brown’s bestseller. The fountain on the forecourt (or fountain of the four bishops) built in 1844 was named fountain of the “des points cardinaux” because of the presence of the four statues of bishops: Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, Fénelon Archbishop of Cambrai, Massillon Bishop of Nimes and Flexbishop bishop of Clermont. They were never cardinals (point cardinaux, a pun with cardinal points) Photo FC
2/ The Church of St. Eustache in the heart of Les Halles
St. Eustache is one of the most visited churches in Paris. Its architectural style, mainly Gothic and Renaissance, gives it its unique character that contrasts with the modernization of the district. It is located in the historic part of the Halles. It is distinguished in particular by its dimensions (After Notre Dame, it is one of the largest churches in Paris), the great wealth of works of art and its great organ. True to its musical tradition, the church hosts year-round philharmonic sits, choirs and prestigious festivals. If you are still in Paris in November, the 211st Mass of Remembrance of the Charcutiers-Treaters will take place in the Church of Saint Eustache in Paris with the participation of the Brotherhood of the Knights of Saint Anthony. (Impressive!) Photo FC
Farniente on Île Saint-Louis
Did you know? Paris has two natural islands on the Seine: the Île de la Cité where the Notre-Dame-de-Paris Cathedral is located immediately upstream, the Île Saint-Louis. (a bridge brings them together). With its 11 ha of area, it is the smallest. It has 2323 inhabitants. Here, real estate prices are stratospheric but sit at a coffee pot or find a place in a restaurant doesn’t cost more than elsewhere. Best solution, the Maison Berthillon offers you (to put it mildly), the best ice cream in Paris at 31, rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Île. The ice cone in hand, the quais of the island are yours. Great place to feel the kings of the world!
All at La Bastille in the heart of revolutionary Paris.
From île Saint-Louis, take the pont Marie, follow the quays up the river upstream. Count a good ten minutes. First surprise, La Bastille is at the end of a marina. Facing the famous column commemorating the Revolution (another, that of 1830), the Opéra Bastille, the second Paris Opera (the other being the Opéra Garnier in the 9th arrondissement). It was designed by architect Carlos Ott and inaugurated on the day of the bicentenary of the French Revolution (in 1989). This highly contested monument with its heavy architecture seems to have aged badly. The choice of the project was “the fact of the prince”. It was the President of the Republic himself (François Mitterrand, 1916-1996) who decided on this “Opéra populaire”. Nothing seems to have been done to embellish it, no pageantry or sculptures on the façade as inside. Rather an impersonal coldness. Once realized, he declared: I don’t like it. Very quickly, some elements of the façade of the building came off. But over time, the Opéra Bastille has become modern and popular. The interior is indeed a challenge of engineering and acoustics. The best productions are now offered at the Opéra Bastille at lower rates than those practiced at Covent Garden in London, than at the Metropolitan Opera in New York or the Scalla in Milan.
Of the Bastille Prison nothing remains
Place de la Bastille. In its center, la Colonne de Juillet (the Column of July), surmounted by the famous Genius of Liberty, commemorating the revolution of 1830. But it is to another revolution that the Bastille is known, that of 1789. The prison of the Bastille was then the symbol of the monarchy. Of this prison taken by the revolutionaries and, destroyed shortly afterwards, nothing remains.
De la Place de la Bastille à la Place des Vosges (Place Royale), residence of Victor Hugo
From the Bastille, the Place des Vosges is a stone’s throw. But we are already in the quartier du Marais. Coexists here, the Revolution and the Monarchy. The Place des Vosges known as the Place Royale was renamed after the French Revolution, place des Vosges; a tribute to this region of the Vosges, in the north-east of France, on the German and Luxembourg border which was the first to pay the taxes levied by the new revolutionary government. This closed square, is undoubtedly the most beautiful square in Paris and in any case, the oldest. It is structured around two pavilions, to the north the Queen’s Pavilion and to the south, the King’s Pavilion. You can visit the house of Victor Hugo, the author of Les Misérables. He had rented at 6, Place des Vosges, an apartment on the second floor. He lived there for sixteen years, from 1832 to 1848. It is now a museum.
On the banks of the Seine (left bank), a summer evening
From the Place des Vosges, join the banks of the Seine by the rue de Turenne, cross the boulevard Saint-Antoine and go down to the Seine by the rue Saint-Paul. On the quays, 2.3 km of walk that extends over 10 ha., from the Port de l’Arsenal to the Pont Neuf (left bank), passing by the legendary Pont des Arts, facing the Institut de France (l’Académie française). Throughout this route, sports facilities, pétanque courts, a climbing wall for the little ones or cafes have been built. It is here that Paris plages settles every summer to give an air of holidays in the heart of Paris, with sun loungers, parasols and multiple animations.
Du Pont Neuf au Pont des Arts
Yes, we bathed in the Seine in 1935. So when will we be able to dive into the Seine again? This old photo shows children bathing at the foot of the Pont Neuf, this new bridge which despite its name is the oldest bridge in Paris. It crosses the Seine at the western tip of the Île de la Cité. It was built in 1578 during the reign of King Henry IV.
La Samaritaine, iconic Grand Magasin
Opposite (right bank), la Samaritaine, iconic grand magasin dominates the Pont Neuf. For the Samaritaine completely renovated and reopened in 2021, see this magnificent façade, Art Déco masterpiece*. No other department store is so powerfully connected to the two faces of Paris: on the side of the old halles recently renovated, the economic vitality; towards the Seine and the Pont Neuf, the most beautiful view of the most beautiful city in the world. (Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of LVMH).
*Ernest Cognacq, its founder was a visionary. He asked two of the great architects of the early twentieth century – Frantz Jourdain and Henri Sauvage – to build a set to the glory of Art Nouveau (for the metal structure) and Art Déco (for ceramic frescoes).
Towards le Pont des Arts and l’Académie française
From the Pont Neuf to the new museum of the Bourse du Commerce where the nonconformist billionaire, François Pinault decided to install part of his collection of contemporary art.
A stone’s throw from les Halles, near the beautiful Saint-Eustache church and in the heart of Paris, a new museum is born dedicated to contemporary art. It is the fully restored Bourse du commerce that has just opened. From royal residence to museum of contemporary art through granary and financial center, the Bourse de Commerce has a multiple history. This eighteenth-century building, whose dome and décor are classified as historical monuments, now hosts the collection of François Pinault. It is one of the main collections of contemporary art, consisting of more than 10,000 works from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and estimated at € 1.5billion. It is the result, among other things, of a close relationship between the collector and the artists.
Last steps in this summer Paris: Trocadéro and Louis Vuitton Foundation
Louis Vuitton Foundation, this impressive ship set on a pond, between wood and garden, playing with light and mirror effects.
Run for it. This museum is exceptional! Imagine an impressive ship (designed by architect Frank Gehry), set on the edge of the Boulogne woods (near the acclimatization garden)! Museum no, it is a foundation, the Louis Vuitton Foundation designed by Bernard Arnault owner of LVMH, the world’s leading luxury group. He dedicated it to his great passion, contemporary art: “There are these curved beams, the play of materials that reveals the frame, this amazing alliance between wood and glass. And then there is the curve and oblique, present constantly.” The interior houses 11 exhibition halls, a concert hall, a bookshop, a restaurant and three terraces with a grand view of Paris.
Toutes les photos © de cet article sont de l’auteur