WALK LIKE A PARISIAN
Put your foot down for a short walk in Paris that’s utterly chic
Some say it’s the Eiffel Tower. Some the Left Bank. Others swear by the view across the city from Montmartre. But no one place or thing can capture the essence of the City of Light. Fortunately, Paris is designed for walking and this 4km stroll through the aristocratic quarter just north of the Seine shows the city’s matchless elegance and grandeur.
START WITH SOMETHING MONUMENTAL
Designed in the style of a Roman temple to honour the Great Army of Napoleon I, the imposing Roman Catholic Church of Sainte-MarieMadeleine, popularly known as La Madeleine, stands in the square of the same name in the city’s 8th arrondissement (district). While not as famous as Notre-Dame cathedral across the river, La Madeleine is known as “the Church of Paris” and funeral services for the city’s great and good are traditionally held in its lavishly gilded interior.
The surrounding square boasts the Michelin-starred restaurant Lucas Carton and a branch of Fauchon, the French luxury food emporium. A fivestar Fauchon boutique hotel and a Fauchon cafe are set to open in the square later this year.
STROLL THE BOULEVARD
The reforming hand of Napoleon’s nephew, Napoleon III, is evident just to the east in the Boulevard des Capucines. Named for a Capuchin convent that once stood in the area, the boulevard is one of the great avenues created during the emperor’s transformation of central Paris and is steeped in history and culture. In 1874, a group of young artists held a show across the road from the Hotel Scribe and were dubbed the Impressionists. Monet painted the street in 1873 and Pissarro depicted the nearby Avenue de L’Opéra in 1898. Speaking of which, the square facing the gorgeous Beaux-Arts style facade of the Opéra Garnier (the fictional home of the Phantom of the Opera) is a perfect place to observe the French art of strolling, especially at l’heure bleu (the blue hour) when the evening lights come on and crowds of elegant Parisians make their way towards the area’s cafes and bars.
HAUTE COUTURE CENTRAL
Retrace your steps and turn left into Rue Cambon. Although it looks unremarkable, here in 1910 the great fashion designer, Coco Chanel, set up
her first boutique (a hat shop) at No. 21. She later expanded into five adjoining properties including No. 31, where Karl Lagerfeld works on the Chanel haute couture collections to this day. For full-on French designer shopping, head to nearby Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré where you’ll find Chanel, Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Hermès and Christian Louboutin boutiques and many more.
THE POSHEST SQUARE IN PARIS
From Rue Cambon, turn left into Rue Saint-Honoré, admire the smart storefronts (Roberto Cavalli, Tom Ford, Jimmy Choo, Coach) and turn left into Place Vendôme. Billed as the poshest square in Paris, it is also one of the oldest (1702) and is dominated by a bronze-plated column commemorating Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805.
Among the government ministries and investment banks occupying the grand old aristocratic townhouses around the square are world-leading jewellers (Van Cleef & Arpels, Chaumet, Bulgari, Boucheron) and Charvet, the men’s shirt-maker, at number 28. The star attraction on the western side of the square is the Hôtel Ritz Paris. Be very well dressed if you want to go inside because the doormen wear thousand-dollar suits.
GLORIOUS FRENCH GARDENS
Promenades of white gravel. Allées (avenues) of manicured trees. Grand vistas and formal symmetries. The supremely elegant 25ha Tuileries Gardens (head directly south from Place Vendôme along Rue de Castiglione) embodies classic French garden style and is one of the great public spaces of Paris. Book-ended by the Louvre to the east and the Place de la Concorde on the west, the gardens were laid out in 1664 by André le Nôtre, who also created the gardens at the Palace of Versailles for Louis XIV. Two reflecting ponds, one octagonal and one round, are beloved by generations of French boys (and their fathers) as places to sail toy-sized voiliers (sail boats). The ponds are surrounded by seating and are a favoured spot for locals to meet for a chat. And yes, the Impressionists painted many scenes here. Half-close your eyes and it could be a century ago.
A PLACE IN HISTORY
Although it is now largely a forum for the city’s lawless traffic, the Place de la Concorde at the western end of the Tuileries Gardens could make a fair claim to be the centre of Paris. At 8.6ha it’s the city’s largest square with views of the adjacent Orangerie and Jeu de Paume art museums, the Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower across the river. It didn’t always have such a peaceful name: in 1789 during the French Revolution it was renamed Place de la Révolution and became the site of “Madame La Guillotine”: Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette and hundreds of other opponents of the regime met their fates here. Today the octagonal-shaped square is notable for its beautiful 19th-century fountains and the 23m granite Luxor Obelisk given to the French by the Egyptian government in 1829.
ACROSS THE SEINE
A walk through Paris is probably incomplete without crossing the Seine and while the Neoclassicalstyle Pont de la Concorde isn’t the showiest bridge in the city (that honour goes to the Pont Alexandre III just downstream with its swanky imperial columns, gilded sculptures and ornate Art Nouveau lamps) it has its share of history, being built with stone from the infamous Bastille prison that was demolished in 1789.
A walk over the Pont de la Concorde takes you to the Musée d’Orsay art museum, home of the world’s greatest collection of Impressionist art, and the picture-postcard avenues and cafes of the Left Bank.
But that, as the French say, is une autre histoire (another story).
IT’S A PERFECT PLACE TO OBSERVE THE FRENCH ART OF STROLLING AT L’HEURE BLEU
Paris is designed for walking, so lace up your sneakers for a 4km stroll to experience the city’s elegance and grandeur.