LOVE IS IN THE AIR
To celebrate St Valentine’s Day, Sophie Gardner-roberts reveals the most romantic places in France – starting in Paris, of course – and the secrets of l’amour French style
Celebrate St Valentine’s Day with our guide to the French art of romance.
One of the many names given to Paris is the ‘City of Love’ and for good reason. With so many iconic sights, quiet squares, pretty riverbanks and the twinkling lights of the city at night, it is impossible not to feel your heart race when strolling around the centre of the French capital, but some places have that little extra je ne sais quoi that has inspired lovers for years.
MUR DES JE T’AIME, MONTMARTRE, 18TH ARRONDISSEMENT
A favourite picture spot for tourists and enamoured couples in particular, the Mur des je t’aime (I love you: the wall) in Montmartre is an artwork created by Frédéric Baron and Claire Kito. Located in a small garden in Square Jehan Rictus, Place des Abbesses, the wall, which measures 10 metres by 4 metres, is a sight to behold. It’s hard not to feel moved by more than 300 declarations of love written in 250 languages and even harder to resist the temptation to snap the perfect romantic selfie (lesjetaime.com). After your visit, head round the corner to Persifleur in Rue Darantin, a cool and intimate bar serving unusual cocktails (persifleur.fr).
MUSÉE DE LA VIE ROMANTIQUE, 9TH
Located in the artistic district known as ‘La Nouvelle Athènes’, this museum is
– housed in the former residence of the 19th-century, Dutch-born portrait artist Ary Scheffer, who received many writers, painters and musicians including Delacroix, Rossini, George Sand, Chopin and Charles Dickens. The home and studios have retained their original charm and offer an insight into the work of Scheffer and his contemporaries in the Romantic movement. The museum also has a fine collection of mementos connected with George Sand. Prolong the feeling that you have stepped back in time with a coffee and a pastry in the flowered garden (vie-romantique.paris.fr).
QUAIS DE SEINE AND CANAL SAINT-MARTIN
Any picturesque riverside setting is enough to trigger the Romantic poet or Impressionist painter in us as we walk beside our loved one, and the banks hugging the River Seine in Paris are no exception. One of the nicest walks is from the tip of Île Saint-louis to the
Pont des Arts. Here you are in the heart of the capital’s historical district, passing landmarks including the Cathédrale Notre-dame, as well as typical Parisian sights such as the stands of booksellers known as bouquinistes. Another popular waterside destination is the peaceful Canal Saint-martin in north-eastern Paris, with its arched metal bridges and tree-lined quaysides; the perfect spot for an evening picnic while listening to the buskers.
JARDIN DES TUILERIES, 1ST
Stretching over 23 hectares from the Musée du Louvre to Place de la Concorde, the Jardin des Tuileries is a fine example of formal à la française gardens, where flâneurs let their mind wander as they stroll along the hedge-lined paths or sit back on the metal chairs around the fountains. Created by Catherine de Médicis in the 1560s, these royal gardens were the first to be open to the public, in the 17th century, and retain some of their original grandeur. Although the garden attracts a lot of visitors, its size makes it relatively easy to find an isolated bench under the trees or to lie on the lawns and relax in the sunshine.
LE MARAIS, 3RD AND 4TH
Sandwiched between Saint-paul and République on the Right Bank, the Marais is full of old, crooked streets buzzing with art galleries, museums, vintage boutiques, hip fashion designers, and trendy bars and restaurants. Because of its aristocratic past, the Marais is home to jaw-dropping architecture, including some of the capital’s most beautiful hôtels particuliers. The district is popular with the LGBT community, who have helped to turn it into one of the capital’s most vibrant, inclusive and creative areas. Make sure you stop for a coffee in the arched galleries surrounding the capital’s most beautiful square, Place des Vosges.
LEFT: Quai de la Tournelle and the Cathédrale Notre-dame in Paris; ABOVE: The Mur des je t’aime in Montmartre; BELOW LEFT: The Musée de la Vie Romantique in Montmartre