Le Marais – Paris old quarter
My favourite part of visiting a city like Paris is that there are always new areas to discover, new things to see. This trip in we visited one of Paris most celebrated neighbourhoods, the Marais. The Marais is one of Paris most celebrated areas and is a perennial favorite for both tourists and locals alike. The Marais is full of beautiful boutiques, vintage shops and designer clothes shops as well as gorgeous bakeries, cafe’s and restaurants. The Marais is home to Paris Jewish Quarter, the gay capital of the city and is a hot spot during Paris Fashion week. That’s quite a lot to fit into a single neighbourhood!
Boutique Shopping and dining
The Marais sits on Paris right bank, bordered by the River Seine and sitting between the Centre Pompidou, the Bastille and Republique. In between, we found a world of pretty and narrow streets. Unlike much of Paris which was redesigned the Revolution to feature wide, grand boulevards; the Marais still features traditional old streets and buildings. Here we got a sense of the ‘real’ Paris, pre Haussmann. As Haussmann never got around to pulling this area down and rebuilding it, the Marais has the largest concentration of pre-revolutionary buildings and streets in any part of Paris. Walking around here I got just a glimpse of what medieval Paris could have looked like.
As you walk around the Marais you will see a lot of very pretty and ornate older buildings and houses from the Marais day’s as a home for Paris wealthy. After large parts of Paris we redesigned under Napoleon people moved out of the Marais and it became an area for the poor and the bohemian to move into. The narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways of the Marais are what Paris before Napoleon looked like. Napoleon changed Paris so he could move armies around easily, prevent streets and areas being barricaded and defend the city against invaders.
Whilst Paris grand boulevards and gigantic squares were designed to make citizens feel small compared to the city and state, in the Marais Paris is more intimate, more approachable.
To the west of the Marais is the Beaubourg neighbourhood which is centred on the fantastic Centre Pompidou. Built back in the 1970’s, the Centre Pompidou (named after Georges Pompidou – president of France at the time the building was commissioned) is home to a fantastic modern art museum, library and visitors shop and cafe as well as working spaces.
Part of the magic of visiting the Pompidou Centre is seeing the building itself. The Centre was designed in a ‘inside out’ style with all of the buildings functional and structural elements exposed. The outside of the building facing into Place George Pompidou is famous for its tunneled escalators running on the building’s facade.
Taking the escalators up the building to the top you get absolutely fantastic views out across the Beaubourg neighbourhood and Paris from the Eiffel Tower, to Sacre Cour and La Defence in the distance. The panoramic view from the top of the building are worth visiting the Centre for alone.
Place des Vosges
Towards the eastern edge of the Marais is the beautiful Place des Vosges, one of Paris first planned squares which was built way back in 1605. It is laid out with large carriageways along the north and south sides with the Pavillon de la Reine and Pavillon du Roi. Back in the days before Napoleon it was called Place Royale and the gardens hosted duels. Thankfully there weren’t any duels when we visited. Today the gardens are enjoyed by people having their lunch, kids from the local schools to play in, or just for a romantic walk and sit.
Place des Vosges is one of the most beautiful squares in Paris and though we were there late afternoon in November it was still perfectly beautiful. It might not be quite as green as the Luxembourg Gardens, but is the twilight it is just a beautiful.
The Marais is artsy, fashionable and truly Parisian. When you think of Paris, areas such as the Marais or the river bank close to Shakespeare & Company bookshop are the parts of Paris which you are imagining. It is intimate, beautiful and not overly imposing. A part of Paris I am sure I will go back to time and again.