Perfect Paris: discovering the Latin Quarter
Travel blogger Emma Dance had long ago ticked Paris off her ‘places to go’ list – but when the chance came to return to the city of light, the Latin Quarter stole her heart.
Like most visitors to Paris I’d joined the throngs of tourists and headed to all the hotspots. Eiffel Tower: check. Sacre Coeur: check. Notre Dame: check. Champs Elysees: check. I’d been there, done that and – quite literally – bought the t-shirt.
But then the chance came to spend a romantic few days in Paris with my partner for my birthday, and what girl could say no to that? Certainly not me! This time, though, I was determined I would not simply follow in the footsteps of my previous visits – instead I would try to escape the crowds and discover a new part of the city: the Latin Quarter.
The name alone conjured up images of bohemian Paris at its best, with rambling streets lined with quirky boutiques and cafés stuffed with chain-smoking artistes or philosophers putting the world to rights over black coffee or carafes of vin rouge. And the reality didn't disappoint.
Wine caves, tabacs, patisseries piled high with a rainbow of macarons and delicate pastries, artisan chocolatiers, chic clothing boutiques, cobbled streets overflowing with restaurants, quaint bookshops – it was the Paris I had hoped for.
The world-famous Sorbonne University is at the heart of the Latin Quarter and the hordes of students milling about the area create a lively buzz and a sense of community, something often difficult to find so close to the heart of a large, tourist-saturated city.
Just a few streets away from the university is the Pantheon. Modelled on the Pantheon in Rome, it is an imposing presence and from its position at the top of Montagne Sainte-Genevieve it looks out across Paris. Although it attracts its share of visitors it is often excluded from the usual lists of Paris ‘must sees’ despite being the final resting place for luminaries such as Voltaire, Zola, Victor Hugo and Marie Curie.
Also in the Latin Quarter is the Jardin du Luxembourg. Paths meander through the picturesque gardens filled with flowers, fountains, statues and sculptures. At the centre is the Luxembourg Palace, where the French senate resides and in front of the palace is a boating pond where children and the young at heart can race toy sail boats.
Two of my favourite discoveries in the Latin Quarter turned out to be very close to the gardens. Chocolatier Jadis et Gourmande sells some of the most creative chocolate creations that I have ever seen. Alongside the bags of delicate flavoured truffles and chocolate Eiffel Towers were bags, belts, ties, even tools, all lovingly crafted by on-site chocolatiers right down to the finest details. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the handbags made from chocolate – two of my favourite things in life had come together in one exquisite creation.
Just a few streets away we discovered the Coup de Grace wine cave. I love European wine caves, which are something between a bar and a wine shop. Not only can you buy some amazing wines, but you can do tastings or just drop in for an apero - the fabulous concept of enjoying a glass of wine with some delicious cheese, meats and bread before a late dinner. With jazz music wafting from through the room, modern art hanging on the walls and staffed by an impossibly-cool student type (complete with designer stubble and black polo neck) Coup de Grace was the perfect Parisian example of a chic take on a traditional French concept. I want places like this where I live. Now please.
There are so many places to discover in this part of Paris (I could list more and more), but part of the fun is finding your own favourites where you can create your own memories. Even if you think you've ‘done’ Paris there is always more to discover and the Latin Quarter is the perfect place to start. And it's still close enough to revisit some old favourites. After all, a trip to Paris isn't complete without going to the Eiffel Tower is it?
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Revisit Paris – or visit for the first time – and discover the Latin Quarter with our Paris city break, 2 nights at the 3* Val Girard, Paris and return Eurostar from £159.