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St Germain des Pres Travel Guide

St Germain des Prés (6th and 7th Arrondissement) is often cited as many Parisians and tourists’ favorite district in Paris, mainly because of its nestling of friendly cafés, boutiques, and old-fashioned streets. You’ll also find many antique galleries, bookshops, art stores, and a few posh venues. Notably, it has long served as a haven for intellectuals whose famous cafés, Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore, were once congregated by existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus. The 18th century Cour du Commerce St André is an arcade of cobblestone streets and is one of the city’s best sights. Many of Paris’ literary geniuses like Voltaire, Balzac, Victor Hugo, George Sand, and even Benjamin Franklin used to hangout at the cafés of this arcade, especially at Le Procope – Paris’ oldest café which was opened by Francesco Procopio in 1686.[1]

St Germain des Prés, however, is also home to several quality museums, perhaps contributing to this quarter’s intellectual image. The main museum in St Germain des Prés is the Musée d’Orsay, known as the best collection of Impressionist and Post-impressionist paintings in the world. You’ll find works such as Renoir’s Moulin de la Galette and Matisse’s Luxe and Calme et Volupté as well as various masterpieces from Sisley, Pissaro, Monet, Cézanne, van Gogh, Gauguin, Manet, and Degas.[2]

The Musée Delacroix and Musée Maillol are two other museums in St Germain des Prés; the former is dedicated to the works of France’s greatest Romantic painter, Eugène Delacroix, and is situated on Place Furstenberg. The latter museum features the Art Deco work of the late 19th century and early 20th century sculptor Aristide Maillol.[3]

The beautiful centerpiece of St Germain des Prés is probably the Jardin du Luxembourg – a peaceful and historic refuge in the heart of Paris. The 60-acre gardens were originally owned by the Comte de Provence. He opened it to the public in the 19th century. Its center features the Luxembourg Palace, which now serves as the home of the French Senate, although it used to be the residence of the widow of Henri IV. In the summer, you’ll find many sunbathers amassed by the Jardin du Luxembourg’s octagonal lake.[4]

A few buildings in St Germain des Prés stand out. The Institut de France, for example, was built and designed by Louis Le Vau in the mid-17th century and features a dome-top façade that’s curved and considered to be one of the most stunning waterside sights south of the Seine River. The building is used by the cultural institution, Académie Française. The churches of St Germain des Prés and St Sulpice are both marvels as well. The former is Paris’ oldest church built in the 12th century by Pope Alexander III. The church has a cross that was brought from Spain in 542AD. The latter, the St Sulpice, is a gigantic 17th century building with Delacroix frescoes and unequal towers – as one of the towers was never completed.[5]

The École Nationale des Beaux-Arts (National Fine Arts College) is worth checking out as well. This is a school for painters, sculptors, architects, and other artists and is housed in three large mansions that were used long ago by a convent founded in 1608. The campus is open to the public and you can enter the courtyard and admire the galleries of the school, which features casts and copies of statues stored at the school for safekeeping during the French Revolution.[6]

Cour du Commerce St André
Musée Orsay
Musée Delacroix
Musée Maillol
Jardin du Luxembourg
St Germain des Prés
St Sulpice
École Nationale des Beaux-Arts
Institut de France

DK Publishing. Europe (Eyewitness Travel Guides), Revised Edition. New York: DK Travel, 2004. ISBN: 0789497301.

Fisher, Robert I. C., and Fodor’s. Fodor’s France. New York: Fodor’s Travel Publications, 2007. ISBN: 1400016878.

[1] Fisher, 82-83
[2] Id. at 87
[3] Id.
[4] DK, 157
[5] Fisher, 86, 88-89
[6] Id. at 83

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