Walk in the Bohemian Paris

Cafes from Montparnasse to Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Montmartre, here is artists’ Paris

This particular Paris-may not really exist any more but many places have retained a powerful memory of the artists that made their reputation. Begin with a coffee in Montparnasse and a trip to the Musée Bourdelle, a small museum that conjures up the atmosphere of Paris and its artists. The brasseries and legendary cafes of  boulevard Montparnasse will then escort you as far as the gardens of the Observatoire. On your way back down through Luxembourg and the place Saint-Sulpice you’ll reach Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a Parisian centre of intellectual and artistic activity. In one of its cafes you might even be lucky enough to come across your favourite writer ... Bohemian Paris continues in Montmartre, setting off from the metro station Odéon. Souvenirs of the workshops of Picasso and Utrillo, the birth of cubism, cabarets, vines, popular songs and painters in the place du Tertre … the picture is complete, night falls over the city.

1 Musée Bourdelle

Musée Bourdelle, Paris © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

At the beginning of the 20th century, artists’ studios filled Montparnasse. Today, that of Émile-Antoine Bourdelle numbers 500 sculpted works in marble, plaster and bronze, along with canvases and watercolours. The Centaure mourant stands in the great hall. The exhibition continues in the studios and then in rooms, where the alchemy of the work is striking against the white walls. It continues in a winter garden of ivy and acacias where, declared the sculptor, 'spring laughs, summer burns and time dreams'.

2 Observatoire de Paris

Observatoire de Paris, Paris

'Your majesty’s glory depends on it', scientists assured Louis XIV when they pleaded for an astronomical observatory. Eight years later, in 1672, the building was completed according to the plans of architect Claude Perrault, brother of the story writer. There are guided visits of the Moon, the phases of Venus and some Sunspots by appointment and even during the night on certain dates.

3 Eglise Saint-Sulpice

Eglise Saint Sulpice, Paris © Thinkstock

This church is as big and as magnificent as a cathedral. The work which started in the 17th century on the original 13th-century building and continued over 135 years has left treasures from each period: a choir decorated with statues by Bouchardon, a Virgin and Child and two stoups in the shape of shells sculpted by Pigalle, the Chapelle des Saints-Anges whose frescoes occupied (or exhausted?) Delacroix during the last 10 years of his life. Every year, many visitors come to admire the treasures of this church – a marvellous concentration of history.

4 Saint Germain des Prés

Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

The area is bound by the Seine, the Luxembourg gardens, the boulevard Saint-Michel and rue des Saints-Pères. Its name comes from the church, the first stones of which date from 557, and the oldest still visible remains from around the year 1000: an islet of eternity surrounded by the waves of flighty fashion! From the 1920s, the frenzied literary and art cliques gravitated towards the cafés of Saint-Germain. During the Liberation, existentialism took off, led by Camus and Sartre, while basement jazz shook the foundations with Sidney Bechet on the clarinet and the writer Boris Vian on the trumpet. This era is legendary but Saint-Germain remains an oasis of ancient streets full of wonderful places for art, books and the latest must-have little items .

5 Butte Montmartre

Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre, Paris © Thinkstock

Venice has its gondolas, Montmartre its steps – physically demanding but Romanesque in the extreme. Countless novels, legends and 'fabulous destinies' are set in the Butte, such as the Bateau-Lavoir in place Émile- Goudeau, where Picasso painted the Demoiselles d’Avignon, and the cafe made famous by Amélie Poulain in rue Lepic. The grocery from the film is higher up on rue des Trois-Frères. And there’s even more climbing to do – but Montmartre’s well worth it! Walk up rue Tholozé, for example, for a film or a drink in the winter garden of a tiny cinema run by Buñuel and Cocteau. Pause at the top of the street under the last remaining windmills, before continuing on up … keep going! At the top is the Sacré-Coeur, surrounded by a labyrinth of extraordinary little streets, and a vineyard, where the grape harvest is celebrated each year. There is also the flattering bust of Dalida in the square of the same name, breathtaking views over the rooftops of Paris, amazing crowds and hundreds of tranquil spots. From the square de la Turlure or the rue de la Chevalier-de-la- Barre, the Sacré-Coeur is just as wonderful from the side, the back or the front!

6 The Montparnasse district

Montparnasse district, Paris © Thinkstock

Situated in the 14th arrondissement, this district owes its name to mount Parnasse, a hill razed in the 18th century. From the time of the French Revolution, Montparnasse became a place of festivities with the opening of cabarets and dance halls. Don’t miss: Montparnasse train station and the 210-metre-high Montparnasse tower block. The big Parisian brasseries such as La Rotonde, La Closerie des Lilas, La Coupole and Le Dôme, which made the Golden age of the district, are still bustling with activity.