Paris and romance

Montmartre, Medici Fountain, hôtels particuliers (mansion houses) in the Marais ... A romantic walk

Place des Abbesses, at the foot of the Butte (hill) Montmartre is the starting point for this day: just the spot for a typically Parisian breakfast before heading for the Sacré-Cœur to admire the panorama. Then take your time as you make your way down the rue des Martyrs, packed with interesting boutiques, as far as the Saint-Georges district where you’ll find the Musée de la Vie Romantique… what else? The visit over, take the metro or bus down to the Jardin du Luxembourg where you can declare your undying love beneath the greenery of the splendid Médicis fountain. Next, a visit to the Marais, one of the oldest parts of the city, is just the thing: private mansion houses, the Picasso museum, the latest boutiques, hidden spots (like the Carreau du Temple) and the peace and quiet of the Place des Vosges are all here. Should you fall under the spell of this neighbourhood, you may choose to dine here unless you prefer the epitome of romantic Paris: dinner by candlelight on the Seine River.

1 Basilique du Sacré-Cœur

Basilique du Sacré Coeur, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

In 1873, the National Assembly voted for the construction of a basilica devoted to the Sacred Heart on the butte Montmartre. The site was chosen as much for its altitude (127 metres) as for its symbolism; it was sanctified long before with the martyrdom of Saint Denis and sullied by the violent acts of the Commune, in 1870. Pitfalls, controversies, underground quarries, and 83 buried pillars caused the work to extend over forty years. All these efforts were rewarded! From below, the Romano- Byzantine contours take on the appearance of a whipped-cream palace set on a hill of gardens and terraces: green and white outlined against swathes of azure. The view from the top of the steps, and especially from the top of the dome, is simply stunning.

2 Rue des Martyrs

Rue des Martyrs, Paris © DR

Lying between the 9th and 18th districts, the rue des Martyrs is one of the busiest streets of shops and cafes to be found in Pigalle. Linking the Eglise Notre Dame de Lorette and Sacré Coeur, despite the years it has kept its old-fashioned charm with its traditional shops, many typical Parisian cafés, lively bars, cabarets and its historical concert hall, 'Le Divan du Monde'. All the extravagant charm and colour of the 18th district concentrated in a single street!

3 Musée de la Vie romantique

Musée de la Vie Romantique, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

A tree-lined path, a rectangular flower garden, a little mansion far from the buzz of the city: this is where the painter and sculptor Ary Scheffer lived from 1830 to 1858. Delacroix, George Sand, Chopin dropped in as neighbours; the whole of the intellectual and artistic world of Paris (Liszt, Rossini, Turgenev, Dickens, etc.) frequented his workshop-salon. Even today, as you go from room to room, Chopin will accompany you with his piano as you discover George Sand, and the paintings of Ary Scheffer and his contemporaries.

4 Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris © Thinkstock

Children love the Luxembourg gardens for their wooden horses, their model yachts to push along with a cane on the ornamental pond, for their refreshment kiosks, puppet theatre, ponies, etc. Others too, appreciate the setting: artists with their easels, chess players, daydreamers, students with their notepads or computers … The wrought-iron chairs are perfect for a delightful nap below the Dames de France which form a circle of statues. What would Marie de Médicis think of the success of the palace and garden commissioned by her? At the time, the widow of Henri IV had sought to recapture a little of her native Florence. The Fontaine Médicis with all its niches and nymphs is all that remains of the Italianate grotto that she had built in 1630. The palace has become the seat for the Sénat (the upper house of the French parliament). It oversees the running of the garden and the museum, which stages exhibitions on modern art and the Renaissance, of course, in memory of the Florentine queen.

5 Musée Picasso

Hôtel Salé, Musée Picasso, Paris

Completed in 1659, the mansion which houses the museum has retained the cheeky nickname 'Salé' (salty) in memory of the ostentatious tastes of its first owner who made a fortune by taxing salt. Behind the monumental facade, you’ll discover a unique collection of wonderful works by Picasso which includes his paintings, but also sculptures, engravings and drawings. A fascinating immersion into the world of the artist.

6 Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

Formerly known as the 'place Royale', this square has remained intact – miraculously so – since it was commissioned by Henri IV in 1604. The thirty-six townhouses have constituted a perfect symmetry from the day they were built, with their brick facades, deep-pitched slate roofs and the ground floor made up of a gallery of arcades for walking. Add a few musketeers and you’d think you were in a swashbuckling adventure film … or back to the splendid carrousel that inaugurated the square in 1612 to celebrate the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria.

7 Place des Abbesses

There is a lot to be seen at the Place des Abbesses: the metro entrance designed by Hector Guimard, the merry-go-round, die-cast lanterns, the Wallace Fountain … In the nearby Square Jéhan-Rictus, groups of toddlers play under the enamelled lava wall, famous for its ‘Je t’aime’ [I love you] inscribed in 311 different languages.