Glamorous Paris

The Opera House, the Palais-Royal, the Madeleine, the grands boulevards… Paris and the Belle Epoque

Witness Paris in all its splendour of gold, marble and crystal. Admire the dome of the Opera House, the rue Royale and rue de la Paix, English tailors, tearooms, prestigious hotels, bellboys, the diamonds of place Vendôme, and the gardens of the Palais-Royal.
It’s not just the nearby Comédie-Française theatre that puts on a show – the stores in this district are entertainment enough! Admire boxes (of the musical and chocolate variety), exhibition rooms hung with silks or artful displays of goat skins, antique engravings, and much more. Rumour has it though that these elegant arcades were home to risqué goings-on, where scooters now fly by. And if the truth be told, many a man has been ruined by dancing girls from the Opera House.
And, of course, there are the grands boulevards, these broad avenues with buzzing music halls, café-theatres, and numerous shows with a cheeky edge. Like the big department stores, which illuminate the boulevard Haussmann, this is the centre of chic with a sprinkling of stardust. Everything seems much more refined under the stained-glass art nouveau cupolas! That’s what the Belle Époque was all about, and it’s alive and well in this part of Paris.

1 Comédie-Française

Comédie Française, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

Here are two words that inspire respect: Comédie-Française. And you’re right here! This theatre is home to the prestigious French theatre group, the Comédiens-Français. And it’s here, on the corner of Palais-Royal, that the theatre’s permanent troupe, originating from the union of two troupes – Molière’s and that of the Hôtel de Bourgogne – in 1680, has performed the French repertory since the end of the 18th century. Candelabras and busts of great writers escort you to the padded doors of the red and gold auditorium. Shhh!

2 Palais-Royal

Palais Royal, les colonnes de Buren, Paris © OTCP - Jordane Blachas

Richelieu started the saga by building his residence here; Louis XIV inherited it and gave it to his brother. Philippe d’Orléans and his son extended it. In 1780, the indebted Philippe Égalité opened up the area around the gardens to commerce: sixty buildings supported by arcades were built to house the stores. Prostitution, gambling and scandal took hold of the palace. And as the police were not authorised to operate there, it became a bastion for revolutionary unrest until 1793. The peaceful Palais-Royal now houses the Ministry of Culture and several institutions, some very chic boutiques, gourmet restaurants and a garden planted with four rows of lime trees. Although the striped Buren columns almost reignited the revolution here in 1986.

3 Place des Victoires

Place des Victoires, Paris © OTCP - Claire Pignol

Before it became a hot spot for fashion and local designers, this almost perfect circle was the idea of a rich marquise to pay tribute to King Louis XIV.

4 Bourse de Paris – palais Brongniart

La Palais Brongniart, Paris © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

In 1987, after over 150 years of the clamour and shouting of stockbrokers, silence finally reigned under the cupola of the Palais Brongniart. The stock exchange was computerised and today the neoclassical temple encircled with columns opens its marble hall and nave, decorated with wood panelling and frescoes, to curious visitors. Around the famous trading floor, glass cubicles and a blackboard displaying stocks and shares recreate the atmosphere of the trading floor.

5 Bibliothèque nationale – site Richelieu

BNF Site Richelieu, Paris © OTCP - Magalie Corouge

Newly embellished, it now stages temporary exhibitions in the crypt and in the magnificent Mazarine and Mansart galleries. It has retained the departments of Manuscripts, Maps and Plans, Music, Prints and Photography, Theatrical Arts, and Money, Medals and Antiques. Reassuringly, this venerable institution, founded in the distant era of Charles V, and established on the Richelieu site since 1721, has also kept its treasures: the throne of Dagobert, the fan of Diane de Poitiers, the nine enameled earthenware cupolas of the great reading room, and much more.

6 Covered arcades

Passage des Princes, Paris © OTCP - David Lefranc

At the beginning of the 19th century, Haussmann redesigned Paris. Built for the crowds thronging the cafe terraces and theatres along the boulevards, covered shopping arcades were a huge success with their boutiques of Chinese ornaments, curiosities and gifts, along with tea, chocolate and coffee houses. They were the meeting places for the elegantly dressed, a haven from wet weather. Discover the muffled charm and exciting creations of Passage Vivienne or Passage du Grand-Cerf, or the fascinating trinkets in Passage Choiseul; marble, art and knowledge await you in the Galeries Véro-Dodat and Colbert, while the prints, sepia photos and antique toys in passages Verdeau and Jouffroy contrast with the kitsch bazaar in the passage des Panoramas…

7 Place Vendôme

Place Vendôme - Colonne Vendôme, Paris

A gem of classic urban architecture and symbol of absolute power, the Place Vendôme has always been synonymous with elegance and wealth. Since the Second Empire, politics have been replaced by luxury goods. Today, upscale jewellers have their boutiques here and showcase precious items. Perfect for window shopping.

8 Musée Maxim’s

Maxim’s was chic and decadent in 1900. During the Belle Epoque, courtesans curled up in the rooms above the restaurant, which have been recreated with objects from Pierre Cardin’s art nouveau collection. Discover suggestive paintings, Tiffany lamps, a table set for an intimate supper and a bed carved by Majorelle, evoking the rustle of petticoats of the famous beauty Otéro.

9 Place de la Madeleine

L'Eglise de la Madeleine, Paris © OTCP - Marc Verhille

Surrounding the Madeleine church, the square of the same name, is well-known for its luxury boutiques and fine food stores. Many historic and exclusive restaurants are firmly established here and offer a wonderful view of the impressive monument.

10 Eglise de la Madeleine

L'Eglise de la Madeleine, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

The Madeleine church was completed in 1842. It looks somewhat like a Greek temple, with no bell tower or cross on the outside, but two monumental doors and a forest of Corinthian columns. From the top of the steps, visitors can enjoy a view worthy of Olympia!

11 Palais Garnier – Opéra national de Paris

Opéra national de Paris © OTCP - David Lefranc

The Opera House was inaugurated under the Third Republic, following fifteen years of setbacks, including the nightmarish discovery by the architect Charles Garnier, of an underground expanse of water. This rather deep lake, the stage for executions during the Commune, was the inspiration for writer Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera. But let’s start with the main auditorium, with its ceiling painted by Chagall, its eight-ton crystal chandelier, and purple velvet seats set around an Italian-style stage, where operas and ballets are performed. The vestibules and main staircase going up to the auditorium are made of marble and filled with sculptures of harps and lyres leading the dance. Outside, Baroque and neo-Renaissance styles intertwine above a flight of steps that are a popular place for people to meet up.

12 Musée du parfum Fragonard

Nouveau musée du parfum Fragonard, Paris © OTCP - DR

This charming perfume museum – a place to dream among distillation jars, presentation boxes on marble dressing tables, and caskets of opaline and glass from Murano and Bohemia. Hints of musk, zests of amber, the spicy fragrances of iris, and touches of aniseed and carnation may evaporate, but you still have perfume bottles in coloured glass, crystal bottles with silver chains and sprays set in pewter with silk pom-poms.

13 Musée Grévin

Musée Grévin, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

Each new arrival is elected by a panel of personalities. Then follows a sitting, a wax and resin moulding, make-up, costume and accessories. Since 1882, the waxworks museum has been producing and displaying wax figures of great historical figures and stars of sport, the arts, science and politics. 250 personalities! Jimi Hendrix, Einstein and Louis XIV all under the same roof - improbable but true!

14 Grand Rex – Les Étoiles du Rex

Salle Panoramique du Grand Rex, Paris © DR

Founded in 1932 on the Grands Boulevards, the Grand Rex, a listed building, is one of the largest cinemas in Europe with its 2,800 seats under a star-studded ceiling, its Mediterranean baroque decor and art deco facade. The 50-minutes audio-guided and interactive show, 'Les Étoiles du Rex', reveals the behind-the scenes of cinema, from the shooting to the screening of a film: archive images, special effects room, sound effects room and projection room, etc.