Paris: Lost and Found in the Latin Quarter

Perhaps the best way to love and strengthen Paris is to celebrate everything that the capital itself cherishes – the arts, music, culture, literature, and an unconquerable lust for life.

The Sorbonne is a well known school.
The Sorbonne. Photo by Flickr/Alan

2) BACK TO SCHOOL: The Quarter’s Roman and Medieval visage is at some of its most striking across its wealth of colleges. This neighborhood has been the heart of student Paris for nearly 900 years now, and in fact derives its name from the fact that Latin was the common tongue among students pouring in from all over Europe in the Middle Ages.

You’d figure that these many years would have resulted in a beauty or two. I give you La Sorbonne (www.english.paris-sorbonne.fr/). France’s oldest university was founded in 1253 and looks as though it’s just stepped out of a retro photo-shoot for Vogue. This leading center of theology exudes old-world regalia, just as much as Place de la Sorbonne oozes youthful exuberance through the thousands of demis – half pints of draft beers – being consumed in its cluster of cafés.

Lycée Henri IV (23 rue Clovis) is an able public school accompaniment to La Sorbonne, while the Neoclassical-styled Panthéon (though not a college but a monumental mausoleum – pantheon.monuments-nationaux.fr) is the most worthy of homages to the wealth of French luminaries, authors and scholars who lie within.

The Seine is a famous river in Paris.
The Seine at sunset. Photo by Flickr/Nicolas Winspeare

3) LES BOUQUINISTES AND THE SEINE: Snug in its address on Paris’ fabled Left Bank, Quartier Latin always gives you the impression that the Seine is no more than a whisper away. That’s because it isn’t. Use your senses to guide you through these myriad alleyways and you’ll always find the city-traversing river close at hand.

Quai de la Tournelles runs along the Seine, bringing with it Les Bouquinistes – the riverside booksellers who line up every day from around 10 in the morning and bring with them a treat of secondhand books, rare French editions, original scribbles and paintings, posters, postcards, curios… and an inescapable roguish charm. This is the quintessential Latin Quarter experience so you must take your time as you amble along from stall to stall along the quays beginning from Pont Marie, open Parisian skies at your disposal. Staying with the theme, drop in to Les Bouquinistes Restaurant (53 Quai des Grands Augustins) across the street near Pont Neuf for celebrity chef Guy Savoy’s take on contemporary French fare.

4) A RUE FOR EVERY MOOD: To derive maximum pleasure from the Latin Quarter, there’s no two ways about it… you must get lost. The seemingly inexhaustible network of streets, or rues, and a dizzying labyrinth of alleyways, bylanes, side streets, and hidden pathways are medieval Paris on a platter… atmospheric at every turn. On rue de la Harpe, cobblestone streets and cafés filled with lively chatter welcome you to dip into Paris as it lives, breathes, laughs… and eats.

Beginning near the Panthéon and ending at the Place de la Contrescarpe on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève hill, Rue Mouffetard is a Parisian gem where time appears to have frozen but where romance lingers on in the form of bistros ripe with conversation, pavements filled with music, and 16th-century homes redolent with secrets. Walking along the crooked streets, squeezing yourself in between Parisians on single-file alleyways, you’re reminded that travel is at its most beautiful when kept simple.

5) MUSIC FOR THE SOUL: Quartier Latin seems to flow to its own charming notes, as played out by a motley crew of buskers and street performers. Keep your eyes and ears open. If you don’t catch the accordion player making his lonesome way along the Seine’s pavements, you’re more than likely to come across sidewalk performances on Rue Mouffetard. And should you not be in the mood for a poetic troubadour on Rue de la Bûcherie, there’s always time to duck into a jazz dive collective, spirited indie outfit or plaintive French ingénue along rues Huchette, Saint-Jacques and Saint-Séverin.

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