At Esplanade, we value our team’s personal travel experience, and each one of us travels extensively in our areas of expertise. Diane is a perfect example of this – she is our resident Parisienne and always has insightful, off-the-beaten-track advice for her clients. Keep reading for her travel tips in the City of Light!
One of my favorite things to do in Paris is to explore the many “passages couverts” of the city, particularly on the right bank. These passages don’t scream out at you – you have to look for them – and once found, you feel as if you have stepped back in time! These passages date back to the 19th century (or before), and generally link two streets together. One of the best parts is that they are covered with glass ceilings – absolutely perfect to explore on a rainy day!
I was introduced to these delights by one of my walking tour experts, who took me through one of the most famous passages – the Cours du Commerce St. André, which links the rue St. André with the Boulevard St. Germain.
The crooked cobbled floor of this atmospheric passage, which once ran across Boulevard St. Germain, has strong links to the French Revolution! At No. 1 there lived the revolution’s Georges Danton (a spot marked today by his imposing statue). In what was then No. 8, Jean-Paul Marat printed his famous broadsheet L’Ami du Peuple (The Peoples’ Friend). At No. 9, marked by a plaque, lived a harpsichord maker named Tobias Schmidt. Schmidt built, in his workshop at No. 19, the very first guillotine. It was tried out here, too, with a lamb as its victim. Every part of the guillotine Schmidt used was made by a craftsman in the Cours.
The inside of the Procope is full of history. Here, too, you can find Le Procope, which is the city’s oldest café and dates from 1686. It is here that the revolution’s leaders plotted over coffee. Other guests of the café include La Fontaine, Voltaire, Ben Franklin, Napoleon and even Oscar Wilde! How cool is that?
Once inside, you will pass La Jacobine, a little café/salon de thé that has some of the best hot chocolate in Paris. It’s a great little place for a salad, quiche, a quick crèpe and a glass of wine, too. A little further up is Un Dimanche à Paris, an interesting chocolate shop/bar/restaurant/cooking school, which was started a couple of years ago by third generation chocolatier Michel Cluizel. The hot chocolate here is deliciously thick and intensely creamy.
Besides revolutionary history, there is even more in this little passage! The rounded stone tower around which Cluizel’s restaurant wraps belongs to the wall built around 1200 by Philippe Auguste (Philippe II). This protected Paris while Philippe fought in the Third Crusades. That’s about 900 years of history in one little passage – how typically Parisian!