Last time I was in Paris in 2007 I came across St Paul in the Marais district by accident. I didn’t have a guide book with me but I could see from the Kosher shops and the Wall of the Righteous that it was a Jewish area. I think I’ve said before how hopeless I am at reading maps well, for 12 €, you can go on a two hour conducted walking tour of the district which is a lot easier than trying to map read. Paris Walks has guided tours of many of the districts of Paris. The guides are English, knowledgeable and humorous. This week I enjoyed the St Paul tour so much that I went on the Saint Germain-des-Pres today. There is no need to book for the tour. You just turn up at the meeting place for the walk and pay your money.
On Tuesday, the meeting place was outside St Paul’s metro and it was led by Oriel, co-founder of the Walks. She’s lived in Paris for 25 years and was very informative, not just on historical facts but on the stories behind the facts. She told us that the area of St Paul once had a thriving Jewish quarter which was decimated during WW11. It was also a wealthy area. There were beautiful mansions ( hôtels) built around courtyards and gardens until Louis x1v built Versailles and moved there from the Louvre. So in the 17 century the real estate rush was on to leave the Right Bank and move to the Left Bank to be closer to the court.
When the area went down market some of the mansions were converted into crowded dwellings and used as factories until restoration work began in the 1960s and the old ‘hôtels’were restored to their former grandeur and became state offices, museums and hotels, and the wealthy moved back in. When we visited the church St Paul-St Louis the guide told us about a famous Jesuit preacher whose sermons were so popular that the wealthy ladies sent along their servants hours before the service to get them a good seat. The sermons went on for 2-3 hours and the grand ladies had a little potty which they could use under their big gowns in case they needed a pee! I think she said it was called a gaurde loo. (no idea how that’s spelt) and these little potties can still be seen in antique shops. The tour ended at the Hôtel de Ville, the town hall.
The tour of St Germain-des-Pres started at the church of St Sulpice. The French Revolution stopped the completion of the building when all things religious were condemned so one of the domes was never completed. The church is now being renovated and with French heritage laws it must be restored to the original, with the incomplete dome left as is. The other church we visited was 11th century St Germaine-des Près, the oldest church in Paris.
The rest of the tour took us past many of the haunts of writers for which the area is famous, Hemingway, Sartre, Racine, Fitzgerald and Joyce and artists, Delacroix and Picasso. I was thinking ‘Hmmm, nice to stay in a hotel around here.’And there it was, the Relais Christine (www.relais-christine.com) set back on a quiet laneway. The tariff was posted on the entrance. I had a glance at the ‘standard room’ price, 328 € per night and didn’t bother reading further.