Paris: A Week in the Latin Quarter
Latin Quarter hotels, restaurants, sights, markets & more
In March 2009 I got to experience Paris & its Latin Quarter in a new way. With our kids on a trip to California with my parents, my husband and I had a chance to do something special with his parents. We cashed in some frequent flyer miles and headed to the City of Light. Because of knee issues that limited mobility, we couldn't cover as much sightseeing ground as we might have in trips past. The silver lining was that this forced us to do much more cafe-sitting, people watching, and true relaxing. I now see why so many Europeans like to spend their lesiure time that way. It's fun! And you don't return home exhausted, needing a post-vacation vacation.
Dedicated to my parents-in-law, this lens features some of the many treasures of the Latin Quarter neighborhood we adopted that week. All Paris pictures featured here are our own unless otherwise noted.
Settling In -- Find a Latin Quarter Hotel
We stayed at the Hotel Minerve, 13 rue des Ecoles, in Paris's 5th arrondissement, the heart of the Latin Quarter. Judging from the TripAdvisor reviews, not everyone agrees, but the four of us really loved this place. The staff were gracious and the location amazing--within easy walking distance of Notre Dame cathedral, the river Seine, bustling Boulevard St. Germain with its shops and cafes, and three metro stops. The rooms were small but cute, with pretty paintings on the walls, and both our rooms had little balconies. With doubles priced at 107 to159 Euros, Minerve is reasonably priced by Paris standards, especially given its location. Hotel Minerve is on rue des Ecoles, just west of the Cardinal Lemoine metro stop.
More budget-friendly options nearby:
- Hotel Familia
This is Minerve's sister property, right next door and owned by the same family. Double rooms 107-137 Euros.
- Hotel St. Jacques
Yet another well-regarded option on rue des Ecoles. Doubles 110-189 Euros.
- Hotel Europe St. Severin
Near my favorite church (more on that later...). Doubles 110-130 Euros.
- Hotel des Grandes Ecoles
Very popular place with a great reputation. Book well in advance! Doubles 115-140 Euros.
- Hotel de Nesle
I have great memories of staying here 20+ years ago. Funky, atmospheric spot in the 6th arrondissement, recommended for the young or young-at-heart. Doubles 75-100 Euros.
Exploring -- The River Seine
Night or day, strolling the banks of the Seine is the thing to do in Paris. Take 20 minutes to gaze at the gorgeous bridges, buildings, and monuments and you'll see why this town has won so many hearts. Above, Notre Dame cathedral was a Seine-river highlight in our neighborhood.
Notre Dame Cathedral
The city's most famous cathedral, gothic beauty Notre Dame, is not only worth an indoor and outdoor tour (don't miss the gargoyles!), but also a hub for street performers and other diversions. In this shot I'm trying my hand at bird feeding, after getting some coaching (and cake) from a bird lover hanging around the front of the church. This was also the site of one of numerous peaceful protests we saw during our week in Paris.
Shakespeare & Co.
This funky English-language bookstore has a colorful history and a laid-back vibe. You can browse and read at your leisure in the shop where Beat Generation writers like Ginsberg and Burroughs once chilled. A young, arty staff enhances the vibe: at one point a college-age guy walked in, tapped out an old English folk tune or two on the piano, and walked out.
Read this on the plane...
Eglise Saint Severin
Can a lapsed, somewhat angry Catholic like me still have a spiritual experience in a Catholic church? Yes, if the church is Saint Severin. Its earliest components date to the 11th century, but ancient and modern elements commingle beautifully through the presence of a series of 1960s stained-glass windows (above) by Jean Rene Bazaine, inspired by the seven sacraments of the Catholic church. Saint Severin also features the oldest church bells remaining in Paris (cast in 1412) and super-cool pillars in the form of palm-tree trunks.
Boulevard Saint Germain
Originally built in the 1700s as a church, the Pantheon became (stealing from Wikipedia here) "a temple to the great intellectuals of France." Physicist Leon Foucault famously demonstrated the Earth's rotation with an 1851 experiment in the Pantheon. The building holds the remains of Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Marie Curie, Louis Braille, and many other arts-and-sciences luminaries. Mainly, my husband liked photographing it in early-evening light.
Musee du Moyen Age
I was happy to be staying near the Middle Ages (Moyen Age) Museum--also known, somewhat confusingly, as the Musee Cluny--because it's one of my favorite museums in Paris. It's built on the ruins of Roman baths dating to about 200 A.D.--very cool in and of themselves. But the main draw is a series of medieval tapestries, above, called La Dame et La Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn), telling an elaborate visual story based on the five senses. Bonus: The museum shop offers some of the classier low-cost souvenirs I've seen, with tapestry-printed pillboxes, nail files, rulers, and more.
The Sorbonne is the best known of several colleges and universities down the street from our hotel. The advantage of this was that there were tons of art-supply, book, and record shops in the area, along with reasonably priced restaurants, fun (but not obnoxious) student bars, and a great little movie theatre where the hubby and I caught a late-night Woody Allen flick.
Eating -- Boulangerie Eric Kayser
Strolling on our first full day in Paris, we saw a line of people outside this storefront. Turns out they were waiting for bread, pastries, and sandwiches from one of the city's best bakeries, Eric Kayser, 14 rue Monge. It became a daily--sometimes twice-daily--stop for us. I love a simple baguette and developed the very un-French habit of carrying one around with me to nibble at all times. (Note: I was beyond excited to discover that EK has expanded into NYC -- and couldn't wait to grab a baguette at one of their several Big Apple outposts. But alas, it didn't taste the same! Is there something in the Parisian water?)
If you're watching your Euros, bakeries offer one of the best ways to save in Paris. For breakfast, you can pick up good coffee from a place like Eric Kayser, plus a delicious pastry or two. And bakery sandwiches make a great lunch on the go, leaving more of your food budget for dinner.
I don't know which we enjoyed more at this place, the yummy food or the witty waiters. Consistently named one of Paris's best brasseries, Balzar has a colorful history (Camus and Sartre lunched together here), a classic deco interior, and a terrific menu, with specialties like choucroute garni (a platter or sauerkraut, ham, and sausages), sole meuniere, and profiteroles (mini pastries filled with ice cream and covered in hot chocolate sauce). With a narrow, enclosed front patio on rue des Ecoles, it's also a great spot to people-watch with a coffee or glass of wine.
We loved this place, on rue St. Jacques in the shadow of the Pantheon, so much we went there twice for dinner. Le Perraudin is a very traditional, 1900-vintage bistro with a prix fixe menu. It's all delish, from beef bourguignon served in a cast-iron skilet to the nougat glace, which is like an infinitely classier cousin to my fave candy bar. The menu includes a full-page list of scholars, writers, artists, and other famous and semi-famous folks who've dined here.
Wine lovers, check the menu for vins en pichet, or house wines by the carafe. The quality-to-price ratio is much better than in the U.S., and the carafes come in a variety of sizes. I especially liked the dry rose, which is hard to find in restaurants back home, has a lovely color, and tastes nothing like the sweet white Zinfandel you might expect based on looks alone.
Breakfast in America
Two doors from our hotel was a restaurant called Breakfast in America that was always packed. Apparently pancakes, burgers, huevos rancheros, and American bacon taste good to French folks, too :) Alas, we never did get to try the restaurant's tribute to President Obama. Maybe next time!
Saveur de Savoie
For my husband's sake, I knew we'd need to get some fondue or raclette before leaving Paris. We found it in our neighborhood at Saveur de Savoie, 20 rue Saint Severin. Raclette is the name of a cheese and also the name of the dish, popular in the French Alps. A half-round of cheese is melted on a tabletop grill. You scrape the cheese and eat it with a plate of boiled potatoes, sweet pickles, and dried meats like ham, salami & prosciutto. We inhaled this reasonably-priced cheesy goodness amidst fun mountain-chalet décor and a surprisingly cool (if incongruous) soundtrack of classic American music--Hank Williams Sr., Sun Sessions era Elvis, etc.--that made up for the slightly gruff service.
(photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Next door to the Latin Quarter, this is like the Central Park of Paris. And it's a lovely spot for a picnic, weather permitting! Along with ethnic restaurants, pizzerias and creperies, picnics are a great budget dining strategy in Paris. Baguette sandwiches are available everywhere and really tasty -- or just grab a fresh plain baguette and some cheese. Can't beat it!
I had a tight souvenir budget this time, but many people to buy for. I found myself taking another look at kitschy souvenir stands near the Seine: Digging around a bit, I found cute pocket mirrors decorated with painted scenes from the city, Paris-themed umbrellas, and tie-up cloth bread baskets covered in lively fabrics from the south of France. At an outdoor market in the Latin Quarter, I grabbed soft wool scarves (made in France) and an Indian print wrap skirt, each under $20. Another bonanza was Monoprix, which is sort of like the French version of Target, but with more consistently stylish stuff. I found organic cotton tops for under $20 that look great on several female family members, plus tons of French chocolate bars in Monoprix's well-stocked grocery department.
Money belt, be gone!
Looking for a close-to-the-body touring bag for your valuables that doesn't sacrifice style for functionality? Le Sportsac comes through with its Kasey bag, available in many colors, from lively prints to sleek solids like the shiny black one I choose for my travels. It's become my go-to bag for everyday, too -- not just trips. I eventually got one in a cool Southwestern pattern, too.
Lesser-known diversions in Paris
This clip makes me want to jump a plane right back to Paris. Did not even know about some of these activities, like riverside dancing and group rollerblading (not that I could talk my other half into either one, but you never know).