Detail of mural by Delacroix in Saint-Sulpice church.
“Moved suddenly today…” wrote the artist Eugène Delacroix in his diary on December 28, 1857. He had grown tired of commuting from Paris’s 9th to its 6th arrondissement while decorating the chapel of the Saint-Sulpice church. “My accommodation is indeed charming. I felt some melancholy after dinner, finding myself transplanted… Woke up the following day with the most gracious sun rising above the houses opposite my window. The view over my little garden and the smiling aspect of my studio convey a feeling of pleasure.”
His new home was in the Place de Furstemberg—a peaceful, unassuming square in the neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. After a glittering career at the vanguard of French Romanticism—he had “a sun in his head and thunderstorms in his heart” according to one obituary—he died here, holding his maid’s hand, in 1863. Delacroix heavily influenced the Modernists and, thanks to campaigning by Maurice Denis, Paul Signac and Édouard Vuillard, among others, in the 1920s, his apartment and studio became a museum, which holds over 1,000 of Delacroix’s works and overlooks a quiet garden.
La Palette, one of Picasso’s favorite bistros
This central spot, a 10-minute walk to the Louvre across the Seine, hints at a bucolic past. Before becoming the glamorous cultural center of the Left Bank, astride the 6th and 7th arrondissements, Saint-Germain-des-Prés was a small medieval town. It was named after the bishop who co-founded the church of Saint Vincent, now known as the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
This was later the district where 17th-century enlightenment thinkers and future revolutionaries gathered. After the Second World War, intellectuals and creatives took over, and jazz began drifting from basements on rue de Rennes. From the writer Marguerite Duras to philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, singers Léo Ferré and Juliette Gréco, directors Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, the sculptor Alberto Giacometti, they were all to be spotted drinking and/or smoking on the terrace of Café de Flore. Luxury boutiques began surfacing in the 1970s. Families who have been here for generations call themselves germanopratins—they are the historical inhabitants of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Its James Joyce Suite
The area naturally still draws newcomers. “I decided to open here in 2004, because the neighborhood is filled with niches in various fields, such as gastronomy, fashion, crafts… Saint-Germain-des-Prés is a cradle for the arts,” says the artist and chocolatier Jean-Charles Rochoux, to be found at 16 rue d’Assas, and who casts ambitious confections as a sculptor might use bronze. “It was the obvious choice. The proximity of the Académie des beaux-arts and the galleries all around are a source of inspiration for me.”
Before you explore delectables by Rochoux and others, the ideal way to begin a tour of these streets is after a good night’s sleep at Pavillon Faubourg Saint-Germain. The boutique hotel spans three 17th-century buildings on rue du Pré aux Clercs. (When this area was still a meadow, it was a popular dueling spot.) A winter garden—with its green walls and sculpted chimney—provides another oasis in the city center. Renovated in 2021 by the Chevalier group, the hotel pays homage to Irish author James Joyce, who stayed in the 1950s to finish his Modernist masterpiece Ulysses, with a suite taking his name and the restaurant named Les Parisiens as a nod to Joyce’s Dubliners. TS Eliot was also a visitor. And what better way to get ready to explore than with a quick dive into the spa’s indoor pool?
Singer Juliette Gréco in the 1950s, with the Saint-Sulpice spire behind her.
Once refreshed, take a left, a right, and another left onto rue de Luynes. Here, behind a navy-blue-framed window display, is a fashion must. Boutique owner Julie de Libran was born in France and grew up in California before studying fashion in Milan and Paris, where she started her career working for Gianfranco Ferré at Dior, then for Gianni Versace and at Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Sonia Rykiel. In 2019, the designer launched her own label and, more recently, this atelier, where she fits customers. Each dress is made and sold in limited quantities, ensuring their quality, rarity, and sustainability. “All my friends and favorite spots are in Saint-Germain, where I live and enjoy biking around. It is like a village to me”, she says.
While its cafe culture is historic, Paris’s coffee culture is not. Ten years ago it was hard to find a good cup of joe but, somehow, bitter hot water served by grumpy waiters has turned into refined brews and lattes to go. Located immediately to your left after leaving de Libran’s boutique, Noir is famous for rotating and roasting a short selection of beans. The Saint-Germain venue was the second branch to open from this young brand, which was founded in January 2021. The interiors are by Batiik Studio, a Paris-based firm created by Rebecca Benichou in 2014. The earthenware crockery is custom-designed by Atelier Maen. Their bestselling cookies, with a pinch of fleur de sel, are to die for.
The Pavillon Faubourg Saint-Germain hotel
If time allows, walk along boulevard Raspail—or through its food market—up to Square Boucicaut, named for a founder of renowned department store Le Bon Marché, which overlooks the square. The store’s name translates to “good deal”—deceptive, considering it is one Paris’s chicest stores, and has its own art collection. While the main building of Le Bon Marché features fashion and interiors, an art deco extension—La Grande Épicerie de Paris—is dedicated to global gastronomy. On that topic, neighborhood newcomer Hando is a few minutes’ walk away, and the Japanese restaurant is as beautiful visually as its handrolls are to consume. The interior is inspired by renowned minimalist architects Tadao Andö and George Nakashima, and its chef Lee Cheng insists seaweed is sourced from a particular village in Japan’s Chugoku region.
Fashion designer and boutique owner Julie de Libran at home
Tradition still reigns, however, and most cafes in the area serve bread from Poilâne. The bakery was established in 1932 and, three generations later, is an institution known for its sourdough-based recipe and its Punitions (“punishments”) shortbreads. The line outside suggests they are nothing of the sort. Lionel Poil&acir;ne, the son of founder Pierre, believes in “retro-innovation”—making the best of tradition and modernity. In 1993, Lionel was named chevalier de l’ordre national du mérite (Knight of the National Order of Merit) for services to the economy. Apollonia Poilâne, a Harvard graduate, now keeps the love for her grandfather’s loaves alive.
Storefront of Noir Coffee Shop & Torréfacteur on rue de Luynes.
Nearby is Place Saint-Sulpice, the beating heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It is home to one of the oldest Saint Laurent boutiques (there is a fragrance named after the square). Café de la Mairie is a meeting place for those in the movie industry, and Delacroix’s murals still stun in their ambition and dynamism in the church of Saint-Sulpice—the second-largest in Paris.
Returning full circle, art-gallery-filled rue Jacob is just off Place de Fustemberg. This leads to Ladurée and its mouth-watering macarons at the corner of rue Bonaparte, and, in the direction of the Seine, Éditions Diane de Selliers. This publishing house issues illustrated literary masterpieces, such as Dante’s Divine Comedy featuring 92 exquisite drawings by Botticelli based on the poem, which were lost until the 17th century, or Baudelaire’s iconoclastic poetry collection The Flowers of Evil paired with paintings by symbolists such as Munch and Moreau, whom he inspired.
Officine Universelle Buly 1803, founded as an apothecary at the start of the 19th century, is now a luxury beauty store
Just along the river is the glorious Académie des beaux-arts, which remains a prestigious art school. Would star alumni such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres or Jacques-Louis David have visited the nearby Officine Universelle Buly 1803? Founded as an apothecary at the beginning of the 19th century, it retains its wood-paneled interior and offers intriguing products, such as La Victoire de Samothrace soap—made with tuberose, magnolia, jasmine and myrrh—and dried peony petals for the bath. Gifting options even include a calligraphy service.
In the parallel rue de Seine opposite square Gabriel-Pierné—a park named after a 20th-century French musician—lies Galerie Jacques Lacoste. This gallery specializes in decorative arts, with a strong focus on French pieces from the 1930s and 1950s—in particular designer Jean Royère, who injected a shapely sense of fun into Modernist interiors. Meanwhile Galerie Kreo, on the nearby rue Dauphine, represents 21st century decor. Founders Clémence and Didier Krzentowski worked in the sports industry before showcasing limited-edition works by figures from Virgil Abloh to Hella Jongerius. The couple is also known for their expertise in 20th-century French and Italian lighting. Karl Lagerfeld was a long-time client, and both dealers were made Officers dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres.
Gallerist Kamel Mennour, who has three locations in the Saint-Germaindes-Prés area.
Look out for La Palette, a listed historical monument on the rue de Seine. The legendary bistro was a favorite of Cézanne and Picasso, and it is still a place to spot writers typing away, or artists engrossed in conversation. The entrepreneur Thierry Bourdoncle bought the premises in 2009. “This place is unique, and has always reflected to me the soul of the Parisian lifestyle,” he says.
Another fan of the area is gallerist Kamel Mennour, who now has three locations in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area. Representing Daniel Buren, Alicja Kwade, Ugo Rondinone, Camille Henrot, Lee Ufan and Anish Kapoor, among others, the star dealer has just convinced Sylvie Patry, former deputy director for collections and curatorial affairs at Musée d’Orsay, to join his team as artistic director.
The living room of this triplex apartment opens out onto a private garden and terrace.
“This is where I live and work, when I don’t travel the world,” says Mennour. “Though imbued in culture, Saint-Germain was still a sleeping beauty when I first opened the gallery, at 60 rue Mazarine, and the idea then was to put it back on the map. Now I am glad to say that contemporary art, including my curatorial work, has contributed to its revival”.
Heading back towards the river and bearing left, you’ll find the Musée d’Orsay, home to the world’s greatest collection of Impressionist art. Or, bearing right, Île de la Cité is home to Place Dauphine, one of Paris’s quaintest squares. It may feel like a village, but city living doesn’t get much better than this.
Galerie Kreo, where founders Clémence and Didier Krzentowski champion 21st-century decor