The Hidden Trésors of Paris’ 7th Arrondissment
Paris’ glorious and elegant 7th arrondissment has attracted many well known figures in the past and present and was Napolean Bonaparte’s favourite district where he resided and consequently was buried. The 7th is one of the chicest and most sophisticated areas in the city to experience some of the finest food, restaurants and sites the city has to offer including of course, those drop dead gorgeous views of the Eiffel Tower. Staying in or visiting the 7th arrondissment exposes you to striking architecture, expansive gardens, pretty hidden streets lined with fancy shops and cafes, the most adorable and delicious market street in all of Paris, monuments, world class art galleries, an island named after swans, a replica of the statue of liberty and the grandeur provided by military and political treasures. While it boasts all these wonderful trèsors to explore, it is also where you can experience that true local vibe and where you can enjoy delightful meals at a café with gorgeous scenery all around, strolls or pleasurable bike rides through cobble stoned streets that wind and meander and lead to only more delights to discover. The 7th is centrally located in the heart of Paris on the left bank or rive gauche and is crowned by the Eiffel Tower – the Grand Iron Lady that is the symbol of Paris and will have you awestruck by her magnificence day and night especially when thousands upon thousands of her lights illuminate the city at the beginning of every hour from twilight to midnight.
Let’s begin our exploration of the 7th at the base of the Eiffel Tower and ride up the elevator or climb the stairs up to the first, second or maybe even the summit level, if you dare, for some of the most stunning views of the city. It’s hard to believe that Gustave Eiffel’s tower, built for the World Exposition of 1889, was to be demolished shortly after construction. Gustave was mocked by the people of Paris, in particular artists, writers and his peers like Charles Garnier, creator of the Opera Garnier, remarked that it was aesthetically unpleasing and towered over the more human scale buildings like a 300 metre smoke stack. Many laughed at the Eiffel’s supposed monstrosity and said they preferred to dine in the Eiffel’s restaurant as it was the only place they wouldn’t have to see it! In the end, Gustave was the last one to have a laugh when his Eiffel Tower creation was enthusiastically embraced and adored by the millions of visitors from all around the world who flocked to see it in the 1889 World Fair and who didn’t mind climbing the stairs when the elevators broke down from over use. Still today, you can enjoy dining at the historic and award winning Jules Verne restaurant on the top floor or at the fairly new 58 Tour Eiffel on the first floor where you can enjoy some fancy cuisine and service in a two hour seating with incredible views all around. The latest addition to the Eiffel food scene is the more casual La Bulle Parisienne bistro enclosed by a glass dome where you can see the whole construction of the Eiffel Tower. Today there are many sites that offer various Eiffel tours and dinner packages and a visit to the Eiffel or restaurants’ require bookings months in advance as it is extremely busy all year round with some of the longest lines you will ever see just to access the Eiffel’s elevators that take you to the various levels. Visit the Eiffel’s website for more information at restaurants-toureiffel.com to make a restaurant booking or viator.com. Also, you could go to Paris City Vision at pariscityvision.com to book a restaurant and Eiffel tour package. Now, lets take a long walk through the most famous park in all of Paris, Le Champs de Mars.
Le Champs de Mars is a grand and expansive public park that stretches out for miles from the base of the Eiffel Tower to the Ecole Militaire which is acturally how the area got its name. The lawns of Champs de Mars or Field of Mars was used by the French military as they practiced military tactics on horseback and as a result references Mars – the Roman God of War. The enormous space was also used by hot air balloonists in the 17th and 18th hundreds as they mastered their craft and continues to be used today as an exhibit area and is a popular and well loved site for film makers and photographers due to the pristine gardens and proximity to the Eiffel Tower. Picnicking and bike riding in the Champs de Mars is popular too because of the vibrant atmosphere, scenery, beautifully maintained grass and generous sized gravel pathways that divert in to the pretty little historic streets around the 7th. The oldest and most historic Marionnette Puppet Show is here in a quiet corner of the Champs de Mars in a Napoleaon III style wagon green theatre and if you’re travelling with children it can be just what you and the kids need to take a little break from all the site seeing and walking. The puppet house is so old and popular in Paris it has acquired a mass of 600 puppets and 200 background pieces and can seat up to 200 guests and is perhaps the most traditional thing to do with children. The most popular shows are of Sleeping Beauty, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White and Grinoille – the French version of Punch and Judy. Each show runs for 45 minutes and an old school bell is rung by the enthusiastic actors to alert passers by of a show about to commence. You can locate the Marionnettes du Champ de Mars Paris between the Avenue Risler and the Avenue Motte Piquet about 500 metres from the Eiffel Tower and close to the children’s playground area (ask the Parisian’s they’ll be happy to point it out to you). The puppet shows are held at 3.15 and 4.15pm on a Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday especially on school holidays and tickets are roughly 5 euros and only cash is accepted here for tickets and sweet snacks your kids will definitely want to try.
At the foot of the Champs de Mars is another important site and is symbolically situated in front of the Ecole Militaire – The Wall Of Peace or Mur de Paix. The wall was designed by Clara Halter and Jean-Michel Wilmotte and installed in 2000 on the Champs de Mars to emphasise the notion of peace in an area that is historically associated with war. The installation was inspired by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem with the word peace written over it in 49 different languages. Visitors to the wall can express their hopes for peace on a touchscreen installed in the wall and just like the Wailing Wall there are slots in the wall where people can deposit their written messages of peace. The striking glass, wood and metal structure is difficult to miss or pass by when in this area with the Eiffel Tower in the background emphasising its importance.
One of the most historic buildings is the Ecole Militaire itself that stands southeast of the Champs de Mars and the first stone was layed by Louis XV in 1769. The Ecole Militaire was conceived by Madame Pompadour, mistress to Louis XV, who raised funds for the vast complex by requesting the King to levy a tax on playing cards and is still considered the top military school of France. A young and extremely confident cadet, Napolean Bonaparte, trained here and joined an artillery regiment upon his graduation because he was too short for the cavalry. The original building is adorned with beautiful brick and statutuery of military theme and over time, additional buildings were added on and honor the heritage of the original building.
Diverting from the Champs de Mars is a delightful off the beaten track neighbourhood known as the Gross Caillou which translates to big pebble in French. The streets of the Gross Caillou have few tourists and has that authentic local vibe and Parisian charm. This lovely residential spot in the 7th once used the large rock as a landmark to separate lands owned by two 17th century abbeys. It’s hard to believe this area was also once home to a large tobacco factory that polluted the streets here with thick layers of smoke in the 19th century. Today, no evidence of this factory can be seen as you bicycle or stroll through the narrow rues and admire the sweet charm that is old Paris. You’ll find some great restaurants here like La Fontaine de Mars at 129 Rue Saint-Dominique serving traditional French fare like Confit duck and Filet of beef with sauce béarnaise and fries with or Sole meuniere and Escargots de Bourgogne. Some incredible and upmarket restaurant that serves elegant French cuisine you won’t ever forget is Le Violon d’Ingres 135 Rue Saint-Dominique and Philippe Excoffier (ex chef to the ambassador of America and has cooked for Obama) on 18 Rue de l’Exposition. Another popular restaurant is the more intimate Au Gros Caillou which also serves traditional French cuisine like onion soup and steak frites and has that lovely Parisian vibe as does the lovely Le Champ de Mars on 45 Avenue de la Bourdonnnais with a view of the top of the Eiffel tower. This is the area for some great authentic cosy, casual and elegant cuisine which makes sense because some of the best food specialty stores are here too as well as the best little market street in all of Paris – the Rue Cler.
There couldn’t be anything more charming or enjoyable than taking a stroll along cobblestoned Rue Cler market street. This delightful spot has everything you could possibly need or imagine for the best Parisian picnic or deli’s to bring back home or to your holiday apartment. If you’re staying in a hotel you can ask any specialty store you visit to put everything for you in special little containers to enjoy at the Champs de Mars gardens or by the river later. This street is filled with beautiful long standing specialty fromageries (cheese shops), sweet shops like Famille Marie, confectioneries, pastry and bread stores not to forget the amazing Devoli’s serving up deliciously prepared Italian hot food and offers an unbelievable selection of Italian salamis and cheese. There are also a few lovely cafes and restaurants here like Le Petit Cler, Café Du Marche, Café Roussillon and Le Tribeca to dine in and pretty little fruit and flower shops, a fois gras and duck confit store, macarons and chocolate stores, a book shop, newsagency and more Parisian delights. Rue Cler is petite but has so much charm and character thanks to its pretty buildings and local bustling atmosphere. Near by is the equally charming Rue Saint Dominique that is lined with delightful top notch bakeries, butchers, confectionary stores and outstanding cafes and restaurants enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Also on Rue Saint Dominique you’ll discover the oldest plumbing system in Paris in the shape of a pretty fountain called, The Fountain of Mars or La Fontaine de Mars and where you’ll find that exquisite La Fontaine de Mars restaurant I mentioned earlier and Les Fables de la Fontaine seafood restaurant with great reviews. On the fountain structure you’ll see sculptures that depict Mars the god of war and Hygeia goddess of health and daughter of the god of medicine. If you glance down to the bottom of the fountain you’ll notice a little plaque that reads, CRUE Janvier 1910 – which represents the water mark of the great Paris flood of 191o when Parisians were sailing on little boats through the rues of Paris much like in Venice. Walk a little further down Rue Saint Dominique to discover some very chic and affordable Parisian fashion boutiques here for adults as well as children with some more interesting boutiques spilling into Avenue Bosquet and Boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg nearby.
Some of the most beautiful architecture is here in the 7th arrondissment and one particular building I have in mind is at 29 Avenue Rapp just moments away from Rue Saint Dominique. The incredibly stunning and unique façade of 29 Avenue Rapp is difficult to miss and is not only a wonderful example of Art Nouveau but a masterpiece winning many architectural prizes in its time. Even the famous, surrealist artist, Salvador Dali, said that it was the most beautiful, artistic and sexually overt structure in Paris. The ceramic details that cover the façade of this building is by Alexandre Bigot – a chemist and science teacher who developed a further fascination with ceramics after seeing Chinese porcelain on display in Paris’ 1889 World Exhibition. Bigot’s expertise and background in chemistry enabled him to invent and create remarkable glazed ceramics with detailed finishes and colours. Architect Jules Lavriotre was so inspired and in awe of Bigot’s ceramics that he incorporated it into his architectural design of his apartment at 29 Avenue Rapp. If you glance upwards at the beautiful, elaborate detail above the door you’ll notice a sculpture of a woman in a fur collar which happens to be Lavriotre’s wife. For lovers of all things art nouveau this the perfect street to explore where more art nouveau treasures can be found around the corner from 29 Square Rapp at another Lavriotre structure built in 1899 where he lived in an apartment on the upper floor. This gorgeous building is sprinkled with Eiffel tower details to echo the jaw dropping views of the Eiffel tower itself seen from the windows here and from the delightful garden in front that is difficult to pass by because of the intricate black cast iron gate designed by Lavriotre as well and the stunning wall mural is enchanting and a perfect backdrop to the garden. The views of the Eiffel tower from the garden are picture perfect and if you come here at the right time of day usually early morning or just before sunset and position yourself well inside the garden you’ll take some pretty amazing photos from here to admire and show off to your friends.
From here, a short walk will bring you to the commanding structure Hotel Les Invalides with its vast gold dome roof noticeable from almost anywhere in Paris with a stunning topiary garden and antique canon display. This complex of buildings was the brainchild of Louis XIV, the famous Sun King, who was brought to shame by all the homeless and unemployed soldiers unable to find work or a place to live after becoming injured during battle in many of the wars that took place throughout his reign. The Hotel Les Invalides was originally founded to offer housing, employment and free medicine to the injured soldiers and continues to house and provide medical services to war veterans today. The structure also contains a fascinating museum with monuments all relating to the military history of France and the Musee de l’Armee which is a great place for war buffs to visit with its rich war history and World War 1 and 2 memorabilia and archives. The massive gold dome that crowns the Invalides building is actually the dome of the tallest church in Paris and was built by Mansart who invented the “Mansart” style rooftops of Paris that grace the most prestigious buildings much like the ones you see in Place Vendome. An honorary statue of Mansart in the adjoining gardens that quite befittingly show him reading architectural plans. The church part of the Invalides houses Napolean’s impressive tomb along with many of France’s war heroes where inside you’ll also find beautiful art, sculptures and murals. Then take the time to walk through the public topiary garden and to take look at the canons on display in the gardens are reminders of the many wars fought by France over the centuries.
After a visit to Hotel les Invalides and its surrounds pop into the popular Café de l’Esplanade nearby at 52 Rue Fabert (look out for the white awnings and white outdoor seating) for a little break before continuing your exploration of the 7th arrondissment. This lovely café echoes the presence of the Invalides and its canons on display in its décor and design referencing canons and warfare – the chandeliers especially are made of repurposed canon balls. While dining on some casual yet refined French fare with an Italian twist you may notice a movie star or two as it seems to be a favourite amongst actors, politicians, diplomats and generals.
After enjoying a satisfying lunch or dinner with some amazing views from the Café de L’Esplanade windows, you can comfortably walk to the National Assembly also known as The Palais Bourbon, and has housed the national assembly – the lower house of the French Parliament since 1798. The commanding and magnificent Palais Bourbon was built in 1726 in honour of Louis XIV daughter of Louise-Francoise and his beloved mistress Madame Montespan. If you take an interest in politics and political debates you can buy tickets online at the National Assembly’s website to sit in the public audience section. However, be warned of the strict rules and protocol before entering as even the slightest noise will have you escorted out by security guards. If art and sculpture is more of your thing then head towards Quai d’Orsay for the not be missed Musee d’Orsay and Musee Rodin on Rue de Varrenne that are all nearby.
The Musee d’Orsay is, in my opinion, the most beautiful, pleasurable and approachable grand art gallery in Paris. The Orsay is brilliantly organised and sectioned into different eras and art categories and contains an impressive selection of sculpture, photography, the largest collection of French art and most incredible collection of Impressionism and Post Impressionist art in Paris featuring masterpieces by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Gaugin, Cezanne, Sisley and Van Gogh. This grand art gallery was once the Gare d’Orsay a beautiful train station constructed in the Beaux Arts style with intricate detailing from wall to ceiling with ornate columns and arches that supported the glass and metal ceiling work. It’s difficult to imagine that this stunning station was doomed to be demolished to make room for more apartment buildings but thankfully successful protesting saved it from such a fate and a great deal of the structure and detail has been preserved including the impressive, ornate gold clock that still functions and graces the building. If you’re up on the first floor in the Orsay take a coffee break at the lovely Café Campana (just after the Impressionist gallery) where you’ll find another amazing and impressive clock (the one that you see on the building’s façade) up close and some spectacular views of Paris from the glass windows that look all the way out to the Sacre Ceour cathedral in Monte Martre. While in the Musee d’Orsay check out or book a table to enjoy a scenic and dazzling meal at the original spectacular Restaurant du Musee d’Orsay serving traditional French cuisine prepared by a top chef. This magnificent restaurant with glorious interiors is listed as a Historic Monument in Paris and much of its magnificence is preserved and remains very much the same as it was in its train station days.
After your time in the Musee d’Orsay walk a few minutes to Rue de Varenne for a visit to another lovely and highly pleasurable art gallery situated in a former mansion with a beautiful, grand garden. The mansion in question was the previous home to the amazingly gifted Auguste Rodin, considered to be the Michael Angelo of his time because of his remarkable gift of sculpture. His works are on beautiful display throughout his home and manicured gardens where you can find his most well known sculpture Le Penser or The Thinker that is supposed to represent a man deep in thought as contemplates the fate of the universe. Other remarkable and well known works can be spotted throughout the gardens like The Gates of Hell inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. It’s hard to believe that Rodin was rejected in the earlier part of his career because of his innovative style and then later for his overly perfect sculptures that critics believed he had casted. Even today, Rodin stirs the heart and emotions with his true to life sculptures that express the depths of human emotion and raw physical expression. Once you have taken in Rodin’s magnificent art and sculpture continue your walk along Rue de Varenne where you’ll stumble upon some old historic mansions including the 300 year old mansion named Hotel de Matignon at number 56 where the biggest party in history was once held in the 19th century with 3000 guests. Today the mansion is the official office of the country’s prime minister but originally was home to Louis Aragon who lived in this beautiful mansion with its highly detailed façade with his muse Elsa and spent many happy times here together writing. Speaking of writing, walk a few doors down to brilliant American writer, Edith Wharton’s, fine and former home at 53 Rue de Varrenne where she had spent her happiest years living in Paris. Wharton wrote her famous novel Age of Innocence here in this home and was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.
If you need to catch a direct bus to Orly or Charles de Gaul airport then hurry to the Air France building located in Esplanade des Invalides (2 Rue Robert Esnault-Pelterie and stretches along Avenue du Marechal Gallieni) is close to the Assemble Nationale mentioned earlier. This grand old structure was built in 1867 as a railway station to transport people to the temporary buildings set up on the Esplanade des Invalides for the universal exposition of that year. If you have time before taking off to the airport or want to take a break from your long day exploring the 7th, stop for some lunch or dinner at the ministers and politicians favourite restaurant Chez Francoise inside the Air France building. The restaurant was established in 1949 and was romantically named after the owner’s great love Francoise where you can enjoy your last elegant, traditional French meal before taking off to your next destination.
And as you head down to the Bir Hakeim metro station to get to your next Paris stop take the time to walk along the lovely Pont de Bir-Hakeim bridge where you’ll also come across the enchanting Île aux Cygnes – an island that stretches out from the river. The Bir Hakeim bridge is named after the Turkish fort in Libia where the Free French, who answered the call to arms by General De Gaul, held off German and Italian forces for 16 days during World War II. To get to the L’Allée des Cygnes (Swans Path) cross the round about next to the Bir Hakeim metro stop and follow the bicycle track that goes along the elevated metro line over the river. Once you’re about half way across the path look out for a sign that says L’Allée des Cygnes (Swans Path) which is a delightful tree lined garden that runs through the centre of this 850 metre long island that is only 11 metres wide. It is a lovely place for a stroll, picnic and where you’ll find locals jogging and excercising or lovers kissing by the edge of the isle. The island is an artificial one made in the 1820’s to act as a haven for the nearby Seine river port of Grenelle. Even though the swans who gave the island its name no longer live here there are other surprising points of interest to take a peek at like the smaller version and sister statue to the Statue of Liberty in New York. This smaller version of Lady Liberty, created by Frederick Bartoldi and inaugurated in 1889, faces west towards the Atlantic to New York and the much taller Lady Liberty was gifted to America by France as a symbol of International alliance in 1886. Also check out the La France Renaissant (France Reborn) statue on the eastern tip of the island. This bronze statue is the work of Halder Vaiderkinch and was gifted to Paris by the Danish in 1930. After such a long day of exploring the beautiful 7th arrondissment, why not take the time to sit under a shady tree at the l’allee des cygnes and enjoy a delicious spread you may have bought over at Rue Cler earlier.
Some recommendations on places to stay in the 7th would be La Comptesse Tour Eiffel at 29 Avenue de Tourville which is a true gem. This wonderful hotel with beautifully maintained and decorated rooms, offers great service and buffet breakfast and a drop dead gorgeous views of the Eiffel Tower from every room. This hotel is only steps away from a metro stop and taxi stand, nice restaurants and cafes and the delightful Rue Cler and nearby streets mentioned earlier with only a 15/20 minute walk to other points of interest including the Eiffel Tower and others you’ve just read about in the post. If La Comptesse isn’t in your budget or you can’t get a room try to find time to have a lovely high tea at their stunning dining salon inspired by the reading salon culture and characters of the enlightenment era. Other nice hotels in the area would be Hotel Duquesne Eiffel, Hotel Le Tourville or go to Paris Perfect at www.parisperfect.com or www.parisvacationapartments.com to book and locate an apartment near Rue Cler or with Eiffel Views because if you’re staying in the 7th why not enjoy views of the Iron Lady from your apartment. And as the Eiffel sparkles at night as your’e enjoying an evening glass of wine and dinner courtesy of Devoli’s on Rue Cler you certainly won’t regret your decision staying here or simply visiting one of the nicest areas in Paris.