We all have our “favorites” as to where to play out our love stories, and a city like Paris has certainly scores of these. But remember that choosing the right time of day or night, the right season and the right weather can be as important as the “stage” itself, which should never be crowded. It’s meant to be just the two of you, and Paris… What a superb threesome you make!
- Western tip of l’Allée des Cygnes (Mº Bir-Hakeim) Best time – early morning. Despite the name, Alley of Swans, this place has never had any swans; these belonged to another island at the time of Louis XIV, further east, which no longer exists. But this secluded little enclave has an undefinable poetry that only real lovers of Paris can appreciate. A flight of steps down the bridge of Bir Hakeim takes you there… Walk among the serene, shady trees to the western tip, where a smaller Statue of Liberty looks west toward her larger sister in America. Opposite is the Pont Mirabeau and its lovely mermaids. A flight of seagulls may circle above your heads, as you recall these lines by Guillaume Apollinaire:
Passent les jours, passent les semaines Ni temps passé ni les amours reviennent Sous le Pont Mirabeau coule la Seine… Days go by, years go by, Neither time past nor love returns Under the bridge of Mirabeau flows the Seine…
- Western tip of the Ile-de-la-Cité (M° Pont Neuf) At any time of the day. The Vert Galant (the Amorous Youth) was the philandering Henri IV, said to have scattered some 70 offspring throughout his kingdom… Proceed to the steps by his equestrian statue, and skirt past the Vert Galant gardens (square) to the island’s tip. Settle under the weeping willows, and enjoy the stunning view of the Institut de France, the Louvre and the Pont des Arts, reputedly the city’s most romantic bridge.
- Western tip of the Ile-St-Louis (Mº Pont-Marie) By night… You are surrounded by the amber magic of street lights and their reflection in the water, while the ancient stones of Notre-Dame tell you tales of passion, of les amours d’Héloïse et Abélard, and other Esmeraldas…
- La Cour de Rohan (Mº Odéon) To be entered through rue Jardinet. This is a private place and has a digicode. It may not always be open. Please be discreet as you make your way through its three successive courtyards, which open up magically like Chinese boxes. As you step out into the Cour-du-Commerce-St-André you’ll see the back of Le Procope, the city’s first café (now a restaurant), going back to 1685, the gathering spot of literati and philosophers.
- Fontaine de Médicis (Luxembourg Gardens, Mº Luxembourg) This Renaissance fountain reminds us that the Palais du Luxembourg, now the seat of the French Senate, was once the home of Marie de Medicis, Henri IV’s widow. Ancient romance is carved into the stone, telling the story of the abduction of Leda by the Swan, who is no other than Jupiter in disguise. In more recent times, this was where Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre had their first rendezvous. Before the Revolution, the gardens had two famous walks, l’allée des Philosophes, where the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau would muse, and the allée des Soupirs, the sanctuary of lovers.
- Salon du Palais Royal Shiseido (142 galerie de Valois, Mº Palais-Royal) You climb up one floor and enter a dim, silent sanctuary permeated with fabulous, subtle scents. You’ve stepped into a dream, where Parisian chic meets Japanese refinement. Marble floor, lilac walls and rosewood paneling combine to beguile you as such bewitching fragrances will. Some are suitable for both men and women, and you can even have your initials engraved on the bottles. While you’re about it enjoy the Palais Royal gardens, which are even more romantic at night. This fabulous setting is also home to the Grand Véfour and the enthralling cuisine of Guy Martin, if you can afford to “splurge.”
- Musée de la Vie Romantique (16 rue Chaptal, 9e, Mº Blanche/St-Georges, closed Mon & holidays) Nothing seems to have changed since the 1830-1858 era, when this was the home of the portrait painter Ary Scheffer and the stronghold of the Romantics. A tree-lined driveway, a flowery cobbled courtyard, an Italianate house, a profusion of wisteria, rose bushes… You’ll also see much of George Sand’s memorabilia and recapture her life which had all the ingredients of a tale of romance. Use your imagination to hear the melodies of Liszt and Chopin drifting across the piano keyboard, then head back to the garden where tea is served (only in the summer months).
- L’Allée des Brouillards (Mº Lamarck-Caulaincourt) Best in the morning, or at sunset. The name in itself – the Alley of Mists –conjures up visions of mysterious romance. Hidden in the less frequented parts of Montmartre, it was previously spotted by Auguste Renoir who settled there with Aline and the children in this “paradise of roses and lilac’ in 1892. It’s the house on the left-hand side at the top of the stairs… At the end of an alley, stands the sleepy Château des Brouillards, steeped in serene greenery, frequented and celebrated in the 19th century by the quintessentially romantic writer, Gérard de Nerval. Make your way to 83 rue Lepic for an inexpensive lunch in the flowery garden of Grazziano. It was one of singer Dalida’s favorite haunts and comes with one of Montmartre’s two surviving windmills, le Moulin du Radet. Afterwards, wind down rue Lepic and pay homage to Amélie Poulain.
- Hôtel du Nord (102 quai de Jemmapes, Mº Gare de l’Est) For Saturday night… The mythical place that inspired Marcel Carné takes us back to a poorer, shadier Paris, impressed on our memories in black and white, along with the nasal voice of the legendary Arletty: “Atmosphères, atmosphères…”. True, the film was actually shot in a studio, but the story of two desperate lovers intent on putting an end to their lives, in the Hôtel du Nord’s seedy setting… is as romantic as can be, and so is the Canal St-Martin, with its locks and footbridges. On Saturday night you can have an inexpensive meal here while enjoying French songs from the 1930s, accompanied by an accordion, in a genuinely unpretentious, warm atmosphere.
- The parc des Buttes-Chaumont Unquestionably the city’s most romantic park setting. The Buttes-Chaumont have all the ingredients that qualify as “romantic” – cliffs, grotto, lake, rushing waterfalls… and on top of the cliff, a copy of Tivoli’s Temple of the Sybille. Intended by the Emperor to become “les Tuileries du peuple,” the gardens were laid out in these poor, remote parts, by Napoleon III’s architect, Alphand. When you come down the cliff, enjoy an outdoor lunch at Pavillon Puebla, this in a nest of greenery.
Adapted from Thirza Vallois’s book Romantic Paris. Thirza Vallois is the author of “Around and About Paris.” To order the book: //www.thirzavallois.com