May 9, 2018
Join Us in France Travel Podcast, Episode
On today’s episode, Annie and Elyse talk about the things they
love about the Saint Germain des Près neighborhood in Paris. It's
actually surprising to see how long it took us to devote an entire
episode to Saint Germain des Près, and it only happened because we
assumed that we had already done it!
Saint Germain des Près is the area of Paris where both Annie and
Elyse would love to live if they won the lottery. It's never going
to happen, but a girl can dream, right? Come along and dream with
us, we tell you tales of the oldest church in Paris, wonderful
cafés, great shopping, and the wonderful artists of the 1920s who
hung out there.
If you’re interested in Saint Germain des Près, you should
probably also listen to our other episodes about classic Paris
27 on Le Marais, and Episode 7
on the Latin Quarter.
Episode Highlights with Timestamps
- [03:48] Saint Germain des Près is beautiful and very expensive
part of Paris. The prices went through the roof there 60 or 70
- [06:47] What do we mean when we say Saint Germain des Près?
What are the boundaries? The definition is a bit amorphous and it
depends on who you ask, but it includes a lot of the 6th
- [07:27] The word “près” means meadow, which it used to be, this
is an old area of Paris. The tower of the Church of Saint Germain
des Près was part of the oldest churches in Paris.
- [09:04] The Merovingian Kings established the Saint Germain des
Près Abbey and it included a lot of land.
- [10:10] Definition of Early Middle Ages (500 to 1000), High
Middle Ages (1000 to 1400), Late Middle Ages (1400 to 1500s), then
came the Renaissance.
- [11:38] Merovingians made Christianity the official religion
and funded Abbeys and Monasteries.
- [11:58] In Roman times, many people were literate, but in this
period of the early Middle Ages, few people in France were
literate, so it was vital to have Monasteries to keep literacy
- [13:15] The Saint Germain des Près Church becomes a Royal Abbey
in 558 and the necropole for French French Kings before Saint
- [14:04] They built the Saint Germain Church over the top of an
old Roman Temple, which is something that happened a lot.
- [15:03] The Saint Germain des Près church is set a quarter to
half mile away from the river in order to protect it from
- [16:10] The vital importance of relics in the Middle Ages, and
the worship of relics as a driver of economic growth.
- [17:23] The Saint Germain area was raided and burned by the
Vikings three times: in 845, 856, and 861.
- [17:50] When they rebuilt the church, they added the Romanesque
tower in 990, and that’s still the one we see today. This is also
the time when it became a Benedictine Abbey.
- [18:57] Benedictine Monks were always as the center of
intellectual knowledge, and the area has retained its reputation of
being the place for intellectuals.
- [21:05] The Procope, one of the oldest cafés in Paris where
people like Diderot and Voltaire used to go argue about ideas. This
was the beginning of café culture in Paris and is mostly super
touristy at this point.
- [23:41] We’re not sure if they’d let you sit at a table at the
Procope and write all day.
- [24:21] The Procope is also where the people who fomented the
French Revolution sur as Danton and Marat hung out.
- [24:48] Rue Danton where Danton really lived is two streets
away from the Procope. Back then the area was not fashionable or
- [25:13] You just have to walk these streets. Most are small
narrow streets except for Boulevard Saint Germain des Près which
has Haussmann buildings.
- [26:48] Worth visiting, the Delacroix Museum where he had his
- [28:22] The Saint Germain des Près area is famous for book
stores. A couple that are famous today are L’Écume des Pages and La
- [29:12] Several of the most prestigious French Publishing
houses such as Gallimard and Seuil were also started in this area
because it was always the book area.
- [29:35] Saint Germain des Près is the area where authors would
hang out, lots of the famous ones you’ve heard of such as
Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Simone de Beauvoir, etc. It must have been
like in Midnight in Paris!
- [32:05] Jazz clubs opened in Paris in the 20s and were popular
with French people.
- [32:34] The 1920 were paradoxical times: racism and prejudice
were pervasive and yet there were vibrant communities of artists in
Paris. Many had left their own countries to come to Paris where
they could mingle.
- [35:40] Brasserie Lipp is also an interesting place where
filmmakers used to hang out.
- [36:10] None of that is going on in Saint Germain today because
it’s become too expensive. How the gentrification process worked in
- [38:25] The Beaux Arts school is on rue Bonaparte and has been
there for a long time. It gave a lot of prestige to the area.
- [41:19] Even rich French people mostly don’t patronize cafés
like Deux Magots and Café de Flore because they know the prices are
ridiculous. But the area has lots of little wonderful cafés that
are more approachable and just as nice.
- [42:52] Also explore the church of Saint Sulpice, technically
in the Odeon neighborhood, but a must-see in this area.
- [43:03] This is the church with the “gnomon” which can easily
be missed if you’re not paying attention.
- [44:21] Saint Sulpice also has free concerts every Sunday
- [44:52] Rue de Rennes is a big shopping street in this area,
and so it rue Bonaparte.
- [45:46] The Saint Germain neighborhood is a great place to go
buy food for your picnic, then head down towards the river and
- [48:34] At Saint Sulpice once a day you can go up to see the
organ. Check their website to know what time.
- [50:14] Annie has seen some tour guides come into Saint Sulpice
and spend 2 minutes and leave. It’s like speed dating except that
it’s speed tourism!
- [53:42] This is a neighborhood where you will find unique
clothes and things you won’t find in the big chain stores.
- [54:01] Great shopping streets in the Saint Germain des Près
neighborhood: rue de Buci, rue de Rennes, rue Saint André des Arts.
You could also visit the Bon Marché, the expensive department
- [56:56] Great neighborhood for walking, great neighborhood for
- [57:47] Despite what popular guide books recommend, both Annie
and Elyse would much rather stay in the Saint Germain des Près or
Latin Quarter area.
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