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Join Us in France is the home of a weekly podcast about France launched in Feb 2014. Welcome to the show! Look around, we have a show for almost every place in France. Let's make your next visit to France the best one yet!

May 9, 2018

Join Us in France Travel Podcast, Episode 196

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 neighborhoods: Episode 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 years ago.
  • [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 arrondissement.
  • [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 alive.
  • [13:15] The Saint Germain des Près Church becomes a Royal Abbey in 558 and the necropole for French French Kings before Saint Denis.
  • [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 flooding.
  • [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 touristy.
  • [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 studio.
  • [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 Hune.
  • [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 this neighborhood.
  • [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 morning.
  • [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 enjoy it.
  • [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 store.
  • [56:56] Great neighborhood for walking, great neighborhood for looking around.
  • [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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