Forum des Halles
For a long time no one really knew what should be done with the space left after the historic central market halls, which were made world-famous through Émile Zola’s novel The Belly of Paris (1873), were finally torn down in 1972. In the end a new “Les Halles,” the Forum des Halles was constructed, an underground, not particularly attractive, shopping center. Nonetheless it has more than 300 shops, a large indoor swimming pool, concert hall and various movie theaters. In the largest branch of the Fnac chain you can buy books and CDs or, in the Videothèque de Paris, watch virtually all existing films about Paris.
Underneath the shopping levels there is the largest Métro station in Paris, “Les Halles,” while on the surface the former Halles Quarter has been made into a park. The only old thing now left here is the Fontaine des Innocents ", situated in a bustling square at the southeast edge of the large rectangular area. The fountain which dates from the 16th century is worth seeing for its beautiful bas-reliefs – masterpieces of sculpture from the early French Renaissance.
Saint-Eustache / Bourse de Commerce: Remnants of the Halles Quarter
Very little remains of the original Halles Quarter: there is, for example, the Church of Saint-Eustache. Here the lengthy construction period resulted in a unique edifice. The structure of the church is Gothic whereas the interior was not completed until the Renaissance.
The enormous height of the structure, flooding the interior with light, is overwhelming. Equally enchanting is the sound of the largest organ in France, also used for concerts. Its predecessor was played by Franz Liszt who particularly liked the accoustics of Saint-Eustache.
The large circular building of the Bourse de Commerce (Stock Exchange) was once the corn hall of the Paris markets and in 1811, during a prosperous trading period, a dome of iron and glass was added. On the south side you can admire a 31-meter-high column; 147 steps lead inside it to a platform. The column, erected in the 16th century was probably an observatory for the stars, for use by the court astrologers of Catherine de Medici, the widow of King Henri IV.
Hidden behind dwelling houses lie the spacious grounds of the Palais Royal, built between 1634 and 1639 for Cardinal Richelieu. Here the French Revolution was initiated: in the garden of the Palais on July 14, 1789, the day before the storming of the Bastille, the journalist Desmoulins appealed to the people to take up arms against the king.
The Jardin du Palais Royal is a downtown oasis with shoping arcades, restaurants and cafés. A further point of interest are the 260 black and white pillars of varying height which were set up by the artist Daniel Buren in 1985/86.
Brass plates in the Restaurant Grand Vefour mark the regular seats of the revolutionaries, and of Napoleon, Victor Hugo and Colette. Rated with two Michelin stars, the restaurant at the northwest corner of the gardens is one of the most beautiful and most historic in Paris.
Directly beside the Palais Royal is the venerable theater Comédie Française which was founded in 1680 by Louis XIV. In the foyer you can still see the armchair on which Molière collapsed and died in 1673 – during a performance of Le Malade Imaginaire (The Hypochondriac).
On the way back to the former market halls through the Rue des Petits- Champs you pass unconventional shops and Willi’s Wine Bar, one of the best wine bistros of the city (house no. 13). Opposite there is the complex of the Bibliothèque Nationale with a reading room dating from the 17th century.
On the other side of the street the two most attractive shopping arcades in Paris, the Galerie Vivienne and directly beside it the Galerie Colbert, built in 1825, will entice you to linger. A stroll past the shops of the Galerie Vivienne, which offer everything from jewelry and fashion (especially interesting: Gaultier) to antique shops and to the small art galleries and bookshops of the Galerie Colbert is always rewarding. In the restaurant Grand Colbert you can take a break in appropriately stylish surroundings.
The replica of an equestrian statue of the Sun King, Louis XIV, from the 19th century adorns the Place des Victoires. This area used to be a tip-off for fashion by young designers. Today Gaultier and Kenzo themselves are part of the establishment; the square is a recognized meeting place of the fashion world.
Pubs, Traders, Novel Shops
The legendary central market of Paris is irretrievably lost. But opposite the church of Saint-Eustache in the restaurant Au Pied de Cochon it is still possible at any time of night or day to eat pigs’ knuckles or the popular French onion soup with which the traders and workers used to get warmed up.
There are very few of the wholesale traders still in existence – Dehillerin in the Rue Coquilliére is one, with an unbelievable selection of cooking utensils – and there are a few specialty shops in Rue Montmartre. Some of the restaurants with historical interiors also have intriguing names, such as the restaurant Au Chien qui fume (the dog which smokes), located on the south side of the Halles park at the beginning of Rue du Pont-Neuf or the bistro Cochone à l’Oreille (the pig held by the ears) in Rue Montmartre. In the latter, a small Halles bistro you can still get a taste of the fin de siècle atmosphere and see the beautiful art nouveau tiling.
In the short street, Rue du Jour, which starts in front of the unfinished façade of Saint-Eustache, teens and twens will find everything that is currently “cool” – for example trendy clothes from Agnès B or other young fashion designers. In Rue Montmartre old and new mingle – alongside old established delicatessen traders there are fashionable shoes or accessories on sale. The designers (Comme des Garçons, Equipment, Kenzo, Junko Shimada) have the upper hand in Rue Étienne Marcel, as far as Place des Victoires. Also in Rue Étienne Marcel you can see the remains of the the first city walls of Paris and the tower, Tour Jean Sans Peur, the only medieval building left in Paris.
Around the Rue Montorgueil
The streets in the vicinity of Rue Montorgueil have been made into a pedestrian zone. Here you can stroll and look at the old house façades; every day except Monday market stalls offer exotic fruit and vegetables for sale, and here you will also find the Pâtisserie Stohrer which bakes the very best croissants in Paris.
Nearby there are several historic arcades – shopping passageways from the first half of the19th century, now roofed over with glass. The Passage du Grand Cerf (ready-to-wear clothing), the Passage du Bourg l’Abbé or the Passage du Caire (interior décor) are all worth a visit. All three arcades are situated on the old Rue Saint-Denis, the southern section of which is a red light district with sex shops, streetwalkers and dubious strip tease bars. Yet once this sinful mile was the triumphal avenue of the French kings and was enhanced by the Porte Saint-Denis, a 23-meter-high triumphal arch, built by Louis XIV in 1672.
Centre Georges Pompidou
The contrast between the old narrow lanes with historic houses, some of which have not been restored, and the run-down inner courtyards, and the “culture refinery” located to the south, the spectacular Centre Georges Pompidou, with its façade of acrylic glass tubes, could not be greater. A whole district of largely medieval buildings had to make way for the blue/white/red/green monster which was opened in 1977 and rapidly became the city’s most frequently visited building.
The main attraction of the center is the Musée National d’Art Moderne. In the fourth floor contemporary art is on display; on the fifth floor art from the period 1905 – 1960 and on the sixth floor changing exhibitions are shown. Since the renovation of the museum it is easier to find your way around. The extension of the exhibition area and the rearrangement of the collections also enabled attractive new purchases, for example works by Otto Dix and Max Ernst. Other works from this important collection are by Picasso, Kandinsky, Chagall, Klee, Beuys, Miró, Warhol, Michaux...
The reading room of the Library and Media Library in the third floor has room for 1300 visitors. To complete the facilities there is a movie theater, as well as an art bookshop and an internet café.
A ride on the escalator on the outside of the bulding to the roof gives you a superb view of the center of Paris. In the square in front of the building, the Piazza, there is continual activity. Street artists and performers entertain those in the outdoor cafés with a “ringside seat” for the show.
The modernistic, comical/crazy, kinetic constructions and sculptures in the Fontaine Igor Strawinsky, to the south of the center, are the work of Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint-Phalle.
Behind the square, to the north you see the Gothic Church of Saint-Merri. This is Late Gothic in its purest form, for example the West portal in Rue Saint- Martin. The ornament is – typical of the Flamboyant style – finely chiseled and broken down into the smallest elements.
To finish off you can walk down to the the quay where there is a fine view of the Île de la Cité and – in the other direction – the Île de Saint-Louis. The bouquinistes on the quai walls hawk old books, comic books and postcards – especially in the afternoons and in good weather.
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