Paris in many ways represents the very essence of finest European art, culture, cuisine and architecture and epitomises elegance and sophistication. Though I have visited many times, I decided to take a personally guided, almost intimate, tour to explore this cultural greatness.
There are plenty of tours of Paris where the more hidden, and sometimes the more obscure, features of civilisation can be discovered.
Art and Pastries. Art and Champagne or Art And Chocolate?
Tours can be taken in a number of the arrondissements of Paris. The choice of exploration is quite large but three of my favourites are” art and champagne in Montmartre”, “art and pastries in the Marais district” and “art and chocolate in St. Germain-des-Pres”. I joined a tour one evening to experience the Belleville quarter, a cosy, residential district on the east side of the City. The tour began at the Metro station at Buttes Chaumont, on the edge of the Parc de Chaumont. The visit would last about two hours, be taken on foot and would culminate with a wine and paté’ tasting at the end. Little did I know at the start that this tour would provide me with a new insight into art, wine, architecture and even conversation.
This district is very popular with families. It is almost the epicentre of a modern Paris living experience very close to the centre of the City and typical of the locations where French middle class life thrives. My initial impression was of rather routinely ordered daily lives, but there was much to discover behind the net curtains of hidden Parisian life. We started with a stroll through the Parc de Chaumont which was full of families enjoying the green space pleasures as it was the weekend, before moving on to Les Caves Dargent in Ave Simon Bolivar. This was a very quaint shop selling the finest of French wines. Some of them were even distilled from vines still grown in the centre of Paris itself.
Off the beaten track art galleries in Paris
After this initial experience, the Belleville tour included visits to art galleries featuring generally contemporary exhibits. I have never really appreciated modern art but I acquired a totally new impression whilst talking to my guide. We stopped off at the Garage de L’Equerre. This was a disused motor repair station that has been converted by its present owner into a bright and airy display of contemporary art. There was much to see and exhibits could be bought.
Galerie Antoine Levi is housed in a renovated, older building and presents modern Italian sculpture. The gallery was virtually empty and was painted in pure white, the shady evening did nothing to detract from the wonderful effect of lightness. The single exhibit was of a pure white sculptured cone growing from out of the floor. Marion explained the artist’s intentions. A whole new world of art appreciation was opening up for me. I began to take a new shine to the different galleries that we dropped into like Galerie Jocelyn Wolff and the Bugada and Cargnel exhibits. It was stimulating to meet such devoted artists, I felt as though I had discovered real life glittering in the hidden back streets of metropolitan Paris.
Towards our final wine tasting we stopped off to visit the original Meccano factory. The building is no longer used for production of the children’s construction set but is very robust and imposing. Marion pointed out famous landmarks, restaurants that were traditional and favourites with the locals and interesting sights as we strolled.
My tour had lasted just over two hours and concluded at a café called Le 11e Domaine (above). This establishment had a very vintage style and was full of French people locked in intense conversation. We were encouraged to sample wine of our choice and the sumptuous, locally produced paté which was excellent. I left wanting to return.
The tour provided a remarkable insight into some of the more obscure corners of Paris.
Bob Lyons is an pilot turned travel writer who has journeyed all over France.