Saint Germaine is a historic and beautiful neighborhood, the one Hemingway wrote about in A Moveable Feast, one of my very favorite books. Isle de la Cite is, of course, the location of the Notre Dame Cathedral and other historic buildings. The whole area is gorgeous with cobblestone streets and epic history around every corner. Here are my recommendations for daytime activities, should you find yourself in the neighborhood.
Set in a medieval castle, the exterior of this museum is interesting in its own right. Enter to find a stunning collection of medieval stained glass and other treasures. One room is full of statues and other artifacts found buried beneath Notre Dame: a row of headless statues… and then a shelf of body-less heads.
A very special exhibit is the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, which are beautiful and shrouded in mystery; no one knows who made them or why. The real story must be fascinating, because they combine the divine, the fantastical and the secular in a way that wasn’t common at the time. One of my favorite authors, Tracy Chevalier, wrote a novel about it, which I also recommend. Each of the six tapestries runs floor to ceiling in a very tall room. You could spend hours looking at all the beautiful detail.
The above-mentioned exhibits are mere highlights. The Cluny Museum is one of my favorites in the city, and there’s plenty to see. You can easily spend a whole day there.
This cathedral offers one of the coolest surprises in all of Paris. Explore the bottom floor, with its statues of royalty and beautiful windows. Then walk up the stairs… and turn the corner… and catch your breath. The main floor is a stunning room with walls made almost entirely of stained glass. Gilded statues hang on the walls, and you’ll walk over mosaics of marble. A photograph can’t truly show the grandeur and scope. I highly recommend visiting!
This cathedral is a little smaller, a little quieter, but it holds the distinction of being one of the oldest churches left standing on the Left Bank. You’ll feel a wonderful sense of reverence and peace when you enter. Light a candle for a blessing. Look up at the giant stone walls. Think about how the world has changed in all those centuries.
This historic place is where many prisoners were kept during the French Revolution before being sent to the guillotine. Even Marie Antoinette spent some of her last days here. See the bars to her room below. One room’s walls contain a very long list of all the people who were beheaded, a testament to the brutality of the time.
I walked down to this end of Isle de la Cite in the morning, when it was almost empty. It’s unusually scenic; I even saw a woman doing a yoga photo shoot against the backdrop of the Seine River. You can walk down to a park with benches, but keep going, all the way to the end. Have a seat at the very edge of the island, hang your feet over the ledge, and watch the boats go by as Paris awakens.
If you visit any of these places, comment and let me know what you think! And if you’re curious for more, see my other posts on Paris.
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