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Les Invalides: An insider's guide

Sightsee like a Parisian around the Sun King's gold-domed military hospital...

Chapelle des Invalides

Napoleon's tomb, inside the Dome Church, is the crowd magnet here; but while in Les Invalides (a former hospital complex commissioned by Louis XIV for wounded soldiers) don't miss the Musée de l'Armée, Paris's military museum, which contains one of Europe's largest collections of weaponry. Once that's done, leave the coach loads behind and check out 'real' Paris, courtesy of our insider's guide to the Invalides area.

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Around Les Invalides...

Museum: Musée des Egouts

Descend, if you dare, into the deep and (sometimes) stinking depths of Paris's sewers. For centuries, the main source of drinking water in Paris was the Seine, which was also the main sewer. Construction of an underground sewerage system began at the time of Napoleon; and today you can admire the engineering in this fascinating working museum. The Egouts de Paris is part of the city's 2,100km (1,305-mile) system. As you walk through, look out for tunnels marked with a replica of the street sign above. The Egouts can be closed after periods of heavy rain.

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South-west Paris

Museum: Musée National Rodin

Next-door to Les Invalides, the Rodin museum occupies the hôtel particulier where the sculptor lived in the final years of his life. The Kiss, the Cathedral, the Walking Man, portrait busts and early terracottas are exhibited indoors, as are many of the individual figures or small groups that also appear on the Gates of Hell.Rodin's works are accompanied by several pieces by his mistress and pupil, Camille Claudel. The walls are hung with paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Carrière and Rodin himself. Most Parisians have greatest affection for the gardens: look out for the Burghers of Calais, the Gates of Hell, and the Thinker. Rodin fans can also visit the Villa des Brillants at Meudon (19 av Rodin, Meudon, 01.41.14.35.00), where the artist worked from 1895.

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South-west Paris

Attraction: Chapelle de la Médaille Miraculeuse

In 1830, saintly Catherine Labouré was said to have seen a vision of the Virgin, who told her to cast a medal that copied her appearance - standing on a globe with rays of light appearing from her outstretched hands. Today, away from the beaten tourist track, this kitsch chapel - murals, mosaics, statues and the embalmed bodies of Catherine and her mother superior - attracts two million pilgrims every year. Reliefs in the courtyard tell the nun's story.

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St Germain des Prés

Restaurant: Chez L'Ami Jean

This long-running Basque address is an ongoing hit thanks to chef Stéphane Jégo. Excellent bread from baker Jean-Luc Poujauran is a perfect nibble when slathered with a tangy, herby fromage blanc - as are starters of sautéed baby squid on a bed of ratatouille. Tender veal shank comes de-boned with a lovely side of baby onions and broad beans with tiny cubes of ham, and house-salted cod is soaked, sautéed and doused with an elegant vinaigrette. There's a great wine list, and some lovely Brana eau de vie should you decide to linger.

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South-west Paris

Restaurant: Les Cocottes

Christian Constant has found the perfect recipe for pleasing Parisians at his new bistro: a flexible menu of salads, soups, verrines (light dishes served in jars) and cocottes (served in cast-iron pots), all at bargain prices - for this neighbourhood. Service is swift and the food satisfying, though the vraie salade César Ritz, which contains hard-boiled egg, shouldn't be confused with US-style Caesar salad. Soups such as an iced pea velouté are spot-on, and cocottes range from sea bream with ratatouille to potatoes stuffed with pig's trotter.

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South-west Paris

Bar: Café Thoumieux

Café Thoumieux is a laid-back destination for cocktails, tapas and big-screen sport. Banquettes snake around the room, and spiky Aztec-pattern lamps light up the faces of the pretty young locals who have made this place their own. The flavoured vodkas are delicious, with unusual flavours including vanilla, caramel and banana; just watch out for the treacherous, extra-high bar stools (the banquettes are definitely the safest option to avoid accidents) and the monstrous, pebble-dashed sink in the toilets - it's real.

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South-west Paris

Cinema: La Pagode

This glorious edifice is not, as local legend might have it, a block-by-block import, but a 19th-century replica of a pagoda by a French architect. Renovated in the late 1990s, this is one of the loveliest cinemas in the world.

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South-west Paris

Shop: Pierre Hardy

Ever wondered where the classy looking Parisians in the 7th buy their footwear? Look no further: This posh black-and-white shoebox is home to Hardy's range of superbly conceived footwear - the 'must-have' of the Left Back, with a price tag to match - for men and women.

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South-west Paris

Shop: Marie-Anne Cantin

One for cheese lover this: Cantin, a defender of unpasteurised cheese and supplier to many posh Paris restaurants, offers aged chèvres and amazing morbier, mont d'or and comté.

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South-west Paris

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