Paris walks: Literary lions

From bouquinistes to famous writers in St-Germain

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Nowhere on earth are there so many literary associations in so small an area as St-Germain-des-Prés. The myth of the struggling writer in a garret might have died now that the likes of Louis Vuitton has opened next to Les Deux Magots, but the ghosts, along with a dense concentration of bookshops, wholesalers and publishers, are still in evidence. So put on a pair of stout 'Gertrude Stein shoes', grab your 'Left Bank hat' (for Joycean dash) and set forth on a literary expedition.

Going for broke: Once the haunt of struggling writers, these days St-Germain cashes in on its literary heritage

Going for broke: Once the haunt of struggling writers, these days St-Germain cashes in on its literary heritage Time Out


Start at Métro St-Michel, muttering 'when I was in Paris, boul' Mich', I used to...' (Ulysses), and take the Rue de l'Hirondelle passageway to the right of the fountain. This will bring you out on Rue Gît-le-Coeur. At no.9, on your right, is the Relais Hôtel Vieux Paris, also known as the Beat Hotel. It's been smartened up since a drug-addled William Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch here, but pictures of the Beats adorn the wall and Mme Odillard will show fans photos of those wild times in a signed copy of Brian Chapman's book The Beat Hotel.

Walk on to join the Quai des Grands-Augustins, opposite Les Bouquinistes, where restaurant Lapérouse, at no.51, was a literary hot spot from 1870: its small salons – designed for dangerous liaisons – hosted Sand, Maupassant, Zola, Dumas and Hugo. Next turn left down rue Dauphine, where Alain Fournier, author of Le Grand Meaulnes, lived at no.24, and drop down Rue Mazet. The restaurant Magny, where George Sand smoked cigars with Flaubert, Gautier and Turgenev at Sainte-Beuve's literary dinners, was at no.3; it's now called Azabu.


Crossing Rue St-André-des-Arts, go through the archway at no.59 to find a charming covered passage and the back entrance of Café Procope. Dating from 1686, it's the city's oldest café and boasts Voltaire, Rousseau, the Marquis de Sade, Beaumarchais, Balzac, Verlaine, Hugo, La Fontaine and Anatole France among its former customers. The food, unfortunately, is mediocre, but upstairs you can see Voltaire's marble desk and a letter from the imprisoned Marie-Antoinette.

From here, turn right into Boulevard St-Germain, and right again two roads up into Rue de Seine, which is peppered with literary haunts. At no.60 is the modest Hôtel La Louisiane. Cyril Connolly's The Unquiet Grave describes the ferrets wearing bells that were kept here during the war; Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre, along with many other Café Flore regulars, lodged here towards the end of the war. The only memorabilia on show is a newspaper interview with Juliette Greco, but for many years the hotel had a living poet in situ: 95 year-old Albert Cossery, known as 'the last dandy', lodged here for 62 years until his death in 2008.

Further along at no.63, a plaque marks the house where Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz lived when his Pan Tadeusz was published in 1834. At no.57, its door crowned with the words 'Henri Diéval Maître Imprimeur', lived Baudelaire in the years when, stricken by debt, he only dared emerge at night. At no.31, a plaque attests to the fact that George Sand lived here in 1831. She arrived aged 26, having negotiated the right to spend half the year in Paris away from her philistine husband Casimir.

I'm just Wilde about Paris: A portrait of the writer in L'Hôtel, where he died

I'm just Wilde about Paris: A portrait of the writer in L'Hôtel, where he died Time Out

Take a left into Rue des Beaux-Arts. At no.13, L'Hôtel was the scene of Oscar Wilde's death. The place has been opulently done up by Jacques Garcia, and Wilde's room contains a peacock print inspired by his London home. The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges was a frequent visitor to the hotel in the 1970s and '80s.


Turn left into Rue Bonaparte. The corner building is where William Cole stayed in 1765. His Journal of My Journey to Paris recounts an experience where a 'guide' exasperates him while he is mercilessly ripped off by his landlady. Passing Rue Visconti on the left, where Henry Miller taught his wife June to ride a bike, you'll see Le Pré-aux-Clercs on the junction with Rue Jacob. Still an unpretentious place, this art deco local was Hemingway's favourite restaurant when he lived at the Hôtel d'Angleterre.

Miller's home when he arrived in Paris in 1930 was on the top floor of no.36 Rue Bonaparte, the present-day Hôtel St-Germain-des-Prés. American lesbian columnist Janet Flanner, whose Letter from Paris appeared for almost 50 years in the New Yorker, was also a resident. Jean Cocteau smoked opium in room no.6, and Margaret Anderson, Jane Heap and Georgette Leblanc edited the last issue of The Little Review here, spilling green ink on the sheets. The present-day receptionists, however, know little about the literary aura of their workplace. No.42 Rue Bonaparte, perhaps the most famous address on this road, remains unmarked. The 40-year-old Sartre moved into the fourth floor in 1945 with his mother and a piano, and stayed until 1962 when the apartment was bombed in protest at his stance against the war in Algeria. Were he resident today, the Marxist Sartre would doubtless look down with distaste on the Dior boutique below.

A thirst for knowledge: The good and the great still gotta drink

A thirst for knowledge: The good and the great still gotta drink Time Out

Only a few steps from here is café Les Deux Magots, a favourite hangout of Sartre and de Beauvoir in the closing years of the war. Covert messages were exchanged between members of the Resistance in the café's toilets, over which a charming dame pipi still presides. The Deux Magots' literary associations are many – the walls are covered with photos of Hemingway and the Surrealists. While the terrace is filled with St Tropez types, the interior is still dignified and quiet enough to attract writers – even if they're just penning postcards.

Bang up to date: The Flore still attracts literary luminaries today

Bang up to date: The Flore still attracts literary luminaries today Oliver Knight / Time Out

To the right, along Boulevard St-Germain, our tour ends with Les Deux Magots' Existentialist sister, Café de Flore, where Sartre and de Beauvoir virtually lived at the beginning of the war. Black American writers James Baldwin and Richard Wright also enjoyed the liberated spirit here; Baldwin completed Go Tell It on the Mountain in the Flore. These days the café awards its own writer's prize, and if you stay long enough you may see a famous face – Paul Auster or Paulo Coelho perhaps, both of whom have been known to drop in when they're in town.


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