Romance, it seems is a place we can claim as our own, or more importantly a place we can share with a significant other. Rarely is that place a carefully chosen picture book spot, but rather somewhere we stumble into one day, by luck at a time when the sun strikes at a particular angle, or simply after we have had one beer too many. The place absorbs the electricity of our moment, and physically it will never look the same to us again.
The story lived out here may have come to an end – or never really started at all – but the romance will always remain. Romance is complicated, melancholic, painful sometimes, but it is also something that we wrap up and cherish forever. Paris is a city full of these secret corners.
I asked a selection of Paris lovers – those who love the city, and those who have loved here - to reveal their most romantic spots in the city, and the answers they gave were wonderfully rich and varied - in prose, images and sound. Explore them here then add your own in the comments!
The Rue des Thermopyles
If your idea of romance is something intimate and out-of-the-way, a little overlooked corner in which time seems to stand still, we recommend a slow stroll down the cobbled rue de Thermopyles (14th, Metro Pernety). After all, where better to spend St. Valentine’s Day than in a quartier known as Plaisance?
Much of the 14th is countryside overtaken by the city, in which former maisons de campagne can still be found marooned in courtyards, and low buildings with eccentric rooflines evoke vanished villages. At the beginning of the 19th century, this was a little hamlet called Thermopyles, and although it was eventually absorbed by the city, it keeps its country ways.
We’ve wandered here in winter, when the leaves have fallen from the heavy vines, and in summer, when it is a green corridor punctuated with doors and windows, many of them belonging to studios and workshops. We’ve watched old men play boules in a scrap of a park abutting a vacant lot, and spotted a remarkable number of cats sunning themselves on windowsills.
Norman Ball & Philippa Campsie, http://parisianfields.wordpress.com
A doorway in the 2nd arrondissement
There is a doorway in the 2nd district, nestled somewhere between Bourse and Quatre- Septembre. It has tree branches carved into the stone arches and lions worked into the metal handles. I know this because I had my eyes wide open when I was kissing a French stranger with a scratchy beard who squashed me up against its heavy oak door. This doorway also has a dirty mosaic front step with broken words scattered across in blue squares. I know this after a mixture of homesickness and five dodgy demis cut short the kissing and forced me to the floor.
I thought the scratchy-beardy stranger would make a quick exit seeing as the groping had stopped and the tears had started. But instead he sat down with me, called me “a crazy lily” and pointed out a devil’s face on the building opposite. I can’t quite remember the name of the street because after five dodgy demis the whole of Paris looks like a maze of iron balconies and lamp-lit avenues. And I can’t remember the name of the stranger because he scrawled it along with his number on a Franprix receipt which worked its way down the ripped lining of my raincoat and deposited itself somewhere between the gutter and my bed.
But I do remember the stranger allowed me to wipe my snot on his scarf and showed me the devil to stop me crying. And in my book, that’s about as romantic as it gets.
Mademoiselle London (The book is "Mademoiselle London ♥ Paris (sometimes)” go to http://www.mademoisellelondon.fr/ for more details and to download free Valentine cards)
The grave of Abelard and Heloise
The most romantic place in Paris for me? I'm afraid I had to ask a friend, because I am no good at these kinds of questions. He suggested the grave of Abelard and Heloise in the Père Lachaise cemetery, which sounds pretty romantic to me!
Molly Guinness, http://www.rfienglish.com/
The Quai Saint Bernard
Shane Lynam, photographer (find his work here - http://www.shanelynamphoto.com/)
The Bois de Boulogne
The Bois de Boulogne in the far west of Paris - a former Royal hunting ground, devastated by the great hurricane of 1999, a fifteen minute walk from my home and a place with a reputation for its bizarre night life. But in May, in the springtime, it becomes the countryside in the city - the trees burst into life, the flowers bloom and even the streams seem to trickle with an extra enthusiasm.
The Bois de Boulogne is a big space but there are quiet corners, which take years to find, where one can escape the constant traffic noise pollution of Paris and find a haven of peace. Many a Sunday afternoon I have spent here, sitting on a felled tree trunk, reading, listening to the birds singing to me and with all the detritus of everyday life far, far away. Listen here...
Des Coulam, http://soundlandscapes.wordpress.com/
The Square du Vert Galant
Romance for me is watching the sunset from the Square du Vert Galant. From this point you can look at the Pont des Arts and all the other bridges crossing the Seine, as well as the peniches on the river. It would be the perfect romantic place if only it was not so busy!
Peter Olson, http://peter-pho2.blogspot.com/
The Hotel Particulier Montmartre
The way I see it, romantic places fall in to two categories. There’s classic romantic, as in the places that are touted as charming, labelled “for lovers”, and are ready to reserve when you’re feeling amorous. And then there is a more ephemeral, serendipitous romance, when you happen upon the right place, at the right time, with the right person and it feels like the stars have aligned just for you.
Hotel Particulier Montmartre falls in to the former category. A small, independant hotel in a former private residence, on a mews high up in Montmartre (the romantic neighbourhood par excellence in itself) it fulfils many of the criteria required for romance. It feels intimate, secluded and secret; you have to ring the buzzer on the large iron gates to be let in, and then cross an ivy-clad courtyard to get to the cocktail bar which is open to the public by appointment only. In the warmer months you can sip your champagne (the nectar of lovers surely?) seated at the curlicued wrought iron chairs in the garden as if you were in your own luxury home, nestled high up in Montmartre with the breeze rustling through the trees that protect you from the outside world.
That’s all well and good but the real charm isn’t in the hotel itself. It’s on the way to the hotel. And this is where that poetic moment of serendipity comes in to play, creating that real romance, that authentic, fleeting, privileged instant when the world appears to perform for you. The tone is set by the climb up a flight of Montmartre steps, lit by the dim glow of the old-fashioned lamp posts.
Continue uphill, further and further away from the city below. Looking carefully, you’ll find the gates to the private mews on which the hotel is situated, making this little cobbled street even more hidden and secret. Once through these gates (and if you’re not expected at the hotel, you’ll just have to sneak through when someone is coming or going), you’ll walk up another flight of steps, past a hodgepodge of different sized and different shaped houses, with plenty of trees and plants all around. Then top of the stairs, to your left, you’ll spot the gleaming brass door bell for entry into the Hôtel Particulier. But extend your gaze directly infront of you and you’ll see the Eiffel Tower on the horizon, glittering in a dazzling burlesque display just for you, if you happen to arrive on the hour when it is lit up for 5 minutes. Just for you! On this tiny, quiet mews, with no one else around, you’ll see this icon of Paris, in the centre of the skyline, presenting herself to you. Or at another time, you might even catch a bewitching glimpse of the crescent moon kissing the top of the tower. It’s all a question of the time of day, month, year...and serenditpity. And for me, that’s true romance.
Kim Laidlaw Adrey, I Heart Paris (http://unlockparis.blogspot.com/)
The Petite Ceinture
There’s a reason Paris is considered the romance capital of the world. Cliched as it may sound, there really is something about the light, the ambiance, the je ne sais quoi. Anywhere in this city holds possibilities for magic; any place can be romantic with the right company.
That may be why the first image that popped into my head was the metro stop at Porte de la Villette at 5 AM, the illuminated subway map glowing in the night. Of course, I had just experienced a coup de foudre at nearby Glaz’arts, so that’s my own idiosyncratic take. I wouldn’t advise anyone to head there seeking either love or a view. It’s an industrial landscape with few streetlamps and the peripherique nearby!
So where would I say? Well, Buttes Chaumont is my favorite park, with its dramatic cliffs and waterfalls, little nooks and crannies. I like walking along the Canal de L’Ourcq, passing hipsters and old men playing petanque, picnickers enjoying wine by the water. The Promenade Plantee for an elevated stroll amongst the flowers.
But these places are all well known, if not strictly on the tourist map. Where would I really go for some private romance? (And, isn’t that what we’re after in the end?)
A spot on the Petite Ceinture then, the abandonded rail line circling the city. Parts are opening to the public. I find a spot that’s still closed.
Sion Dayson, http://parisimperfect.wordpress.com/
The tip of the Ile de la Cité underneath the Pont Neuf
Strolling through Place des Vosges, one of my favorite places in Paris, is undeniably romantic but it doesn't compare to the little spot by the Seine that holds such personal significance. The very tip of the island underneath Pont Neuf, with legs dangling over the Seine and a basketful of snacks sprawled around us, remains one of the most important places in my relationship. The summer my husband and I met, it was one of the first places he took me. With eyes aglow and the thumping heartbeats of new love, we had a beautiful picnic on a blanket overlooking the water. We usually return every summer to relive the moment.
Lindsey Tramuta, http://www.lostincheeseland.com/
A bench on the Butte Bergeyre
It’s a skeleton without a backbone. The remaining timber joints are scarred with the carved and painted identities of those who stopped by. It sits alone, empty cans of beer and discarded cigarettes at its feet. But this bench is the most romantic in Paris.
It’s all about location, angles and timing. This bench is a perfectly positioned gnomon on a sundial, a witness to an ordinary scene that becomes truly magical at one particular moment of the day. As evening arrives, the sun slides down the sky and bleeds into the horizon, slowly plunging behind the Montmartre hill. The waves of rooftops glint in the dying orange, and the Sacre Coeur, a building I don't even like, becomes shadowy antique splendour.
And You? What's yours...
Thanks to everyone who contributed. All photos were taken by the person mentioned in the accompanying text.