By Tom Reeves (Author of: Dining Out in Paris – What You Need to Know Before You Get to the City of Light)
A promenade in the Latin Quarter rightfully begins in the historic center of Paris – Ile de la Cité – a small island in the Seine River. Begin the walk by facing the venerable Notre Dame Cathedral. Even before its construction began in 1163, a cloister existed nearby where clerics were giving instruction in theology.
Depending upon the day that you come here, the space in front of the church, called a parvis, will be thronging with travelers from all over the world, lining up to gain entrance to view the awe-inspiring interior of the church. If you arrive on the hour, you will hear the north-tower bells peal.
Turn to your right and walk across the bridge called Petit Pont that spans the Seine River. It was here that professors began holding classes as more students arrived in Paris. Philosophical disputes broke out among the teachers and dissident professors moved across the river onto the Left Bank where more schools were founded.
Just over the bridge, cross the street named Quai de Montebello and turn left immediately, following the quai down to Rue du Haut Pavé. Along the way a splendid view of Notre Dame across the river serves as a backdrop for vendors who sell used books from green stalls along the sidewalk.
At the corner of Rue du Haut Pavé and Quai de Montebello stands La Bouteille d’Or, a handsome mid-priced restaurant with a grand sidewalk terrace. The manager, M. Destouches, has shared a recipe with us for roasted duck breast with honey and spice sauce.
Turn right on Rue du Haut Pavé. (Its name changes to Rue Frédéric Sauton.) Continue on to Place Maubert, where you will see a fountain in front of Café Le Métro. Cross the boulevard and make your way up Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève.
During the Middle Ages, as the university grew in size and stature, this hill was populated by dozens of colleges. Many of them submitted to the jurisdiction of the Saint Geneviève Abbey at the top of the hill. Students came here from all parts of Europe. Because the common language was Latin, the area became known as the Latin Quarter.
Halfway up the hill, on the right, you will come to an attractive restaurant with a sober, grey façade called Les Trublions. Chef Romain communicated his recipe for calamari on green peas with creamy risotto and fresh mint.
Continue up Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève and follow on as it branches to the right. Eglise Saint Etienne du Mont looms in front of you as you approach the summit of the hill. This church, completed in 1624, merits a visit if only to view its splendid stone-carved rood screen that divides the nave from the chancel.
As you walk past the church to cross Rue Clovis, glance up at the bell tower across the street. It is a remnant of the Saint Geneviève Abbey that once stood here. Dismantled around 1800, only the tower and refectory remain. Both were incorporated into a high school called Lycée Henri IV.
On the other side of Rue Clovis, turn right and then left onto Rue Clotilde. On the right stands the magnificent Pantheon, built in the 18th century to fulfill a vow made by King Louis XV.
Follow Rue Clotilde to Rue de l’Estrapade. Turn left and continue on to Place Emmanuel Levinas. Bear right and enter Rue Blaineville. The rough-hewn stone façade of the restaurant La Truffière on the left hides a rich interior that resembles the manor of a wealthy count. The proprietor, M. Sainsard, communicated his chef’s recipe for lobster with foie gras and truffle.
Continue on to Place de la Contrescarpe, our last stop on this promenade, where you will find sidewalk-terrace cafés. Here you can sit, relax, and enjoy the pleasure of simply being in Paris!