Montparnasse is a neighbourhood that overlaps two arrondissements (administrative districts), the 14th and the 15th. Because the Parisian arrondissements are arranged from 1-20 in a cyclical order, like the shell of your escargot, the 14th & 15th sit just below the 6th & 7th, which are home to many of Paris’ must-see sights as well as the famed Saint Germain neighbourhood.
Staying in Montparnasse has kept us away from the hordes of tourists, yet a two-minute walk down the street we had this view. Geographically, it is not a central neighbourhood but culturally, I think it is.
The neighbourhood’s leafy boulevards are dotted with shops and join in pretty “places” (squares is the English translation, but they are too circular to be called squares!) that were pleasantly busy every morning but never crowded. It feels like a Parisian’s part of Paris, a place where the turf war between locals and visitors has not yet been lost.
When it opened it caused an uproar so fierce that all future skyscrapers were banned from Paris, banished to the outlying neighbourhood of La Defense (now Paris’ business district). I’m glad the French decided to protect the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower by refusing to let skyscrapers crowd it out, but I’m also secretly glad that someone approved the plans for Tour Montparnasse.
It provides the best birds-eye view of Paris, including a view of the Eiffel Tower. Venture up before dusk to see the city of lights come alive as the sun goes down.
Not for the faint-hearted or claustrophobic, the catacombs stretch for kilometres underneath the streets of Montparnasse. The walls are made of piles of bones, with the occasional clearing for a monument to the peacefully resting souls who live there. A warning at the beginning of the catacombs reads “Arrete! Ici le empire de la mort.” Or, “Stop! This is the empire of the dead.”
It was my last day in Paris when I finally wandered into Parc Montsouris. I immediately regretted not visiting earlier, when I had more time to explore the endless meandering pathways throughout the park. I settled for sitting on a bench by the lake and relaxing with my favourite activity, particularly in Paris: People watching. Couples and families picnicked, kids went on pony rides and the elderly threw breadcrumbs to the swans gliding through the water.
Once a university, now accommodation for international students, Cite Universite has maintained its beautiful buildings and grounds which are popular with French joggers in the early morning or late afternoon. I didn’t return last time I was in Paris, I ran out of time. I’m glad I didn’t though, because when I go back in ten, twenty or even thirty years time I think my memories of my exchange will return even stronger if I haven’t visited in between.
Marche de Saxe-Breuteil
This market is held just around the corner from where I was staying, but the day it was meant to be on we had some gloomy weather! I was very disappointed I didn’t get to visit these markets, which are held in tree-lined Ave. Saxe, under the watchful gaze of the Eiffel Tower.
Have you visited Montparnasse? What is your favourite part of Paris?