The Paris left-bank neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Pres is worthy of its romantic, legendary reputation. For more than a century, writers and artists have packed its famous cafés and brasseries, and today, one of the city’s great pleasures is wandering its narrow, canvas-ready streets.
It’s a challenging place for cheapos, however. When the temptation to spend money in those exquisite boutiques becomes too much, we advise grabbing a sandwich or salad “à emporter” (the Monoprix at 50, Rue de Rennes has a good deli in the basement) and heading for the Ecole des Beaux Arts at 14, rue Bonaparte.
The “Beaux Arts,” or School of Fine Arts, is France’s most prestigious state school for painting and sculpture, and has been producing top artists for the past two centuries. Pass through the main courtyard and turn right, following the signs for the “Cour du Murier.” The school was formerly a convent, and the Cour was the cloisters, transformed during the 19th century to a Greek-style atrium. Nearby, between the “Palais des Etudes” and the “Hotel du Chimay” is the Lenoir Garden, with a large lawn, a Roman marble bath-tub, and two Corinthian columns.
It’s a welcome, artful contrast to the glitzy facades of Louis Vuitton and Giorgio Armani on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The school also has regular exhibitions (entrance fee: €4) in its museum space, which is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday from 1 p.m. until 7 p.m.
Ecole des Beaux Arts, 14 rue Bonaparte. Metro: Saint-Germain des Pres.