From the Left Bank café frequented by Simone de Beauvoir to the market immortalised by Ernest Hemingway, we reveal the best Parisian haunts for bookish travellers
Cheese shops in market street Marché Mouffetard
Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris, wrote Thomas Gold Appleton (not Oscar Wilde, for whom this quote is most commonly attributed). Although not as concise, a more accurate historical aphorism would be to state that good American writers, when their creative inspiration dies, tend to head to the City of Love.
And what a panacea it has proved to be. The boulevards today may be a little less endowed with the kind of threadbare artistic garrets of affordable yore. But the favoured brasseries, cafés and parks of some of the 20th-century's most hard-hitting (and hard-drinking) literary behemoths remain to this day on the Left side of the Seine.
Shakespeare and Company bookstore
Ernest Hemingway came to Paris at a time when the waifs and strays of the American 'Lost Generation' after the Great War were fast creating an alternative universe, rich in literary genius and ramshackle bonhomie. His depictions of the city, immortalised in A Moveable Feast, were written as he, alongside literary luminaries F Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Henry Miller, prowled, argued and drank in and around places such as Marché Mouffetard, a 'wonderful, narrow, crowded market street', as Hemingway wrote; today it is still a cacophony of aromas and noise, with traders plying pâtés, charcuterie, seafood – and an array of fromage.
The old man's legendary temper didn't seem to abate much in Paris, though. Head to Shakespeare and Company on the rue de l'Odéon to find yourself in the bookshop where Hemingway once smashed a vase after reading a bad review, and where Miller would 'borrow' books from the proprietor, which, to no one's surprise, were never returned.
Many of the expat writers who made Paris their home stayed beyond their lifetime. The Montparnasse Cemetery is one of the most significant in France for being the resting place of literary and artistic greats such as Samuel Beckett, Susan Sontag, Guy de Maupassant and Serge Gainsbourg. It's also here that you'll find the graves of the most famous literary couple in Parisian history: Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
Before paying your respects, grab a pavement table at
Les Deux Magots, the Saint-Germain-des-Prés bar which opened in 1912 and whose former patrons are a veritable who's who of the existential movement. It was here that French philosopher Albert Camus and, mostly famously, Sartre and de Beauvoir would hold court, smoking endless Gitanes cigarettes and discussing the finer nuances of propositions, such as 'if essence precedes existence…'.
Les Deux Magots
The hot chocolate at Les Deux Magots is still some of the best in the city and, even now, during the week the tables are occupied by editors from literary agencies, manuscripts in hand, persuading prospective authors to cut the first 200 words of chapter nine.
The 20th-century literary giants may now be fading memories, but the creative process – fuelled by cigarettes, cheap wine, coffee and the privilege of putting pen to paper in the city of love – continues to linger.