Paris has many faces – medieval, renaissance, Napoleonic, and my favourite La Belle Epoque – a “golden age” between the two wars – from the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 to the beginning of World War I – and the time of the Third Republic when peacetime France flourished and all the arts thrived.
This was the time of writers such as Victor Hugo and Emile Zola, and Paris was the home and frequent subject of the Impressionists Monet and Renoir, as well as Toulouse-Lautrec – then Utrillo, Picasso, Mogdiliani, Braque and Matisse – and sculptors Rodin, Brancusi, and Maillol.
Also during this time came Haussmann, the Exposition Universelle, Gustave Eiffel’s Tower, the Grand Palais, Petit Palais, the Paris Metro (and Hector Guimard’s entrances), the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, Pont Alexandre III, Renault, the Lumiere brothers, and the Grand Magasins Le Bon Marche, La Samaritaine, the Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville (BHV), Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. And Pasteur and Marie and Pierre Curie, Cartier, Lalique, Moulin Rouge, Ballets Russes and Diaghilev’s The Rite of Spring – not to mention the birth of Brasseries in Paris.
Today you can still see La Belle Epoque in Paris – the glorious Palais Garnier, Pont Alexandre III, and the Grand Palais and Petit Palais all still stand; the Brasserie Laperouse is still a sellout on Quai des Grands Augustins; Hector Guimard’s architecture can still be seen at Castel Béranger – 14 rue La Fontaine, Hôtel Guimard – 122 Avenue Mozart, and at the Ceramic Hotel -14 Avenue de Wagram; and Jules Lavirotte’s ceramic-sculpture covered house still stands at 29 Avenue Rapp. The Hotel Lutetia at 45 Boulevard Raspail is still there with its Art Nouveau style façade and an interior remodelled later to Art Deco (although currently under renovation) – and you can still shop under the Art Nouveau cupola of Galeries Lafayette.
Sadly, the “edicule” at Porte Dauphine is the only one of Hector Guimard’s metro entrances still in its original place. However, don’t miss restaurants Le Train Bleu in the Gare de Lyon, Brasserie Bofinger – 5-7 Rue de la Bastille, Brasserie Vagenende, – 142 Boulevard Saint-Germain, La Fontaine de Mars -129 Rue Saint-Dominique, and Le Grand Colbert – 2 Rue Vivienne – all fine examples of La Belle Epoque interiors.
And how can you forget the clock of the Gare d’Orsay (now the Musee d’Orsay) the Theatre des Champs-Elysees at 15 Avenue Montaigne and of course the Eiffel Tower – and the art, literature, sculptures and music of that era that will be with us forever.