What To Do In Paris: St-Germain’s Best-Kept Secret

A Born Host, The Chief Concierge At The Hotel Lutetia Delights In Sharing His Favorite Neighborhood Haunts

Bastien Lalanne

Chief Concierge, Hotel Lutetia

Some people search their whole lives before finding their true vocation. Bastien Lalanne found it at age 20.

Born in Bordeaux into a wine-growing family and raised partly in Martinique in the French West Indies, Bastien came back to France in 1998 for university studies in English literature and took what was supposed to be a summer job at the relatively new hotel outside Paris. He found that the hospitality business was "really me–I loved it right away." When the summer ended, the head concierge told him he had done well and offered him a longer-term position as a porter. "The job I really want is yours," Bastien replied. The concierge chuckled: "Sign the contract, and let’s see where you go."

Bastien stayed for two years before moving on to concierge positions at luxury hotels in Paris and, finally, to the Lutetia, where he is head concierge directing a staff of 30 concierges, porters, and valets. What does he look for in a team member? "I don’t have a checklist–everyone is an individual," he says. "But you do have to be curious about everything. Things change so quickly, especially in a city like Paris. Our guests aren’t coming here to see tourist attractions; they are coming to see the real Paris, to have a unique experience. You need to stay on top of things to give guests the best information."

Bastien Lalanne, chief concierge at Hotel Lutetia.

Local Recommendations

Discover The Secrets Of Saint-Germain With The Hotel Lutetia’s Chief Concierge

Bastien and his team have compiled several "Secrets of Saint-Germain" walking tours, organized around the strengths of the Lutetia’s home turf. "Gastronomy" starts at the weekly street market on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, with a cheese tasting at a market stand and a wine tasting at a nearby shop. "Fashion" is an insider’s look into the neighborhood’s myriad small boutiques, including visits with proprietors such as Inès de la Fressange, a friend of the Lutetia. "History" takes in streets full of stories and smaller monuments as well as private tours of the Monnaie (the National Mint).

Sharing the hidden delights of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is one of Bastien Lalanne's great pleasures. Here are five of his personal favorites.

Losing Track Of Time On The Left Bank Of Paris

A Cobblestoned Retreat, With Shopping

One of the Left Bank’s many charms is that the streets there have kept their ancient, winding ways, despite the best-laid plans of Baron Haussmann to impose order on the rest of Paris. The choices for a good wander near the Lutetia are many, and one that Bastien recommends is the two-block-long Cour du Commerce St-André-des-Arts, which runs between the bustling Boulevard St-Germain and the pint-sized Rue St-André des Arts. Make your way carefully over the cobblestones as you window-shop in quirky boutiques; stop for tea in La Jacobine (59-61 rue Saint-André des Arts; +33-1-46-34-15-95) or hot chocolate and pastry in the delightfully named Un Dimanche à Paris (4-6-8 Cours du Commerce Saint-André; +33-1-56-81-18-18). "You go into the passage at one end, and you come out the other in what seems like a completely different part of Paris," Bastien says.

The Cour du Commerce Saint-André is a charming passage from bustling Paris to calm, quiet Paris. Photo by Michael Marino.

An Off-The-Beaten-Path Museum In Paris

A Jewel-Like Museum On A Quiet, Leafy Square

For repeat visitors to Paris, finding a museum they haven’t already seen several times is the ultimate challenge and reward. Bastien likes to steer his guests to the Musée National Eugène Delacroix (6 rue de Furstenberg; +33-1-44-41-86-50). The museum is built in the home of one of the great artists and personalities of the mid-19th century, known for his iconic 1831 work Liberty Leading The Republic and for a boisterous circle of famous friends that included Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, and George Sand. The museum sits in Place de Furstenberg, one of the best-preserved examples of 19th century architecture in Paris, and features a quiet, leafy back garden where visitors can rest and reflect.

The Musée National Eugène-Delacroix celebrates one of France’s national treasures and enjoys its own private garden. Photo by Amélie Dupont, courtesy of Paris Tourist Office.

A Perfect Paris Sidewalk Café

Watch The World Go By On A Terrace With A Street View

Every Parisian has a favorite café, a place in the neighborhood with a warm welcome, decent house wine, colorful bistro chairs and–most importantly–a well-placed terrace to while away a few hours people-watching. Bastien likes La Palette (43 rue de Seine; +33-1-43-26-68-15), which, conveniently, is just around the corner from the Musée Delacroix. Traditionally a gathering place for students from the nearby Ecole des Beaux-Arts, it is also a hangout for artists, gallerists, and collectors. On a sunny afternoon, grab a seat on the tiny south-facing sidewalk, order a quarter-liter of rosé, and observe this year’s trends in casual fashion parading before your eyes.

La Palette, a favorite neighborhood café to while away the hours. Photo courtesy of Café La Palette.

A Beautiful Paris Park

Green Space That Invites You To Sit A Spell

Paris is full of lovely parks, but even Parisians complain that some of the nicest ones have too many pelouse interdite signs warning passers-by to keep off the grass. One of Bastien’s most prized “secrets” is the Jardin Catherine Labouré (29 rue de Babylone; +33-1-49-52-42-63), a 75,000-square-foot oasis of calm green space just five minutes from the Lutetia. Walk through the open gates, admire the fruit trees and vegetable plots, and feel free to plop down on the lawn with the other exhausted tourists, picnicking families, industrious students, and drowsy couples. "This is one of the few places in Paris where you can walk in and, in just a few minutes, feel completely refreshed," Bastien says.

The Jardin Catherine Labouré is one of the few parks in Paris where lawn-sitters are welcome. Photo by Amélie Dupont, courtesy of Paris Tourist Office.

Giving Thanks

A Pilgrim’s Chapel And Crossroads Of The World

Today, Saint-Germain-des-Prés connotes the finer things in this life, but the area was once a spiritual center of abbeys and convents. A vivid reminder of that history is the Chapelle de Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse, or Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (140 rue du Bac; +33-1-49-54-78-88). It was here that, according to legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to Sister Catherine Labouré in 1830 and instructed her to have a medal made with the image of a globe topped with a cross: "This globe represents the entire world … For those who wear it with confidence, there will be abundant graces." The serene chapel receives some 5 million visitors each year of all faiths, from all over the world, who come to give thanks for their blessings. And yes, you can buy a medal to take home.

The jewel-like Chapelle de Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse attracts pilgrims from around the world. Photo courtesy of the Chapelle de Notre Dame da Médaille Miraculeuse .
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