The Left Bank has long been the intellectual and artistic heart of Paris, with a well-earned reputation for Gallic bohemianism. As Gary Jones reports, it also offers a wide range of extraordinary homes in some of its most fashionable neighbourhoods that are a far cry from the pokey artists’ garrets of yore.
Flick the off switch on Selling Sunset, the reality TV show starring a coven of glamorous but consistently awful estate of agents flogging multi-million-dollar homes to the uber-wealthy in Los Angeles.
The Netflix watch of the moment appears to be Emily in Paris, a fish-out-of-water romcom in which an American millennial is sent with her social media marketing job to the giddying French capital. There she gets into scrapes, takes selfies (natch), wears a beret perhaps too often and plays foil to every concrete-headed cliché you’d expect from the producer also behind Sex and the City.
“Parisians are layabouts, alcoholics, chain-smokers, disagreeable and lecherous, and they all live in a wonderful theme park,” sneered one French critic of Emily. While his comment drips with (clichéd) Parisian sarcasm, his last claim has the ring of truth.
Speaking to an Italian newspaper in 2016, mountainous French thesp Gérard Depardieu said his country risked becoming a “Disneyland for foreigners”. Punky Béatrice Dalle of Betty Blue fame has made the same complaint since. And nowhere in France do such fears abound more readily than in Paris, variously the magical “City of Light” and the seductive “City of Love”.
The reason is plain. When splashing out on gay “Paree” – on a weekend break or when investing in property – we’re effectively buying into a lifestyle and demand what’s promised on the tin: effortless style, art, world-beating cuisine, more art and languorous days of beautiful-people watching from chic outdoor cafes – perhaps from behind wreaths of blue smoke rising from an unfiltered Gauloises, as if starring in a cinéma du look flick by Jean-Jacques Beineix.
And all of this and more can perhaps most readily be purchased on the Left Bank, or Rive Gauche, which has long been the preferred Paris stamping ground of artists, musicians and writers, of poets, philosophers and dreamers. It enjoys a well-earned reputation for no-holds-barred Gallic bohemianism.
As well as French cultural giants Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Henri Matisse and Jean-Paul Sartre, down the centuries the Left Bank has drawn artistic talent from every corner of the globe, including such luminaries as Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald, and continues to pull in the creative intelligentsia to this day.
Ironically, many who flooded there in the opening decades of the 20th century, especially from outside France, did so because of the modest cost of living. Paris today is one of the most wallet-emptying cities in Europe.
While the Left Bank refers to all of Paris south of the River Seine, for this trawl through its luxury property prospects we’ll stay close to the water, in the fashionable 5th, 6th and 7th arrondissements.
The 5th, officially dubbed Panthéon but colloquially and simply as cinquième by locals, is home to the city’s Latin Quarter dominated by prestigious centres of learning since the 12th century, when the Sorbonne University was established. (Latin, the lingo, was widely spoken in and around the university.)
Cash-strapped Hemingway and George Orwell both lived by their wits in the 5th in the 1920s, respectively on Rue du Cardinale Lemoine and Rue du Pot-de-Fer. Today cinquième is cherished for its vibrant student atmosphere and contemplative cafe culture, and is also home to the world- famous and always-chocker Shakespeare and Company bookshop. The district’s stately Panthéon building holds the remains of such notables as Voltaire and Marie Curie.
Christie’s International Real Estate has a clutch of luxurious cinquième properties on its books, including an eight-bedroom mansion with commanding views of Notre-Dame cathedral – which rises majestically from an island in the nearby Seine – for €12.9 million (S$20.8 million).
This exceptional mansion covers four floors and 6,900 sq ft of renovated living space combining contemporary style and comfort (the entire 17th-century property is now air-conditioned) with lashings of period charm. The mansion’s lift eases access to the upper floor that features a large living-cum-reception room with a cathedral ceiling, a fully equipped kitchen and dining room, and a second living room with library and mezzanine study opening on to a leafy terrace.
The ground floor comprises other living and reception rooms, as well as a staff apartment. Seven further bedrooms are on the middle floors, while a vaulted basement boasts a swimming pool cut directly into the bedrock, a fitness room, a sauna and a wine cellar.
Significantly more affordable from Savills – and an intelligent investment should you have a young family member planning to do an Emily or study at the Sorbonne – is a charming, newly built two-bedroom townhouse in the heart of the Jussieu neighbourhood for €840,000. Comfortably furnished and ready to move in, the house has a spacious entrance on the ground floor connected by a solid wooden staircase to the first level, which benefits from a large, bright living room, an open kitchen, bathroom with shower, bedroom/study on the mezzanine and a comfortable master bedroom.
Abutting the 5th arrondissement to the west is the chic sixième (officially called Luxembourg), which encompasses the historic districts surrounding Luxembourg Palace and its ornate gardens, and the sixth- century Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Sixième bustles with art galleries and high-end boutiques, and consequently is one of the most fashionable arrondissements.
Like the 5th, it has a deeply rooted intellectual tradition and has housed the likes of Sartre, Camus and Simone de Beauvoir. Picasso set up his studio at 7 Rue des Grands Augustins in the 6th in 1936, furiously painting Guernica there a year later. Fitzgerald lived on Rue de Vaugirard, close to Luxembourg Gardens. Move into the area today and you might spot Jane Birkin darting out for a croissant and a café au lait.
On the second floor of a commanding corner building close to the Jardin du Luxembourg, Sotheby’s International Realty has a delightful, light-filled, 2,150 sq ft apartment up for grabs at €4.7 million. The renovated period flat’s entrance opens onto a massive open-plan living- kitchen-dining space with balconies overlooking the landmark Boulevard Saint-Germain. The master suite has an attached bathroom and dressing room, while three further bedrooms each have their own shower rooms. The residence features hardwood floors throughout.
Also in the 6th, Christie’s has an exceptional duplex apartment (€5.8 million) in a Directoire-style, 18th-century building on prestigious Rue Jacob that benefits from private access via a courtyard and so has the feel of a private house. Covering 2,600 sq ft, the property has a triple living-cum-reception room, spacious kitchen, three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
The upper floor enjoys separate access and comprises a living room with a kitchen area, and bedroom with a bathroom. Annexes include a 210 sq ft courtyard garage and a cellar. The property also boasts numerous preserved period features, including decorative door details and coving.
Wrapping up our home-hunting tour of the riverside Rive Gauche, the exclusive and affluent 7th (septième) – officially Palais-Bourbon – includes bucket-list tourist attractions the Eiffel Tower, the Hôtel des Invalides (Napoleon’s final resting place) and the Musée d’Orsay, among others. The arrondissement has been home to the aristocracy since the 17th century and the words le Faubourg – the ancient name of the area – have been used to describe French nobility ever since.
On a sedate street close to Sainte-Clotilde basilica, Sotheby’s is promoting a 21,000 sq ft, 16-bedroom mansion dating back to the 19th century for the not-inconsequential €45 million.
Spread over three floors and served by two lifts, the private-courtyard property’s ground floor comprises an entrance hall, two living rooms, a dining room, a study and a small kitchen overlooking a courtyard, and a guest toilet. The garden level includes a lounge, professional-standard kitchen, cinema room, 1,000 sq ft gym, sauna, steam room and shower room. The residence boasts 16 full and eight partial bathrooms.
(Main and featured image: Shutterstock)