We’re fond of many places in Paris but what makes Rue Mouffetard and the surrounding streets so special are its people. It’s a community of down-to-earth folk from all walks of life just going about their day but being so welcoming to travellers who wander through.
At one time this part of Paris housed the destitute and disenfranchised, neither of which inhabitants Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell actually were. These two somewhat famous people chose to suffer for their art by living in poverty. Nowadays this little slice of the Latin Quarter is transformed, vibrant, eclectic, a place one is fortunate to live or visit.
We start our promenade along Rue Mouffetard at one end of this long street in a little café close to the Fontaine Guy Larique, enjoying an obligatory pre-walk croissant and strong café. Seated at rickety tables surveying the classic building façades over coffee it’s easy to imagine little has changed over the years. I dwell on some past residents; from famous French poet Paul Verlaine who sadly died of pneumonia at rooms on Rue Descartes in 1896, to Mr Hemingway who in the more recent 1920s lived with his first wife and mistress on Rue Cardinal Lemoine and Rue Descartes. Mr George Orwell, 6 years later, wrote Down & Out in Paris and London from a gritty hotel on Rue du Pot de Fer, less than a 10-minute stroll away. Such colourful history is woven into the fabric of Paris.
For me Sundays are the best days to visit the area: the square opposite our chosen café is filled artists and musicians and crowds of enthusiastic onlookers. Music plays as a sophisticated old madame hands out song sheets so you can join in while others waltz around the square encouraging you to join. It’s great fun and a wonderful start to your stroll. Just make sure you get there early enough to get the best views of the extravaganza.
As you make your way up the hill, you’ll encounter boulangeries, charcuteries, poissonnières and various speciality shops offering interesting, regional products to eat or drink. The smell of freshly baking bread wafts about you just as you realise the crowd of people spotted from farther down the road are all waiting to be served at a single establishment. You know you’re in for a treat when you see locals queuing…
We typically enjoy a pit-stop at Place de la Contrescarpe. A lunchtime jambon-et-fromage crepe from a street vendor usually hits the spot, followed by a glass of wine at a table skirting the Place. It’s important to take your time and enjoy the journey, leaving the destination as… less important.
Staggering a little further onto Rue Descartes, then round the corner to Rue Clovis, we eventually encounter the Pantheon – an imposing 18th century mausoleum filled with the remains of many distinguished French citizens. It’s from here we usually continue to Le Jardin du Luxembourg, leaving the charming Rue Mouffetard behind for another time.