Place St Sulpice has always had a Roman charm. A little taste of Italy, in the heart of old Paris. Servandoni, its architect, was from Florence. And when the church bells ring the hour for a creamy coffee at the Café de la Mairie while the pigeons fly around the fountain, “ciao!” and “auguri!” spring to mind.
A link between the eternal city and the city of light, this neighbourhood was for many years the religious epicentre of Paris. Just a single step from the Vatican to the left bank, and the present Hôtel des Impôts was formerly the celebrated St Sulpice seminary. Religion is now confined to the church itself (among the largest and most beautiful in Paris, where passionate Da Vinci Code readers can be seen ferreting around!), but the area has nevertheless retained its nobility and lustre.
In the shadow cast by the church’s two asymmetrical towers, marvellous alleyways abound - all straight out of the Paris of the Ancien Régime. The gentle curve of rue Servandoni, the private mansions on rue Férou, the bridged building on rue Garancière, and then St Germain market, in the same place as a famous fair which was held in Paris throughout the Middle Ages. Finally, a fountain where the four great 17th century bishops are enthroned - arousing dreams of bathing like Anita Ekberg in the Dolce Vita. Italy yet again...
Living in the shadow of St Sulpice, there are no dreams of going elsewhere. A Perrier in the Café de la Mairie; a glass of wine at Compagnie des vins surnaturels; a macaroon from Pierre Hermé; simple food at one of the many bistros on rue des Canettes and rue Guisarde; a pizza in the Golfe de Naples; lunch on the go at the Tournon to spy on senators enjoying themselves; a play at the Vieux Colombier, a Comédie Française offshoot; and then a stop at Castel, rue Princesse, which has just had a facelift...
Among the guilty pleasures to be enjoyed in the neighbourhood on a Sunday morning are the hot-from-the-oven croissants at the Mulot bakery on the corner of Seine-Lobineau. A superlative treat!