Britain does squares very well. London is full of great squares and provincial towns and cities even have them. There are some excellent squares in Edinburgh and even in little old Bath. However I have not come across the type of enclosed space that we did, twice in Paris and I expect that there are others that we didn’t see. I expect that these may be found in other European cities too but the fact is that we found two in Paris and We found them to be quite special. A bit on the up-market side but very pleasing nonetheless.
We walked through and around the Places des Vosges on our way to Port de l’Arsenal and the Seine. One of its claims to fame is that Victor Hugo’s house is in one corner and is now a museum.
However its charm lies in the way the arcades running down all four sides create a feeling of being in a secular cloister where all manner of specialist and niche retail boutiques and art galleries can feel at home, and in the typically formal gardens in the centre bordered by perfectly trimmed trees evincing man’s exquisite control of nature for his own pleasure.
A further attractive feature of the square is that entry and exit is only via the road running along one side except on opposite sides a carriageway in the centre of the buildings allows passage into and out of the square. I hope that gallery to the right helps to convey a sense that it is on a moderate scale and not intended to overwhelm.
The Jardin du Palais Royal on the other hand is very grand. We came upon this by chance as we were searching out a number of old shopping arcades. On entering a bordering street we were immediately struck by a large façade extending the entire length of the street that was clearly all part of a single building. A quick check on Google maps revealed that an entrance lay nearby which led through into the imposing gardens completely enclosed by colonnades on an altogether grander scale than des Vosges. Although the principal was the same the space enclosed by the Palais Royal was considerably larger. The gardens retained a similar formality of layout but were also used as a sculpture garden while “the southern end of the complex, polka-dotted with sculptor Daniel Buren’s 260 black-and-white striped columns, that has become the garden’s signature feature.” You can see this in the accompanying gallery.
“The Galerie de Valois is the most upmarket arcade with designer boutiques like Stella McCartney, Pierre Hardy, Didier Ludot and coat-of-arms engraver Guillaumot, at work at Nos 151 to 154 since 1785. Across the garden, in the Galerie de Montpensier , the Revolution broke out on a warm mid-July day just three years after the galleries opened in the Café du Foy. The third arcade, tiny Galerie Beaujolais , is crossed by Passage du Perron , a passageway above which the writer Colette (1873–1954) lived out the last dozen years of her life.”
To give you a feel for the likely clientele we were attracted by a beautiful old restaurant at the far end of the arcade, the ceiling of which was beautifully painted and resplendent with glittering chandeliers. Thinking what fun it might be to have a meal there we were quickly disabused of the idea by the tasteful menu posted on the wall outside which might just as well have said “No riff raff”. You will note that entrées start at €84, mains €94 and a dessert cannot be had for less than €34. Ah well, another time perhaps.