Award-winning screenwriter and former Paramount Comedy producer Alex Billington is an occasional resident of Paris and a devoted fan of the Marais.

After a decade, I’m still not sure whether I’m a Parisian girl at heart who keeps leaving, or a foreigner who simply keeps returning, but Paris had me from the start. I love the whole city, from the multi-cultural 18th arrondissement to the chic 16th, from the hip Bobos of the Bastille to the grand old dames cruising the 7th with their pampered lapdogs… but my favourite area has to be the Marais, not least because I find myself living here again, for the third time in ten years.

Situated on the Right Bank of the Seine, this area spans the 3rd and 4th arrondissments and to me is the best area for walking and witnessing Paris’s true cultural melting pot; from the Jewish area surrounding the pedestrianised Rue de Rosiers, to the many cool gay bars to Chinese area in the 3rd arrondissement. Not least it’s one of the few areas in Paris that was not ‘Haussmann-ised’ – and still retains the fascinating flavour of Medieval and Renaissance-era Paris.


Photo: cc. Flickr/draket – rue de Rosiers at night

The Marais means The Marsh; and the now glamorous area was reclaimed from marsh land in the 12th Century and eventually became much a much favoured piece of Paris of French Royalty; from Henri IV to Louis XIII…. after the devastation of the French Revolution, 1789, this Bourgeois area was deserted by the social leaders of the day…. that is until the Sixties, another era, ironically, of revolution, and one that saw the area enjoy a revival in popularity that has barely abated since.

Highlights of the area:

Rue des Francs-Bourgeois: Housing some of the coolest shops and boutiques in Paris as well as numerous Renaissance-era buildings the street has a less than auspicious background, having been named after the poverty stricken people who were housed here. Today this is the place in Paris to do your weekend strolling, shop til you drop (this is one of the few streets with shops open on a Sunday) and stop at one of the numerous bars or cafes for a thirst-quenching verre du vin or cafe au lait. Some of my favourite shops here are Diptyque (I’m a candle addict), Paul & Joe and Barbara Bui… thank God for Mr Mastercard (I never leave bed in Paris without him).


Photo: cc. Flickr/edsel_ – Crêperie Suzette, 24 rue des Francs Bourgeois

Place des Vosges: To me this is the most beautiful square in Paris, if not the world; it was built for King Henri IV in 1605 (completed in 1611) and was then called Place Royal….. much later, given the twists and turns and political drama of French history, the square was re-named Place des Vosges in 1800 by Napoleon in honour of the Vosges department; the first to pay taxes in France. The name was then changed back to Place Royal in 1815 then back again to Place des Vosges in 1870 for good! The square and its surrounding buildings today remain as captivatingly breathtaking as they were  centuries ago.. the area has been the stomping ground of such historical greats as King Henri II, Catherine of Medici, Cardinal Richelieu (he had a statue for King Louis XIII erected in the centre of the square – it was destroyed during the French Revolution and replaced in 1825) who lived at number 21, and the legendary writer Victor Hugo who lived at number 6 on the 2nd floor where you can now visit to see where he turned out such classics as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables. There are romantic restaurants and galleries aplenty surrounding the square; but expect to dig deep into your purse to enjoy the luxury of this fabulous location. Not cheap but worth it.


Photo: cc. Flickr/fredpanassac – 6 Place des Vosges