Paris bargain – lunch with a view on rooftop of Au Printemps

There are a number of obvious locations to get views of Paris – from one of the Notre Dame towers, the top of the Eiffel Tower, from the Sacre Coeur on Montmartre or the restaurant on the Montparnasse Tower. But some are more hidden, and that includes the rooftop restaurant of the Au Printemps department store on Blvd Haussmann.

Eiffel Tower from roof of Au Printemps

The other thing you notice in a view like this is how monochrome Paris is from above. On one hand dull, on the other, somehow orderly and reassuring.

You wouldn’t go there for fine dining – it’s passable cafeteria style soups, salads, sandwiches, pizza, etc. But, it’s perhaps the only place in Paris where you can get an everyday meal and have the spectacular views gratis.

Pretty setting on the roof

We found a perfect table under a small awning for shade. It was another sparkling Paris day.

Au Printemps restoration

One of the Au Printemps buildings next to us. They're restoring the gilded domes. On the left, the "before", on the right, the "after". Just more additions to the beauty of Paris. All on a department store!

If you’ve never been there, Au Printemps is huge, taking over four or five buildings, each about five or six storeys. They’re divided by women’s and men’s fashion, housewares and so on. The restaurant is on top of the main store, much of which features women’s boutiques with every high-end name you can think of on the ground floor. For department stores, they’re very beautiful. But we weren’t here for shopping.

We took the escalators, lined up for lunch, and went out to find a table. The other diners seemed to be mostly people working in the neighbourhood with a few shoppers taking a break.

Sacre Coeur on Montmartre

Sacre Coeur, a relative recent addition to Paris (late 1800's), sits at the top of Montmartre, an arrondisement famous for artists, the Moulin Rouge and a bawdy nightlife.

What a wonderful place on a warm spring day. To the southwest, the Eiffel Tower pierced the skyline. In front of us, the back of the classic Greek architecture of the Madeleine church and over to the left, the back of the Opera Garnier, simply known to most as the Paris Opera (site for Phantom of the Opera). And behind us, to the north, the “wedding cake” Sacre Coeur dominated the skyline on the Montmartre hill.

Haussmann island building

A perfect Haussmann island building with a little courtyard in the centre. The rooms under the eaves were originally for servants. Now that most of the buildings have elevators, they're prized pied-a-terres.

Being on Blvd Haussmann, we were of course on one of the “grand boulevards” as laid out and specified by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann between 1853 and 1870 when Napoleon III hired him to direct a massive modernization of the city. The result is the Paris of today with the broad avenues lined by Haussmann-designed apartment buildings of four to eight storeys. And up here on the rooftop, we had the perfect review of the results.

Detail of dome

Why do we love the French? Because they bother with details like this.

What you can’t see so directly, but are aware of as you look around, is that you’re seeing millennia of history going as far back as Celtic encampments, followed by the Romans, Gauls and Visigoths. It doesn’t take much digging in Paris to find the foundations of previous civilizations.

Fun  fact courtesy of Wikipedia: In 451, the region was invaded by Attila the Hun, prompting fears that Paris would be attacked. According to legend, the city was saved by the piety of Sainte Geneviève and her followers, whose prayers for relief were answered when Attila’s march turned away from Paris to the south. St. Geneviève remains Paris’s patron saint to this day.

When we left Au Printemps, we were heading back towards the Seine and by happy accident found ourselves on the Rue Daunou, home of the legendary Harry’s New York Bar. That called for a drink! Coming up in the next post.

Harry's swingin' doors

You know what kind of saloon this is before you even step foot inside...

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