You might think you know everything about Paris, or that everything looks the same: the Haussmannian buildings, the narrow streets, the classic lampposts. And then, once again, Paris surprises you. When you think of things to do in Paris, the classics always come to mind.
Montparnasse is a fairly known and visited neighborhood, but it’s a big one, and it hides many little secrets. With its mix of city-like big streets with country-like small villages, it’s time you leave behind (for today) the big clichés (which we all love—we are not judging here!) and head for a pleasant treasure hunt.
Stop at the Pernety metro station (Line 13) and walk along the rue Raymond Losserand until you find the rue des Thermopyles to your left. Believe your eyes, for you’re not hallucinating (and these pictures are not Photoshopped). Suddenly you have left Paris, and you find yourself lost in a street in Provence, or in Greece for that matter (mostly if you visit during spring and summer).
Thermopyles, or Thermopylae, literally means “hot gates,” and in ancient Greece it was a place where there was a narrow strategic passage (and where many important battles occurred). The name comes from the several sulfur hot springs that can be found at the foot of the hills. Although we don’t know why the street was named like this, we can guess: perhaps it is the narrowness factor or the warmth that one feels when there, or that the little houses resemble the ones in Greece. Anyhow, we really appreciate that this little gem is right in Paris.
Take your time to seize this street in all its green glory, and pay attention to all the details surrounding you: each colorful door, each pot with delicate flowers, plants creeping on the walls, bikes lying around, ateliers, open windows showing you a peek of what the life of someone living there looks like. Life certainly feels different in Thermopyles, almost like the wind blows in a different rhythm. Walk all the way to the end of the street, where you’ll find a small square that has rue des Thermopyles on one side and Cité Bauer on the other.
In this square, called Alberto Giacometti, an impossibly pretty tiny park stands with several kinds of flowers and little pathways that seem straight out of a tale, a real oasis for getting lost in a book or sunbathing while listening music. You might even run (like I did) into a group of people (with their inimitable French style) casually playing pétanque and sipping rosé in a small area that serves perfectly for this purpose.
Don’t forget to take pictures of the unique heart-shaped wood gate at 19, Cité Bauer, a must for the complete change of scenery! In Hungarian, the text on the door reads “Isten Hozott,” which means “Welcome.” A perfect example of the welcoming vibe of this charming area.
If all this beauty leaves you hungry, I suggest you head to Au Moulin Vert (34 bis, rue des Plantes), a restaurant that follows the same campagne theme, and it has been around since the mid-19th century. Expect all the French classics, made with farm-to-table produce, and a menu that changes with the seasons.