Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Paris: A Parisian Shares Why The Left Bank Is So Special

February 16, 2021 Valerie Benigno lives and works in the artsy, historic Rive Gauche, in the 5th and 6th arrondissements. Season 1 Episode 1
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Paris: A Parisian Shares Why The Left Bank Is So Special
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Valerie Benigno lives on Paris’ Left Bank, in the Latin Quarter near St. Germain des Pres —the heart of the 5th and 6th arrondissements. She knows that perfect cafe or shop, the best route to ancient cathedrals, and how to enjoy the charms of this artsy, historic area of Paris.

--- Valerie shares her favorite Left Bank places and memories. We find ways to tell a Left Bank resident from someone who lives on the other side of the Seine, and why the 5th and 6th are called The Latin Quarter. 

--- She talks of Left bank artists and writers, The Sorbonne and other schools on The Left Bank, and the Pantheon, where the greats of France are buried. She mentions surprising facts about the statue of St. Genevieve, and the ruins of the Roman city called Lutetia near the Cluny museum, famed for its medieval collection.

 --- There is the magnificent Luxembourg Gardens, with ponds and a carousel, a museum and pony rides, flowers and fountains and the ancient home of Maria de Medici, now home to the French senate. Narrow Left Bank streets are filled with delightful shops, including the famed chocolate shop that once served Marie Antoinette. 

--- We talk of the Delacroix museum; the oldest church in Paris, St. Germaine; and sites where movie scenes were shot: "The Da Vinci Code" in the ancient church, St. Sulpice, and the old restaurant featured in “Midnight in Paris.” 

--- Valerie offers her favorite memory  to end a travel conversation as delicious as a French macaron. By the end of the podcast we understand better why the Left Bank of Paris is  magical, and why so many of us seek to travel there.
Valerie Benigno keeps up with the best of the Left Bank, advising travelers for over 20 years at Hotel St. Paul Rive Gauche. 
Podcast host Lea Lane has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine travel books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to dozens of guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter and  blogs at 
Please subscribe and leave a quick review! New travel episodes every Tuesday, wherever you listen or at

* Transcript edited for clarity.

Lea Lane  00:04

Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. On this podcast, we'll be talking to Valerie Benigno, she lives and works on the left bank of Paris. She studied law speak several languages, and works at my favorite little hotel in Paris, San Paul rugose. On the neighborhood is the left bank of the Seine River. And she's going to tell us all about the Left Bank. Bonjour, Valerie. So what would you like to tell us about the fifth and sixth? Which is the left bank that this heart of the Left Bank and it's called the Latin Quarter?


Valerie Benigno  00:57

Exactly. First of all, thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my favorite area in Paris, where I live where I work, and this is a really, really nice place of Paris. And I have to tell you something about perforations. There are two types of people according to the bank, they live on, you know, and I've been living and working on the left bank. And this is something we fear and this is true, we Persians are able to, to guess where someone lives according to the way they dress, the way they move this peak, it's slightly different. 


Lea Lane  01:39

How does the Left Bank Parisian dress differently than a Right Bank?


Valerie Benigno  01:45

It's a bit different. I would say that people on the right bank dress more classic. And on the left bank, they are fashion forward a bit. Well, I haven't a French expression for that they would say early on. That's a bit strange. But well, it's there to wear things that people on the right bank would never, never wear.


Lea Lane  02:11

Would we call that fashion forward here? Is that similar?


Valerie Benigno  02:14

Yes. Probably. Yes. That's the thing. Well, the left back, all my life is here. And I'm really in love with the Left Bank, its monuments and everything. It represents Paris, of artists and writers and painters and you see Pablo Picasso and to humble Paul Verlaine, or Hemmati. So many writers, so many colors. You see, I mean way, they all were in the left bank. And when we say Rohit gauche, we think about those people. And someone said Paris started to think, on the left bank. So the Latin Quarter, it includes the fifth and the sixth on the small, which are the district's actually. And why Latin, because Latin language was spoken around in the university at La Sorbonne, during the Middle Ages, so this is why we call it Latin Quarter. 


Lea Lane  03:19

I remember because I walked around there, and I noticed there's a statue of the philosopher Montaigne? And I said, Yes, exactly. Yes. And it's facing the Sorbonne, and, oh, was all shiny. And everybody was touching his toe. So I touched this talent. And the student came by and said, well, the, I hope you do well on the test, because they would touch the toe every time they take a test. Is that still?


Valerie Benigno  03:45

Exactly? Yes. Yes. Still, it's very nice. It reminds me something in Prague as well. There is a statue there. Everybody touch on the phone. Sasha Well, we have ours in Paris. So what else there are so many schools there. So this is why you see the ahi cat we call it ash cat, very famous school. In Paris. I attended a concert inside that school. It's fantastic. And it's next to the Pantheon. And so in the fifth Pantheon is there the city all of the fifth or the smaller is in front of the Pantheon. And that's my favorite one of my favorite places really, if the square is fantastic and and there is also the church started.


Lea Lane  04:31

It's a beautiful square. I've sat there many times and I've gone into the Pantheon. I know it's the Muslim of the great French, is it Parisian, is only are all the French greats in French, French, French is Voltaire. So Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie the first woman was recently put in there I know they are very pleased about that.


Valerie Benigno  04:53

Exactly. The fifth one is small is very nice fancy on this the house Your highest point of the district it's located on the heel and not very high, not as high as as the Basilique and more math, but it's very high. I like the square and the name of the place is more Tanya sat Genoveva than VF being the patron saint of Paris. And Alton Sanjeev is a nice place as well there is we made such a gift and behind the Pantheon we moved out as well. With all the restaurants and tiny cafe.


Lea Lane  05:32

It's so wonderful to sit there and watch the people go by and, and just enjoy yourself. Get a cup of coffee and you can sit for hours. I think that's a tradition that everybody loves just the idea of of watching people and sitting and talking beauty.


Valerie Benigno  05:50

Exactly. The show is outside. You just sit and watch people walking, how they dress how they behave. That's our our show. So and about Samson? Yeah, you know that it's the same pattern of fairies. I told you. There is a statue on cuando la Tournelle in front of the famous restaurant lotto data which is internationally known. And that statue I like it every time I go on the Portola toenail, I watch the statue. And unfortunately and sadly, the statue is oriented towards the river. 


Lea Lane  06:30

The other way? 


Valerie Benigno  06:33

Yes, lots of people don't pay attention to the statue because she doesn't look like very, very appealing. You just see a flat flat part of the statue. And what else behind the Pantheon also I told you the Saturday anymore and there is also Lisa handle new test very interesting. That's the ancient part of Paris, the Roman part with the old How do you say the theater.


Lea Lane  07:06

The ancient Roman amphitheatre? i Yeah, thank you. Yes, I've walked among the remains there right by the Museum of Cluny right it's right. It's amazing to walk in Paris and sit at a cafe and then get up and see ancient Roman ruins. Many people don't realize that, that the Romans were here first. It was a very important city for quite a while. Lutetia, I guess the name was and yes, yes,


Valerie Benigno  07:29

Yes. And you will not believe that Parisian now play boule. How do you say? Oh, no, no, they talk.


Lea Lane  07:39

Oh, bocce. That's like bocce in Italy, right. Yes. 


Valerie Benigno  07:44

Very strange to see that people inside the amphitheater playing and I would say that the Romans must turn over in their grave as we say in French.


Lea Lane  07:57

Well, at least you're using it, the facilities are just beautiful. They're also baths next to the Museum of Clooney. Right? As well as it's just really large. And when you walk by it first you think what is this if you don't know that, the that it was an ancient area. I love the museum, by the way, that Clooney, it's a medieval museum with stained glass and magnificent tapestries. And when you walk in there, you just get away from all the troubles. It's just absolutely beautiful. And I think it's a hidden gem of Paris.


Valerie Benigno  08:25

And it has been recently renovated. Two years ago, they changed the entrance and renovated the entire building. It's like a little castle, if you recognize them musically. And the six on the small Well, first of all, the Luxembourg garden because you can't miss that they're huge and nice and charming. And they have sees the Luxembourg Museum and the Senate as well.


Lea Lane  08:52

Yes. And And wasn't it the home of Meridiam? Who was the widow of King Henry the fourth? I think four things. The second one is and that's become the Congress house, hasn't it? Or the Senate? Yes, yes. And then in front of it, you have children playing with their boats and pony cards and chess being played by old people sitting happily in the sunshine, and it's just the most beautiful garden. I go there every day when I'm in Paris, and it's just a magnificent Park. And to think that people are also in the Senate chamber. They're doing work. I've never seen anyone go in there and work out in the sunshine, but it's a beautiful part.


Valerie Benigno  09:36

I can tell you that many people work inside because we have lots of senators. How do you pull them? Yes, at the hotel. And there's also a purpose to theater. 


Lea Lane  09:50

The puppets are wonderful. I sat there myself watching them. Their kiosks is a cafe and I was told that the museum there originally had many Great Works by you know, Rembrandt and so forth and they are now in the loop they were but still a nice little museum with exhibits you know?


Valerie Benigno  10:10

And now there is Man Ray and Lamothe at the moment. So that's very interesting. I haven't seen it yet but I will go for sure. And did you know about the statue the Liberty How do you call it a statue of liberty that


Lea Lane  10:23



Valerie Benigno  10:24

Yes, there is a little one inside the Luxembourg garden very surprising. I never saw that where it's it's behind the playground for children you see behind there there is a nice place very quiet where people go and and read pee. Very peaceful. Very nice. Very green.


Lea Lane  10:45

Definitely have to come back and yeah, yes. So what else what else do we have in this beautiful six?


Valerie Benigno  10:53

Oh, I would. I can't miss La La plus Filson bag. That's a little square. My favorite one very tiny, very quiet. Where the museum Dolakha is. And there is also inside the museum a little garden a hidden garden. And that place is fantastic. Really nice. Really small a small and and I remember once I saw a violinist and she was there playing violin, and she said that she was there because of the acoustics which is amazing.


Lea Lane  11:29

Oh, I can imagine I can picture you sitting there and hearing the violin music in the beautiful garden drinking a little champagne. Oh my goodness. Okay.


Valerie Benigno  11:38

Talking about champagne. Yes. In the who? The blue sea. Do you know who the BBC?


Lea Lane  11:43

Yes. Yeah, I think I think so.


Valerie Benigno  11:46

That's a very lively streets. Next to her soccer behind Vauxhall Johanna with lots of cafe restaurant and there is a nice restaurant named luckless you can have a drink there and at night people come and play music. And there is also the participe cathode very famous. And by the way talking about Petoskey the 600 SMA is full of nice that is like a to me, like Mr. Locke. I don't know whether you know me salak did you


Lea Lane  12:24

That is that where the macarons are sold.


Valerie Benigno  12:29

Yes, he has Mecca home but the Mecca home was more at large UK. And there is also which one I would and even the new law or CV liniar very famous chef and Betty see. And while it's Lanie call as well as famous. So you will find all those specificity in the six.


Valerie Benigno  13:02

Oh beside the wonderful Petoskey you can go to leader Margo cafe, the floor and Pulaski leap and the three of them are next to plus du Quebec. Very few people know that place. That's where the name is plus u Quebec, but mostly they call it plus Sasha Ma. And so you can imagine Simone de Beauvoir and John Paul staff, and all those people very famous writers going there. And cafe, the floor. Very nice as well. I remember someone who had a nice collections of ashtrays from Cafe, the floor because they have very nice, white and green ashtrays. And that friend of mine used to wet I shouldn't say that, but he used to take every time you went into f1 and he has a nice collection at home or maybe


Lea Lane  14:00

They don't have ashtrays anymore.


Valerie Benigno  14:04

Probably yes. And the Husky lip is famous for the shoe code but also for carefully and many very good specific French facilities for Swami Taha used to go to the house Philippe and also Catherine the nerve and math Taylor Mastroianni.


Lea Lane  14:22

Oh my god. Yeah. My accent. Oh, yes.


Valerie Benigno  14:26

So that's a nice place. And then the church sajama, which gave the name to the area, which is the oldest church of Paris is from the sixth century.


Lea Lane  14:37

And it's another surprise Yes, I just have to say I walked through it once. And I was absolutely surprised that it is the oldest and it's right in the middle of all these wonderful places you're talking about? It was renovated, I know. And it's just the colors are beautiful. There are concerts there. In fact, there are so many concerts at night in many of these churches. That's one of the joys of this area that music is all All over. And I just love you're looking at the listings, you can find students who are playing and it's many of them are free concerts. And it's this is one of the churches that offers that.


Valerie Benigno  15:12

And the other church would be successful piece, obviously in the area, you can't miss Sasuke piece, which was recently, I mean, now 10 years ago was very famous for the Da Vinci Code, the movie and the book, obviously, that's a nice church with two asymetric towers. Very nice, very nice with a nice square. And the fountains were lots of movies that the shooting was there, and it was so nice. And what else I would say,


Lea Lane  15:44

Sellers, you know, what's interesting to me, and it's at the hotel at your hotel, when you go down for breakfast, you're in a medieval, I assume it's medieval cellar. And I know there's a story about how they were linked together. So people could walk safely at night when it was dangerous and so forth in the medieval times. But I remember walking along some of these streets and you look in a shop, it's a very fine shop. And you see in the back of it, it's a you know, old ancient cellar, and even a parking lot. Sometimes we'll have part of it. It's just a wonderful layering in this area and very special.


Valerie Benigno  16:21

Can you imagine my beautician, she does treatment and massage in a cellar? I mean, in a vaulted cellar, something really charming and nice and relaxing. You can imagine what was the point of the seller? I didn't know what they made inside. But well, it was something really strange. 


Lea Lane  16:44

Yeah, I think it was just a time. I guess in those times earlier, it was just maybe more dangerous and dark. And it was a way to be safe. Whatever it is right now. It's beautiful to see it remaining, you know, the parts that are remaining, because again, it's a surprise, when you're in Paris, somehow you you don't think always of this medieval area. And I think the Left Bank is the place where there's so much of it.


Valerie Benigno  17:07

Exactly, yes. And then next to the cat food, although they own there is pesar which is narrow streets. And it's like cool to commerce sat on the hay, which is very rich of Eastery about the revolution, the French Revolution. And it's like there is a nice and huge door and it's like entering getting inside a building but it's laner little Pathak. And in that place you can find love hookup, which is the oldest Cafe again oldest Cafe of terrorists. And it has been created by a Sicilian named Procopio and he used to make ice creams and then it does and it has been the place where revolutions used to meet and then like you Tina as been created in that place guillotine from Guitar the brothers they imagine to create like your teen over there in that little street really.


Lea Lane  18:15

After they had ice cream, they don't think I would have put those two together but now I can forget it.


Valerie Benigno  18:24

And now you can find anymore Sipahi which is a restaurant Salonga tea and a chocolate place. And let's talk about chocolate because there is another place I like which is the Beauvais galley. It's located in who they sat there. It's a little further after the church if you keep on walking on Buddha sajama Then on the right there is who the Sun Bear and you find the movie galley which is nice and huge. Well, huge is French. I mean, not according to US standards, but it's huge for us. 


Lea Lane  19:01

I actually have had chocolate there and I know that Marie Antoinette had chocolate there and she liked 99% Chocolate and you you know can't get more chocolate than that. So if it's a wonderful place,


Valerie Benigno  19:15

It's a wonderful place, but I would say 99% doesn't taste really good.


Lea Lane  19:19

No, you have to  have spirits, you have to drink it with some spirits, I think but that's what she liked suppose, but Napoleon ate there and kings went there. It's wonderful.


Valerie Benigno  19:30

And a friend of mine went there and she was allergic to chocolate. Can you imagine as soon as she entered inside the shop? She got like an allergy she was almost fainting. Yes. And what else mentioning that friend because talking about who to be see, I didn't tell you that she was so fun of who the VC that per cow was named who you see you see the the player plaque here her license plate. You see, it was so funny. 


Lea Lane  20:04

Yes, that's very cute. So, I know chocolate is delicious, but we have to go do some other things do with the chocolate. And then we go and look in some of the most beautiful churches where I think you mentioned before with the two different towers. Inside it is a painting by della Chua, who lived in the area. I know they were going to tear down his house. And they kept it which was very important that I'm so happy when they do that, and they appreciate it. A lot of movies where you mentioned that the Da Vinci Code was was done around there. There's a restaurant next to your hotel, where once I spent a New Year's Eve love Polly Polly door. And I know that's where they filmed Midnight in Paris, the Woody Allen film and I you must have seen that going on when you were there.


Valerie Benigno  20:53

Yes, I saw the actors and yes, there was person 2010 years ago now. They changed even the laundry mat in front of the the hotel became a boutique so they change all the streets.


Lea Lane  21:09

You mean they didn't want a laundromat in their movie?


Lea Lane  21:17

So I know today they're filming Emily in Paris nearby in the left bank? Where was that filmed? It looked familiar. I saw many places that I recognize where we love.


Valerie Benigno  21:27

Yes, her apartment is next to the Pantheon. And so yes, lots of places you can recognize and even on the right bank, which is not the topic of today, but she went to the opera house, I recognize as well. She was walking around and I think she went to the Rutaceae, I'm not sure.


Lea Lane  21:49

There will be a second season so we get to see more of Paris but I know much of it was was it Cafe floor? It was a cafe as well. Yeah. Many, many of the scenes I recognize it's such a beautiful section of Paris. I think you've expressed beautifully why it's so special. But I have to ask an ending to this is about memories. What one memory would you take with you if you had one to take of your left bank and your Latin Quarter area? 


Valerie Benigno  22:18

I would say having a glass of champagne at Lidl, Mergo in front of the oldest church of Paris looking around seeing the Louis Vuitton boutique and seeing all those people famous or not around you is the best the best you can have in Paris. I mean, the best experience in Paris. Don't forget the champagne. It's part of it's


Lea Lane  22:46

Absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much. Merci beaucoup. No doubt all of us would love to be there. Thank you so much again.


Valerie Benigno  22:56

Thank you, Lea. Thank you.


Lea Lane  23:03

Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.

Left Bank/Right Bank Parisians
Left Bank Writers and Artists
Why It's Called "The Latin Quarter"
Touching who's toe?
Around the Pantheon
Special cafes and bistros
St Genevieve --and her statue
Lutuce-- ancient Roman pre-Paris
6th Arrondissement/Luxembourg Gardens
Best cafes, patisseries,
Ancient churches/concerts
What are the medieval cellers of Paris
Oldest cafe, Revolution, guillotine
Eating Marie Antionette's favorite chocolate
Delacriox painting/house
Movies/shows filmed in the area
Favorite memory of the Left Bank!