When exploring the Marais district, one of Paris’s most beautiful, the best place to begin is in the capital’s oldest square, Place des Vosges, formerly Place Royale. You won’t regret taking the time to stretch out on the grass in Square Louis XIII, as you admire its four beautiful fountains. Listen for the choir rehearsing under the arcades of the 17th-century apartment buildings lining the square. It was in one of these red-brick buildings that the author Victor Hugo lived for 15 years. Master perfumer Christian Louis, whose made-in-Provence perfumes are inspired by the aromas of his Basque homeland, also has a boutique here.
After refueling at one of the many brasseries around the square, walk up rue des Francs-Bourgeois to Diptyque and enjoy the sensational subtlety of their famous fragrances. Try out the Pomander candle, named for the very first vials carried in medieval times that filled the air with the scent of orange, cloves, and cinnamon. The result is a blend of sweet and sour that will remind you of childhood trips to the sweet shop.
A little further on, the Musée Carnavalet provides a fascinating insight into the history of Paris from the Neolithic period through to the 20th century. Dip into the cool, tree-lined courtyards, and you can’t miss the room filled with various tradesmen’s signs dating as far as the 18th century. Since much of the population at the time was illiterate, the signs were meant to attract customers with eye-catching designs featuring enormous keys or drawings of cast-iron tools. In the orangery, the dugout canoes and fish hooks used by prehistoric man give you an idea of what life was like in Paris thousands of years ago.
Upon leaving the museum, there’s more to learn about archaeology in Square Georges-Cain. This cool little square features a variety of elements from different eras—the pediment of the central pavilion of the Palais des Tuileries, the Merovingian sarcophagi, and the magnificent fig tree that casts a refreshingly cool shadow. Directly opposite, the Swedish Institute cultural center is home to a permanent collection of works by Swedish artists living in Paris from the 17th to the 20th centuries, where you’ll find some surprising avant-garde exhibitions on display. After such an eventful day, it’s hard to resist the temptation to stay for a piece of authentic bilberry tart washed down with fresh orange-and-carrot juice, served in the courtyard of this handsome 16th-century mansion that was once inhabited by the surrealist painter, Leonor Fini.
You finish your exploration of the Marais district in rue des Francs-Bourgeois, where you’ll find the other long-standing perfumers that have made this street famous, including Esteban, whose cedar indoor bouquet was once used by fashion designer John Galliano at his fashion shows. Next door is Penhaligon’s, named after the English barber who founded the company in the 19th century. One of its most recent fragrances, Lothair, was created by the great French “nose,” Bertrand Duchaufour. To round off your ramble through the Marais in style, why not treat the man in your life to a bottle of Blenheim? This fragrance was first created by Penhaligon’s for none other than Winston Churchill.