Le Lapin Agile

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lapin agile header

During a stroll around Montmartre I came across this curious house on the corner of Rue des Saules and Rue St Vincent facing Le Clos de Montmartre Vineyard. With its rickety wooden fence and salmon-pink walls the building looked more like a country cottage than a building in the centre of Paris. But my curiosity was piqued so I checked out the sign on a wall to one side.

Photo D Bennetto

Photo D Bennetto

To my surprise, and delight, I discovered this was an historic cabaret –“chansons et poesie” it promised.

The plaque on the outside wall tells the story of the Lapin Agile

The plaque on the outside wall tells the story of the Lapin Agile

The history of this place turned out to be equally interesting. It had a few questionable names to begin with: “Rendez-vous Des Voleurs” (translated means Thieves Meeting Place”) “Cabaret des Assassins” which probably says something about the calibre of the clientele back in the 19th century.

Photo by Bruce Washburn

Photo by Bruce Washburn

But around 1875 caricaturist, Andre Gill, painted a sign with a rabbit leaping out of a saucepan which was hung on the side of the building. The place became known as Le lapin à Gill (Gill’s rabbit) which morphed into its current name Le Lapin Agile.

By the beginning of the 20th century the Lapin Agile was facing closure but rescue came in the shape of artist Aristide Bruant (he of the famous red and blue poster http://www.toulouse-lautrec-foundation.org/Eldorado,-Aristide-Bruant.html by Toulouse Lautrec). He bought the establishment and handed the tenancy to Frédéric Gerard, known to all as Frédé.

It became a great venue for budding musicians to make their debuts and also became a regular haunt for impoverished artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, Apollinaire and Utrillo. They’d spend their evenings immersed in philosophical debate and music. Very often Frédé would accept paintings as payment for drinks.

Picasso gave Frédé one of his artworks called Au Lapin Agile which showed himself dressed up as a mannequin sitting in the cabaret next to a female customer with Frédé playing the guitar in the background. In 1912 Frédé sold the painting for $20. In 1989 it went to auction at Sothebys and sold for $41 million.

You can see a replica of Picasso’s painting in the picture below on the far wall. Otherwise you’ll have to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to see the original.

Photo Courtesy of Le Lapin Agile

Photo Courtesy of Le Lapin Agile

Other famous patrons included Ernest Hemingway and Charlie Chaplin who would play his violin there. In more recent years American actor/comedian, Steve Martin, wrote a play called “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” about an imaginary meeting between Picasso and Einstein which was performed at several major theatres in USA.

An evening at the Lapin Agile was for me a truly memorable occasion. I’d imagined a Parisian cabaret would be about topless dancers, the cancan and loud music having years ago gone to the Lido on the Champs Elysées, so I was curious as to how they could pack all that into this little cottage.

The evening’s performance starts at nine pm but people can come and go when they want. As the cabaret had already begun by the time we arrived we were asked to wait in the entrance hall until the song had finished. Then we were shown into this dark cavern-like room with an eclectic collection of artworks covering the walls. Wooden tables were scattered around the room. We took our place and were given the standard drink of a glass containing cherries and fortified wine.

There were no dancers, or semi-naked women, instead a group of people having a good time singing mainly traditional French songs, the type you’d imagine Edith Piaf would sing if she were there. 

I couldn’t help noticing that a group sitting at one table seemed to be getting into the swing of things with more enthusiasm and confidence than the rest of us. Their strong voices could be heard way above everyone else’s and they knew all the words to the songs. It turned out these were the performers and as the night progressed they each had a “turn” to perform their own solo. The Lapin Agile has helped launch the career of many of its musicians.

Inside the Lapin Agile - photo by Peter Koslowsky

Inside the Lapin Agile – photo by Peter Koslowsky

Patrons came and went between acts. Eventually there was just myself, Peter my partner, and a mother and daughter from Japan. Just as well because the next song required audience participation. A mike was put in front of each if us at various stages to receit odd phrases from the song. Being of a rather introverted nature I did find this a little embarrassing at first but did my bit anyway.

I’m not sure if you could get other drinks besides the cherry drink we were given at the beginning. We didn’t see anyone serving drinks but that didn’t bother us. All in all I loved the quirky intimate nature of the cabaret and would recommend a visit to anyone wanting a taste of authentic Paris. We didn’t book but then we were there late September, out of season. I believe bookings are essential at other times.

Le Lapin Agile c. 1913

Le Lapin Agile c. 1913

For further information here’s a link to the official website. http://www.au-lapin-agile.com

Lunch on the Train

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Recently I was in London catching up with an an old Australian friend over dinner when I mentioned I would soon be in Paris.

“Oh you must dine at the Le Train Bleu,” he said flicking through his mobile phone to show me images from when he treated his mother to lunch there.

Having been to the Gare de Lyon numerous times I was a little surprised to learn of Le Train Bleu’s existence. Why hadn’t I ever heard of it before? But I dutifully put it on the list of “things to do in Paris“. 

The Gare de Lyon, Paris

The Gare de Lyon, Paris

The Gare de Lyon in Paris seems an unlikely place for the location of a rare dining experience, and from the outside, Le Train Bleu reveals little of its opulent and somewhat overwhelming interior.

The restaurant's blue neon sign gives few clues about what lies beyond the doors.

The restaurant’s blue neon sign gives few clues about what lies beyond the doors.

However, I defy anybody to walk inside for the first time and not be jaw-droppingly overawed by the opulent interior…yes for many it may be too much, but this is the Paris of La Belle Epoque: a time which brought the world the Eiffel Tower and The Grand Palais, a time which popularised venues like the Moulin Rouge and the Folies Bergere, a time when subtlety and understatement were not on the menu. Dining here is like thrusting yourself into a time machine that whisks you back to the early 19th century.  It wouldn’t have surprised me if Hercule Poirot had popped up at the next table.

Dining in the sumptuous restaurant of Le Train Bleu is an experience that you're unlikely to forget

Dining in the sumptuous restaurant of Le Train Bleu is an experience that you’re unlikely to forget

Opened in 1901 Le Train Bleu was originally known as “La Buffet de la Gare de Lyon”. Its walls and ceilings, painted by prominent artists of the period, feature paintings that depicted the events of the time and the beautiful destinations accessible by the rail network.

Large chandeliers hang from the painted and gilded ceiling

Large chandeliers hang from the painted and gilded ceiling

The paintings on the ceilings show images of some of the destinations you could reach by train from the Gare de Lyon

The paintings on the ceilings show images of some of the destinations you could reach by train from the Gare de Lyon

I know I enjoyed the food, but to be honest I don’t really remember much about it. To me the food faded into insignificance next to the sumptuous experience of just sitting there in the large dining room soaking up the surroundings. Definitely an experience I’d recommend although it’s not a cheap restaurant, but well worth it, in my opinion.

The sumptuous interior of Le Train Bleu

The sumptuous interior of Le Train Bleu

For further details and bookings (recommended) here’s the official website: http://www.le-train-bleu.com/uk/index.php

Château de Beaumesnil

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On a grey September afternoon we decided to visit the Château de Beaumesnil, located in the village of Beaumesnil, Normandy, about 135 kilometres west of Paris.  Cited rather grandly in our  guide book as Normandy’s answer to Versailles.

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From a distance it looked suitably grand but considerably smaller than Versailles. On reflection I think the reference was more about the gardens, which we didn’t get to explore due to the weather, than the Château. From the upstairs windows they looked beautiful; long sweeping avenues interspersed with a lake.

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The formal gardens provide an impressive vista from the windows of the château.

Some further research revealed this lawned area was known as a parterre and the formal flower beds were called Jardin des Quatre Saisons or the Four Seasons Garden.

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Built in 1640 on the site of a medieval castle, the Château is now considered a French historic monument. Its last owner was a German bookbinder, Hans Furstenburg who purchased the property in 1938. On his death in 1982 the property passed to the Furstenburg Beaumesnil Foundation which is responsible for its upkeep.

Sadly, up close it shows signs of decay although certainly the rooms that are open to the public are light and inviting with some beautiful furnishings. In the basement there is an interesting display of bookbinding techniques reflecting the interest of its last owner.

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For further information the official website is: http://www.chateaubeaumesnil.com/en

Revisiting Deauville, Normandy

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Years ago my parents spent a year living in Deauville. At the time I was living in London but visited them regularly. So on a recent trip to Normandy Peter and I decided to spend a few hours in Deauville.

The flat sandy beaches of Deauville provide a popular holiday location for Parisians and visitors from all over the globe. Early risers can see race horses getting their sunrise exercise along the beach.

The flat sandy beaches of Deauville provide a popular holiday location for Parisians and visitors from all over the globe. Early risers can see race horses getting their sunrise exercise along the beach.


It was a beautiful warm September day but, like many seaside towns in France, many of the beachfront cafes were closed for the season. Thankfully the Bar du Soleil was open and had plenty of customers enjoying the last remnants of summer. We therefore decided to pause on our stroll along “Les Planches” for a drink and a plate of frites. It was a very relaxing and enjoyable hour or so just sitting there watching the world go by.
This boardwalk (Les Planches) was built in the early 1920's to allow women to walk along the beach without getting sand in their shoes and gowns. The beach cabins along the boardwalk bear the names of Hollywood stars in reference to the film festival (Festival du Cinema Americain) that takes place here each year.

This boardwalk (Les Planches) was built in the early 1920’s to allow women to walk along the beach without getting sand in their shoes and gowns. The beach cabins along the boardwalk bear the names of Hollywood stars in reference to the film festival (Festival du Cinema Americain) that takes place here each year.


We’d just missed the Deauville Film Festival (not sure if that wasn’t a good thing!) but Deaville was just as grand as I remembered with its impressive sea front properties. I enjoyed our wander down the boardwalk. If only the authorities back home in Perth would make equally good use of our coastline.
Casino Barrière de Deauville, built in 1913 now part of Groupe Lucien Barrière, one of Europe's largest chain of hotels & casinos

Casino Barrière de Deauville, built in 1913 now part of Groupe Lucien Barrière, one of Europe’s largest chain of hotels & casinos


Located on the beach front this 1920's building is now an exhibition hall and art gallery.

Located on the beach front this 1920’s building is now an exhibition hall and art gallery.

Moulins de Montmartre

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Last year, when in Paris, we stayed in an apartment in Rue Lepic in Montmartre. Just across the road was a windmill called Moulin de la Galette.

Moulin de Galettes (day)

It turned out this was quite an historic and well known windmill (maybe not quite as well known as the one at the foot of the hill…Le Moulin Rouge) and had been the inspiration for paintings by such artists as Van Gogh (although I’ve just discovered that Van Gogh actually lived in Rue Lepic …at number 54, I stayed in Number 82) and Gustav Renoir’s famous painting Le Bal Du Moulin De La Galette

Now it’s a restaurant .  I can’t vouch for it as we didn’t dine there… maybe the next stay in a few weeks time (subtle hint to Peter) but back to history. I couldn’t find out much about the windmill over the internet but I learnt that originally there were 14 mills which made up “Les Moulins de la Galette” and now there are just two. This one was built in 1622 as a wheat mill. In 1924 it was moved from its original site a bit further up the hill to its current situation at the corner of Girardon and Lepic Streets.. It made a picturesque outlook from my apartment window.

Moulin de Galettes (night)

Walking Through Walls in Montmartre, Paris.

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Montmartre has to be one of my favourite places in Paris. On a recent trip I had an afternoon on my own as Peter, my partner, had to work, so I went for a wander around Montmartre. The crowds in the Place du Tertre put me off dwelling for too long in the tourist centre but I spent a most enjoyable afternoon exploring the area’s narrow, cobbled streets. Away from the central hub, the crowds thinned and there was little or no traffic. Montmartre is compact so you can roam without getting seriously lost. Best of all, I stumbled on a quirky delight around every corner to excite the photographer in me.

In Place Marcel Aymé, located just off Rue Norvins, I found one such quirk – a man walking through a wall.

Le Passe-Muraille 

This is the 1989 creation of actor, director and sculptor, Jean Marais. The sculpture is based on a story written in 1943 by Marcel Aymé (yes, the little square where the statue is located is named after the writer) about a man called Dutilleul who suddenly discovers he can walk through walls. Notice how his hand is all shiny from people touching it…for luck or were they trying to pull him out of the wall?

Apparently there’s also a movie “Le Passe-Muraille” (marketed as Mr Peek-a-Boo in English) based on this story…one to add to my “must watch” list.

How it all began

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My love affair with France began aged 13 when my dad took my brothers and I camping in Brittany. After much pressure and cajoling he agreed to take us to Paris…ok he loved Paris too so I probably didn’t have to push him too hard, but I fell in love with France on that trip.

Deb aged 13 on first trip to Paris

Deb aged 13 on first trip to Paris



A few years later I got the opportunity to spend a year in Paris soaking up the culture. I was also lucky enough to spend time in Deauville in Normandy, Evian-les-Bains in the Haute Savoie and Cap d’Agde thanks to my parents also loving France enough to spend a couple of years there.

Later in life, married (to another francophile) with kids and living in the south east of England inevitably our holidays were spent in gites in Brittany. Then in between holidays we’d travel over to Boulogne-sur-Mer for lunch and our French fix.

thatching in Brittany

But then we relocated to Western Australia and my French travel came to a halt. Going to Europe was too expensive. When my marriage broke down 6 years later things got even tighter financially. But I never gave up on my long time daydream that one day I would have my own cottage in France where I would sit and write and soak up the atmosphere.

So when I met Peter and he said, totally out of the blue, that one of his goals was to buy a house in France within the next few years, I knew he was the man for me.

That was Dec 2011…we haven’t got the house yet but we’ve had a few trips to France. A French property is definitely high on the agenda.

Watch this space …