Secret Paris
Book Review

We once heard a guidebook publisher say 'Who needs another guidebook to Paris?' Thank goodness the French publisher Jonglez doesn't think that way, as there's always room for a guidebook as different as Secret Paris.

If you check our reviews for other Jonglez titles (see the box) you'll know just how different they are. As the company is based in Versailles (they're just outside the grounds of the Palace of Versailles) their French titles are especially good.

Secret Paris runs to almost 400 pages, including numerous maps and lovely colour photos, and still manages to be reasonably pocket-sized.

It's written by Jacques Garance, who also wrote Secret Bars and Restaurants in Paris, and Maud Ratton. It would be nice to know more about the authors, but the publishers are keeping that a secret too!

To show just how different the book is, the easiest thing is to mention some of the stories you'll find in its pages, as quoted on the back of the book:

"A priest who blesses animals, winemaking firefighters, a tree in a church, an inverted phallus at a well-known entrance, an atomic bomb shelter under Gare de l’Est, a real Breton lighthouse near Montparnasse, unsuspected traces of former brothels, a patron saint of motorists, royal monograms hidden in the Louvre courtyard, the presentation of Christ’s crown of thorns, a prehistoric merry-go-round, a sundial designed by Dalí, war-wounded palm trees, bullet holes at the ministry, religious plants in a priest’s garden, a mysterious monument to Freemasonry at the Champ-de-Mars, a solid gold sphere in parliament, a Chinese temple in a parking lot, the effect of the Bièvre river on Parisian geography, a blockhouse in the Bois de Boulogne."

The cemetery that's only open one day a year.

How Is the Book Organised?

Like other Paris titles, the book lists things by arrondissement, from the 1st through to the 20th. Some have more entries than others, of course, but they all open with a map showing you exactly where you'll uncover the secrets that follow. And what secrets they are, as a glance at some of the spreads illustrating this book review will prove.

So where will you find the saucy Parisian lady at the top of this review? Why, she's in a feature in the 2nd arrondissement about bordels, or bawdy houses. It points out that in 1946 when brothels were made illegal throughout France, 195 of them in Paris closed down. You can tell where some of them were, however, by certain distinctive features, such as a plaque which carried a larger-then-normal house number. Some have mosaics, some have wood-paintings, and one still has the original two lifts – one took clients in and the other took them out, so two clients never saw each other.

So where is the Dodo Ride? In the Jardin des Plantes.

Thematic Index

If you don't want to explore the secrets by area, the back of the book contains several pages making up a thematic index ranging from Architecture to Water Courses in Paris. Some of the other topics include Arts and Literature, Children, Curiosities (a long section!), Gardens, Museums, Science and Education, and Walks and Picturesque Passageways. There's also an alphabetical index enabling you to look up individual entries.

And where are two absolutely amazing model railways? Why, underneath one of the train stations, of course: the Gare de l'Est.

And what about the Flower Tower? You'll find it on what had been waste land adjoining the Gare Saint-Lazare.

These examples just skim the surface of what's in these pages. Where will you find a little-known Tintoretto, or a cemetery that only opens one day a year? And where will you find some remarkable stained glass windows? No, not in churches and cathedrals but in houses and offices.

Secret Paris is a remarkable and wonderfully enjoyable book. We highly recommend it to help make your visit to Paris even more amazing, but be sure to buy the latest edition. Secret Paris was first published several years ago, but an updated edition came out in 2015. 

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