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1870 - 1914

La Belle Époque

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Imagine the city of Paris about 125 years ago, when the Eiffel Tower was built and the first metro opened. Champagne and absinthe flowed copiously, while Art Nouveau and Impressionism changed the art world forever. The sparkling nerve centre was the Moulin Rouge cabaret. Join us as we revisit the best of the Belle Époque destinations.

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A tribute to cancan

The high kicks of Jane Avril, the sensuous moves of La Goulue – only a few years after opening its doors on 6 October 1889, the Moulin Rouge had become the most notorious destination in Montmartre’s scintillating nightlife scene. Visitors from all walks of life were mesmerised by the daring cancan. One of the most loyal guests was the painter Toulouse-Lautrec.

The interior of today’s Moulin Rouge still evokes those early glory days. Every evening the cabaret hosts the lavish Féerie show with approximately 100 dancers dressed in splendid costumes decorated with rhinestones, sequins and feathers.

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Belle Époque dining

Several Paris restaurants still ooze a Belle Époque ambiance. Classic Belle Époque venues include Brasserie Bofinger and the luxurious Maxim’s restaurant. Less famous – but at least as spectacular – is Brasserie Julien. This brasserie, dating from 1901, features a typical art-nouveau interior with exuberant flower patterns and murals of nymphs. 

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Brasserie Julien is always busy, with a lively atmosphere. Sharply-dressed waiters hurry through the salon with plates of oysters, snails and chateaubriand. Peruse the menu for classic 19th-century desserts such as crêpes suzette (pancakes with liqueur) and profiteroles (puff pastry) covered in hot chocolate sauce, poured at the table.

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mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
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Corsets, posters and absinthe

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For Belle Époque fashion, peruse the Puces de Saint-Ouen, Paris’s largest flea market. Here you will find several boutiques that sell historic clothing, such as Francine Dentelles (fabrics and dresses) and Chez Sarah (post-1880 clothing). Antique dealers at Marché Paul-Bert are known to sell art-nouveau furniture. 

For beautiful period posters, visit Librairie Elbé in the neighbourhood of Saint-Germain. On rare occasions the owner sells lithos by Toulouse-Lautrec, and he also boasts an original Alphonse Mucha poster. For more period ambiance stop by Vert d’Absinthe, a shop specialising in the quintessential Belle Époque beverage. Vert d’Absinthe stocks more than 50 types of absinthe, along with lovely absinthe spoons and glassware.

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Art-nouveau walk

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The Belle Époque era gave Paris its many lovely fin-de-siècle façades. Distinct Parisian street furniture, including the signature round advertising columns and street kiosks also date back to this period. Most neighbourhoods feature some Belle Époque vestiges, but the elegant 16th Arrondissement offers the largest concentration of art-nouveau architecture. 

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Rue la Fontaine is home to several buildings designed by Hector Guimard, who also created the signature Paris metro entrances. At number 14 you will find Castel Béranger with its exquisite zinc green frames and red bricks. Hôtel Mezzara (number 70) is a private residence dating from 1909 with a characteristic wrought iron art-nouveau balcony. 

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