I often wonder why we find some things beautiful,and disregard others. I'm sure that learned tomes have been written about this, but I rather enjoy my wondering and half-formed theories. I think the Place des Vosges in the Marais would be on my list of the five most beautiful places I've ever seen.
Place des Vosges is a square - my guidebook says it is the first example of residential town-planning in Europe, and became the model for other such developments in France and elsewhere. Commissioned by Henry IV in 1604 and completed in 1612 it was originally known as Place Royale, and seems to have been an early example of spec building, with various residential lots sold off as concessions for court officials and nobles.
The buildings around the square are its great beauty. They're constructed of stone and a softly glowing rosy brick. They have slate grey mansard roofs with dormer windows. For me, the beauty of the square lies in its human scale and its regularity - with the added delight of gradually realising that what initially seems uniform actually has subtle variations of design. It seems an eminently livable place (if you have pots and pots of money) rather than an imposing and grandiose construction.
Nowadays, the colonnade that surrounds the square is mainly populated by art galleries, restaurants and tourists, but I noted with pleasure that it still has a kindergarten tucked within a corner, and some rather dingy municipal offices occupying part of one colonnade. The square also houses the Victor Hugo Museum in the apartment in which he lived from 1833 to 1848 (presently closed for renovation. So much of my tourism is characterised by places closed for renovation!).
To add to the pleasures of this area, just along from the Place des Vosges is the charming mercerie, Entree des Fournisseurs. The shop is tucked away in a courtyard behind the oh-so-quirkily-fashionable shopfronts of the Rue des Francs Bourgeois.
The shop has braids, fabrics, embroidery fabrics and threads, buttons of exquisite design and a range of Fonty knitting yarn. I was allowed only one photo of the interior, as a great concession, and I wasn't allowed to photograph the braids and passementerie for which the shop has a grand reputation. I was told by the shop's owner that they have to be careful that the exclusive designs they stock are not stolen and copied in China! So I nervously photographed the old button drawers, each with a differently coloured and shaped glass handle.
I was too distracted by the shop and its pleasures to actually buy anything, though I was attracted by a Fonty linen and cotton blend yarn called Majorque. Like Le Bon Marche, this shop warrants at least a second visit.