After five years of construction, one of the capital’s most ambitious regeneration projects was finally unveiled last spring to mixed reviews. The overhaul of the subterranean Forum des Halles shopping centre in the heart of Paris is part of an ongoing effort to shake off its image as a city museum and an attempt to match the ambition of other metropolises such as London and New York. Badly in need of modernisation and an improved image, the centre, which is also connected to the busiest transport hub in Paris, now boasts a string of new shops and fancy restaurants as well as a cultural offering. All this is crowned by a controversial €240 million canopy, embodying the direction the city is taking with the mayor’s ‘Reinvent Paris’ scheme.
Forum Les Halles
The area of Les Halles, situated between Beaubourg to the east and the Louvre and Palais Royal to the west, is of great historical importance and is home to some of Paris’ oldest streets. Being centrally located, it was chosen by King Louis VI as the site for the capital’s food market in the 12th century and remained so until 1969 when it was transferred to its present location in Rungis in what was known as ‘the move of the century.’
Following the move, a dozen 19th-century pavilions were knocked down to make way for the then mayor of Paris (and later, president), Jacques Chirac’s, Forum des Halles project which envisaged an underground shopping centre linked to the metro and regional train network. The project never really won hearts over and as time went by it became a hotspot for crime.
So in 2004, a project was chosen to put the area back on the map, breathe new life into the surroundings, and make commuting via Les Halles more pleasant. Throughout the process however, there was much controversy over the spiralling costs and, in particular, the unsightliness of La Canopée (canopy), the superstructure that now hovers above Forum des Halles. Under the steel and glass construction are two new curved buildings which house the 35 new shops and restaurants in addition to a hip hop centre and skate park.
While Les Halles still isn’t the go-to spot it’s always tried to be turned into, it makes for a pleasant stop out of the cold or on a lazy Sunday when much else is closed (shops and restaurants are open every day). Here are some of our favourite spots to try.
The two stand-out dining options are Alain Ducasse’s Champeaux, a contemporary brasserie serving classic dishes including signature soufflé and cocktails throughout the day, and the Philippe Starck-designed Za, where customers order their dishes (healthy omelettes, soups, salads) via the restaurant’s application then receive their order at their seat via a table-top conveyor belt.
Following the success of their first store in South Pigalle, sisters Audrey and Lorna have opened a second branch of Sept Cinq on rue Berger, one of the roads running along the outside of the two new buildings. You’ll find a wider range of Parisian-made accessories although this larger outpost features a coffee shop serving home-made breakfast, lunch and brunch.
Next door, L’Exception is a store dedicated to showcasing the very best of independent French design. While much of the store is taken up with fashion, shoppers can also find deco items, books, hi-tech products and foodie treats. The store also has a coffee shop.
Le Petit Duc
For those with a sweet tooth Le Petit Duc’s store will hit the right spot with its traditionally-made biscuits, sweets, chocolates and other delights. Fashionistas should look out for the Basus pop-up space downstairs. The urban brand was created by young couple Florence and Stan whose specially created natural and recyclable cork leather material is worked into each piece of clothing.