Paris, by history and design, is a walker’s city. Plenty of guide books exist to explain where you are, but there are none on how best to get there on foot or what to look at while you walk. Not to mention the fact that some of the most interesting parts of the city are located on side streets and back alleys, far from the traditional tourist destinations.
John Baxter’s THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WALK IN THE WORLD is an unforgettably charming little book about Paris as a city where the act of walking has been raised to the level of art. It’s also a unique and fascinating history of the city, as each walk tells a different side of “the City of Lights.”
The narrative begins when, advised by his doctor to take more exercise, Baxter accepts an invitation from the director of the Paris Writers Workshop to give “literary walks” to visiting writers and students. As he plans these tours and makes a few trial attempts -- some successful, some comically disastrous -- he picks the brain of his friends and colleagues on what they regard as their 'most beautiful walk'. One tells him how she strolls along the edge of the Seine, under Pont Neuf, to the tiny triangular park at the point of the Ile de la Cite, where the Templars were burned. A famous chef walks Baxter through the professional cooks’ favourite but little-known market at Place d’Aligre, overflowing with the best ingredients.
Baxter also searches the work of earlier expatriate artists for their beautiful walks: Hemingway followed a particular route when he walked from Place de la Contrescarpe to visit Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Company bookshop. Gertrude Stein took the same “constitutional” each day, strolling down Rue de Fleurus to the seldom-visited “Little Luxembourg” Gardens. And of course Baxter discloses his own most beautiful walk.