The world’s most iconic streets are more than just famous landmarks. Every issue we delve a little deeper into one of the globe’s most well-trodden by-ways.

This month:

Champs-Elysees – Paris,

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Champs-Elysees – Paris

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Running for more than a mile between the traffic nightmare of the Place de la Concorde, with its 3,000-yar-old Obelix of Luxor, to the Place Charles de Gaulle (which everyone stills calls l’Étoile) and its Arc de Triomphe. the elegant, tree-lined Champs-Élysées has been called the most beautiful street in the world. Given over to wide pedestrian friendly pavements, it is lined by hotels, shops, cafes and restaurants for half its length, and parks for the other half. Take a Metro to Franklin D Roosevelt and walk towards the Arc de Triomphe to see the commercial side, or down towards the Obelix for a quieter stroll. However, high rents – more than 500 euros per square metre a month – have made it one of the world’s most expensive streets, forcing out even major players such as Planet Hollywood and driving a trend that has been called ‘banalisation’.

When shopping bags boast ‘London – Paris – New York’ you may be assured that an address on the Champs-Elysees is part of the mystique. All the big names have traditionally had a presence here, from Louis Vuitton to Cartier, but is now an ever-growing number of less exclusive logos: Zara, Nike, Adidas or Gap or Concerned at the number of clothing stores, the City of Paris fought (and lost) a big legal battle against H&M opening a store. Abercrombie & Fitch (due to open in 2011) is the latest name to buy space. Disney, FNAC and Virgin are among other big brands with flagship shops and Guerlain Parfumerie shows off French style its scented best.

Inflated rents, coupled with the influx of millions of spending-averse budget tourists, have forced out many of the better restaurants on the Champs-Élysées in favour of fast-food such as – quel horreur! – Macdonalds. You need to explore the side streets – try Rue la Boétie, for example – to find the cuisine that France is still famous for.  However, a few famous names cling on where you can pay exorbitant prices for a coffee or beer while being rushed out. Fouquet’s now caters to tourists paying Euro170 for a poor meal and a night at the Lido nightclub. The baroque interior of Ladurée, however, still reminds you of the avenue’s better days.

Louis XIV opened the first part of what was to become the Champs-Elysees in 1667, an extension of the Jardins des Tuileries leading to his palace at Versailles. Named in the 1700s after the Elysian Fields of Greek mythology where heroes come to relax, its reputation as an exclusive address grew with an extension to the l’Etoile. The Place de la Concorde was finished in 1763 and was where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (and thousands of others) were guillotined during the French Revolution. The opening of the Metro station at Etoile led to a boom after 1900 but the arrival of RER rail stations in the revolutionary 1960s started a move downmarket.

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‘’It was a sunny day; a stream of fine carriages went past him on the way to the Champs Elysees. Following the direction of the crowd of strollers, he saw the three or four thousand carriages that turn the Champs Elysees into an improvised Longchamp on Sunday afternoons in summer. The splendid horses, the toilettes, and liveries bewildered him; he went further and further, until he reached the Arc de Triomphe, then unfinished.’’
–Honoré de Balzac: A Distinguished Provincial at Paris.

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