A few of my favourites spots in Paris

Over the years we’ve tried to stay in and explore many of the different arrondissements in Paris. It’s not that we’ve “run out” of quartiers but rather that we’ve fallen in love with Le Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements) which, along with Montmartre, Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Ile Saint-Louis, is one of the most evocative quarters of Old Paris. We love its architecture and atmosphere.

Paris’ first “protected” area in 1965, Le Marais is now the finest flower of old Paris, an open-air museum of French architecture where the various renovated Hôtels evoke the spirit of the Old Royal Capital, nowhere more so than Place des Vosges.

PLACE DES VOSGES

The former Place Royale was built between 1605 and 1612 for Henry IV who intended it should be a centre for Paris’ many artisans, not an aristocratic square. But the project proved too expensive and the investors increasingly fancied the location for themselves. So the bourgeois pavilions, with their commercial galleries below, became aristocratic properties around a central space which the King decreed should be a recreational area for Parisians. Properties in Place des Vosges are eye wateringly expensive but everyone can still enjoy the square.

Place des Vosges, Paris 75003 and 75004     

LE TRAIN BLEU

No trip to Paris is complete without a trip to Le Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon be it for lunch, a snack or just a drink. It’s a place I planned to take my Dad, I know he’d have loved the decor, approved of the old-style service, and enjoyed the food. As you can see from the photo, its cherubs, mermaids, painted scenes and lashings of gilt recall journeys to the Côte d’Azur in the heyday of steam. Built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, it remains a glamorous out-of-time experience amid the clamour of the Gare de Lyon station. Food in the restaurant is a grand and delicious take on brasserie classics while the comfortable, clubby bar offers a good place to sit, have a drink and wait for your train.

Gare de Lyon, Place Louis Armand, 75012 Paris (+33 1 43 43 09 06; le-train-bleu.com)

MARIAGE FRERES

The French are not noted tea drinkers however, in the afternoon, they do enjoy a really good cup of high quality tea. We’re particularly fond of this company which, aside from selling tea, also has a tea shop and restaurant in Le Marais. We pop in to stock up on supplies and are enjoying working our way through their extensive list of teas. My beloved has also been known to down one of their delicious cakes! Not unlike Le Train Bleu, the tea room has an air of a bygone era and I love how knowledgeable everyone who works there is about the hundreds of different teas.

The company has plenty of outlets in Paris and beyond, but this is the branch we typically patronise

30 rue du Bourg-Tibourg, 75004 Paris, (+33 (0)1 42 72 28 11; http://www.mariagefreres.com)

LE BAR A HUITRES

No trip to Paris can be considered complete without oysters and champagne. Imagine, my beloved and I went for years turning our noses up at oysters believing they looked, and hence would taste, snotty. Finally, we suspended disbelief, closed our eyes and downed one – heaven! And, we’ve never looked back. There are plenty of restaurants serving seafood but we rather like this four-restaurant company and have eaten at both their Place des Vosges and Ternes restaurants.

33 boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris, (+33 (0)1 43 87 98 92; http://www.lebarahuitres.fr)

BRASSERIES: LE SANCERRE ET CAFE CHARLOT


The joy of dining at these old-fashioned brasseries lies not just in their food, but in their neighbourhood ambience. The food is wholly acceptable, exactly what you want at a neighbourhood brasserie – crowd pleasers, a daily menu, great atmosphere, owner run, plenty of locals.

Le Sancerre which borders rue de Bretagne, opposite its lovely park, perfectly cooks mussels, omelettes and pasta and has therefore passed my brasserie test with flying colours.

A few hundred metres further on is another of my favourite brasseries. Café Charlot is on the other side of rue de Bretagne, closer to Marché les Enfants Rouges and has the advantage of a sunnier terrace than Le Sancerre. It’s one of the more attractive cafés thanks to its magnificent old-fashioned bakery shop front, its wrought iron still intact and with its retro ambiance. It too has a menu full of crowd pleasers and turns out perfectly fluffy omelettes. A great place for breakfast, brunch or lunch.

Le Sancerre, 87 rue des Archives, 75003 Paris (+33 (0)1 42 72 65 20)

Café Charlot, 38 rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris (+33 (0)1 44 54 03 30)

MARCHE LES ENFANTS ROUGES

The market was named after the 16th-century orphanage which previously occupied the site and whose children wore red clothes indicating they’d been donated by Christian charities. Although the orphanage closed before the revolution, the imposing wooden edifice remained and it was reopened as a food market in 2000. Now something of a tourist hotspot, the market is well-equipped to fill the emptiest of stomachs with its impressive range of artisanal and organic produce plus and a range of eat-in or take-away delicacies from places such as Tunisia, Italy, Greece and the Middle East. It’s certainly one of the more atmospheric of Paris’s food markets.

Unsurprisingly, rue de Bretagne has plenty of traiteurs and food shops, including a branch of Pierre Hermé.

39 rue de Bretagne, Paris 75003

LE CARREAU DU TEMPLE

This great Haussmannian market was renovated and reopened in 2014. Carreau du Temple produces more than 230 artistic, cultural, sports and lifestyle events every year. In addition, it hosts more than 50 associations which offer weekly classes and courses for everyone. This innovative project in the heart of Paris cleverly oscillates between a broad cultural offer and event programming. We always make a point of seeing what’s on while we’re in Paris. On our most recent trip there was an exhibition devoted to arts and crafts.

4 rue Eugene Spuller, Paris 75003, (+33 (0)1 83 81 93 30)

Which are you favourite spots in Paris? Let me know!

 

Postcard from Paris: Part I

My beloved and I decided to celebrate 40 years’ of married bliss with a long week-end in Paris, the most romantic city in the world. While I’ve been fortunate to traverse much of the city on foot and visit all its major monuments and museums, my beloved has not. Consequently, I left the choice of what we were going to visit to him. Though, naturally, I intended to do of all the bookings.

He’d expressed an interest in visiting Versailles but as our trip drew closer so the forecast worsened. Part of the charm of Versailles is its splendid gardens, so we decided not to book but to wait and see. Additionally, and quite by chance, the week-end was the one where you can visit lots of buildings not normally open to the general public, so our choice of places to visit expanded exponentially and we decided to play it by ear – often the best way.

We rented a studio apartment in Le Marais, largely because it’s an area I love and, having recently scratched its surface on my two most recent trips to Paris, was keen to discover more about it. Additionally, one of my girlfriends, whom I haven’t seen for a while, lives there and I really wanted to catch up with her. My beloved has never visited Le Marais but, as it had featured prominently in a book he’d recently read about the history of Paris, he was keen to visit.

We much prefer travelling to Paris by train. Sure it takes longer but it’s so much more relaxing and, providing you book well in advance, it’s considerably cheaper than flying. When you book a train ticket, you’re allocated a seat. When all the seats are sold, that’s it, the train’s full. There’s no standing on French TGV trains. I like to sit in the top section in either two seats side by side or facing one another. I hate sitting as part of a foursome. If I’m on my own, I’ll book one of the single seats. Sometimes I’ll work or maybe read but I often just enjoy watching the sea and countryside speed by. I say speed by but, in all honesty, the train doesn’t pick up any real speed until after Avignon.

The weather on route was sunny while we traversed the rolling hills of the glorious French countryside which was dotted with herds of creamy coloured cows grazing on lush green pasture and a patchwork of ploughed fields, golden stubble, shrivelled sunflowers and vines ready for picking.

We arrived in Paris at lunchtime, no accident, so we could dine at the magnificent Le Train Bleu restaurant. My late father would have loved it and it’s one of my few regrets that I never got to take him there. Sated, we wheeled our cases the short distance from the Gare de Lyon to our home for the next five days.

After checking out the neighbourhood, we bought a great bottle of wine and some goodies from one of the many traiteurs for a light supper before an early night. We needed to recharge our batteries for some serious traipsing around the neighbourhood over the week-end.

Two-day trip to Paris

Yes, it’s finally time for my beloved to get back to work full-time. He has mastered the crutches and can even walk without them for about 20 metres, so it was time to venture forth and meet one of our long-term clients, based in Paris. We opted to travel by train, less stressful, and I agreed to accompany him. He’s not yet ready to fly solo.

The train journey passes along the coast before heading inland. It’s delightful scenery even though it rained for most of the trip. The countryside at this time of year is verdant and lush. New bright green leaves contrast with bursts of bright yellow, pale pink, dark pink and purple blossoms against a backdrop of dark green evergreens, and lush soil every shade of ombre and ochre. April’s mix of sunshine and showers has made everything grow in abundance, from foliage to crops to vines.

There still isn’t a fast route from the Niçois coast to Paris, Marseilles has already bagged it. We’ll get one eventually, most probably via Grenoble. The train slowly winds its way along the coast until it turns inland after Marseilles and heads to Avignon – a place I keep meaning to visit – where it really picks up velocity. In no time at all we’re in Paris, a place that is irredeemably romantic. Just saying the name conjours up the Seine winding its way past Haussmanian buildings under stone bridges with majestic wrought iron lighting catching glimpses of famous sights and monuments.

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There’s something very restful about train journeys in Europe. The trains are invariably on time, you know exactly where to wait on the platform for your carriage. Trains are not overbooked, all tickets get a reserved seat. That’s right, there’s NO standing. The cost is very reasonable, particularly if you book in advance. We generally travel first-class and enjoy a late lunch in le Train Bleu restaurant at the Gare de Lyon. I just love all than fin de siecle splendour and the food’s pretty good too.

This time we were arriving late afternoon, far too late for even a late lunch. We had decided to stay in a hotel close to the station, within walking distance of Le Marais, and a short taxi ride to my beloved’s client. It was a charming bijou hotel, ideal for an overnight stop after feasting on oysters, lobster and champagne, always our favourite Parisian treat. And fitting, given it was the evening before my beloved’s birthday.

The following morning, after breakfast in a nearby brasserie, my beloved set off for his appointment, which was bound to include lunch, leaving me with a few precious hours to wander around Paris on my own – sheer bliss.

It was cold and damp to start with and I needed to walk briskly just to keep warm. I was wearing a layer too few. At one point I thought it was going to start raining but the moment passed and, thankfully, the sun came out. I just love wandering around Paris, so many independent specialist shops, many dating back hundreds of years. Of course, I particularly love all the food shops.

As I wander the streets, there’s always something to look at be it a wrought iron balcony, a beautiful street lamp, colourful  window boxes crammed with flowering plants, secret alleyways leading who knows where and wrought iron gates protecting someone’s heritage.

I also spotted some recent graffiti!

I didn’t indulge in as much window shopping as I usually do, probably because I had a destination in mind. I wanted to check out the summer collection of a German brand that I generally have to buy over the internet because it has limited availability in France and no outlets closer to me than Lyon. While its website is excellent it’s sometimes difficult to exactly discern the colour. Is is grey, beige or greige? Of course, I love all three but there were a couple of trouser styles, jackets and tops I wanted to check out.

On my early stroll I had spotted that rare beast in France, a vegan restaurant, which I wanted to try for lunch. It was excellent and I’ve made a note of its location, along with a couple of other restaurants, for us to try on our September anniversary trip. Of course, we’ll also be revisiting the site of our oyster fest.

After my enjoyable few hours, I met up with my be loved in Le Train Bleu bar where we took full advantage of the free WiFi, facilities and excellent tea. In no time at all, it was all abord for the return trip and a gentle snooze as the train purred all the way to Antibes. I have that fortunate knack of being able to power-nap anywhere at anytime.

The sun shone brighter as the train reached the south, stopping in Marseille after three or so hours before resuming its snail’s pace progression along the Med. Christophe, our uberfriendly and uberreliable local taxi driver, picked us up and whisked us back home. It had been a lovely trip, now I had to get everything ready for our maiden trip to Sardinia and 100th