I enjoy Paris more staying in a rental apartment than in a hotel. And not only because I save money, but because it allows me to live as Parisians do – buy food at local shops, cook at home, have a warm baguette for breakfast, the smell of fresh coffee coming from the kitchen…
Having my own place also allows me to explore the city the way I like – in a relaxed pace, walking, really getting to know each neighborhood. Paris must be visited by foot, and nowhere is this more true than in the Marais.
This part of the 4th Arrondissement (4th district) is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Paris. Its narrow pedestrian-only streets and small specialty stores are known worldwide, as are restaurants, boutiques and cafés. The Marais is also the gay district of Paris, where the trends start and art galleries and shops with the latest styles are everywhere. Even food looks better in their windows.
And some of them are so ahead of their time that deserve a visit. Like L’Eclaireur, an impressive avant-garde style store-cum-gallery that no self respecting trendsetter or fashion editor could ignore. Places like this are all over the Marais, and make sure that Paris will remain the fashion capital of the world for a long time.
I was in the Marais for the New Year in December of 2007, and had time to retrace my favorite walking route: I started everyday near ‘my’ apartment on Rue des Tournelles – just around the corner from excellent Brasserie Bofinger – then would go on towards Rue du Pas de la Mule, passing by a small restaurant always full with locals, Bistro de L’Oulette.
Next I would turn left at the corner, and go to Café Hugo, facing magnificent Place des Vosges. Named after French writer Victor Hugo, who lived next door in what is now a museum with his name, Café Hugo is nothing special in terms of food, to be honest, but it’s always crowded, even in the winter, as it’s possible to seat outside under heaters, a great place to sit and do what Parisians do – watch people passing by.
After CaféHugo I like to visit antique shops and art galleries under the arches of Place des Vosges, where all styles are represented. There is a charming hotel right there, the Pavillion de la Reine, easy to bypass because it’s hidden from the street but worth a visit.
Moving on to Rue des Francs Bourgeois, leaving Place des Vosges behind, I would pass Rue de Turenne, always stopping for some serious window shopping. This is an area for locals and well heeled tourists, all sporting the latest styles and the newest iPhones. Lots of Americans there in December, by the way, no one would say our dollar was so low – $1.44 for one Euro – the weakest it had been in a long time.
I always mange to do a little shopping, anyway: for white shirts I go to Anne Fontaine or Rayure; for the latest in fun designer pieces at reasonable prices there is always La Piscine, on 13 rue des Francs-Bourgeois. Last time I bought a nice dress there for myself, but lost it to my 20 year old daughter who just had to have it.
I like to walk on Rue des Francs Bourgeois passing Rue Sevigné, then turn left on Rue Pavée towards Rue des Rosiers, the heart of Jewish Marais. This is where the best delis and boulangers (bakeries) in Paris are located. If you like falafel, look no further. If you are a shoe lover, like me, there is Miguel Lobato, on 6 Rue Malher, right beyond Rue des Rosiers. Many elegant Parisian women shop there.
There is a lot to see in the Marais: the Carnavalet Museum, about the history of Paris, or the Picasso Museum, that covers his earlier period, just to name a few. To see the whole Marais one just needs time, and curiosity – everything else is right there.
Next time, hopefully. The Marais should still be there …