Paris, FRANCE

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What is it that makes a person fall in love with Paris?  And why are we somatically, cerebrally, and intimately drawn to it?  Ok, there's the food.  And the beauty.  And the touchable history.  The river.  The smells (well, let’s be honest, it’s olfactory porn, really).  But at the root, I think it has to do with its accessibility, its walkability- more specifically, how each and every block has something to offer the senses.  There are no long sections of plain. 

Every corner offers a painted boulangerie, an artistically designed display, a preserved façade, or an artisinal shop (my husband calls Paris “Richard Scary Land”, as there are so many shops selling only one thing- one pastry, one style of shoe, one type of repair). Even the dingier, gray parts of town have things that draw a smile: mannequins posed on balconies to display the vestitures of the low-priced wares inside, Minecraft-style graffiti characters on random corners, markets full of goose eggs, cheeses, faux furs and African masks….  

 

Only the grand boulevards will awaken you out of your other-wordly revelries with their bright lights, dirty sidewalks, and head-down city-goers to make you want to duck into the safety of a smaller maze of streets full of those huge, arched, carved doors, painted in bright colors which stand out against the greys of the surrounding buildings. 

 

Sigh.  And so the yearning to return again and again continues.

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Here are some of my latest recommendations for places that have found their way into my heart and stomach.  My advice is to make yourself a map on Google (star your saves) and pull them up on your phone’s map as you walk through town.  Much less embarrassing than spreading out a huge paper map!

 

Buy a "carnet" of 10 tickets on the metro.  They should get you through a day or so.  You will need to make reservations at most of the places below- doing so will take some of the stress out of “looking-while-hungry”. Oh, and take comfy shoes for walking- this is a walking town!

 

{One of the best restaurant guides is David Liebowitz- I think his choices and write-ups are right on.}

Short list of places (check back, as there are more to come):

 

RIGHT BANK

 

Eats:

 

Le Chardenoux- A classic bistro, traditional food and atmosphere. Ceiling painted with clouds, etched glass separators, kids and businessmen alike.  Very friendly. (The Charlie Hebdo site is not too far from here, should you be interested in seeing it).

 

Cafe Breizh- crepes extraordinaire in the Marais.  Make reservations, lest you be part of the line that weaves around the corner.  The apple cider is a must, and next door is a gourmet’s delight- cheeses, butter, meat, tapenades…. Browse while you wait for your cidre.  (There is also a Petit Breizh, more modern and larger, closer to St. Sulpice on the Left Bank.  While the menu is the same, the feel is not.  It is trendier, and less cozy.  Not my preferred spot, but still a great stop if crepes and cidre are on your list!)

 

Willi's Wine Bar- we loved this place last time we went and reviews say it is still holding its own .

 

Ma Bourgogne, on Place des Vosges, under the lovely archways, is a wonderful stop for sitting outside and enjoying a sunny day. The food can be hit or miss, but the people watching is hard to beat.  It is known for its beef tartare, so if you like it, try it. 

Miznon- I had read about this hole in the wall in the Marais, but the mass of bodies in the doorway always turned me away.  So we tried again, and were rewarded with food worthy of the stellar reviews this place receives.  Order up front, and take your food to the back room.  The stacks of cauliflower are not only beautiful decoration, but once Miznon works its magic, will rock your white vegetable world! They are known for their falafel and beef bourgignon, so give those a try, if they aren’t sold out, and do not miss the pita- the freshest of fresh and an oral delight.  My friends and I agree that we would fly back to Paris just to have this meal again… we are only half joking.

Carette, on Pl. des Vosges- A delightful little place to sit, either on the patio or inside, for tea, good macarons, or a sip of wine.  Glass, a little bit of frill, a lovely collection of pastries and treats, and a location that’s hard to beat for a late afternoon libation, or a delectable breakfast.  there is another Carette, by Trocadero, that is much more of a see and be seen king of spot mainly for Parisien (tourists seem to be intimidated by it for some reason), more crowded, smokier... 

 

Le Bar Connetable- you will miss it if you blink.  Evenings are a huge draw, with bodies spilling out onto the sidewalk, drinks in hand. But for lunch, the hidden-away family-friendly upstairs dining room is open, offering a meat heavy menu.  It is an old-school, kitschy but warm interior and bar.  If you are stumbling by, and need a break from museums or shopping, stop in for a quick glass of wine… or just for the experience.

 

Le Chardenoux

Market at la Bastille

Macaron aux framboises at Carette

Chatelet sur l’Isle- If taking a small ferry across a “moat” weren’t enough to pique your interest, perhaps eating smoked duck and melon, foie gras, gambas, veal in a velouté overlooking a sweet little lake on an enormous deck in the sun, or tucked, on a colder day, into a muralled room under antler chandeliers will tempt you.  This whole meal is an experience … the getting there, experiencing a new part of Paris (it is not too far from Louis Vuitton Foundation, so make a pairing of the two), and loving the contemporary menu.

Paul Bert 6- The interior is easygoing and minimalist, with only 10ish tables, but the food is serious.  We had an octopus dish that was beyond delicious- the sweet ragout of eggplant on the bottom was a taste extravaganza.  Most dishes came beautifully prepared, with a flavorful depth and some surprises that had us all reaching across the table to taste each other’s food.  The wine list is slightly edgy, including some organic and unfiltered wines; be sure to ask about what you are ordering, and get a full detail of the wine offering before you order.

Rue Montorgeuil, just behind Les Halles is a lovely place to stroll and grab a bit or boire un coup.  Plenty of cafes, creperies, ice cream and pastry shops (including the oldest, Stohrer).   

Springtime in Paris, Palais Royale blooms in the park, image by Holman Photography
Paris, the Louvre museum, photo by Holman Photography

Activities:

Louvre area- Mosying through the Louvre’s outside courtyard, surrounded by facades of life-sized figurines, and then emerging onto the 1990’s, glass entrance of the museum, backdropped by the Arc du Carousel and the gardens of the Tuilleries, is a lovely introduction to Paris life, art and architecture. Wander farther beyond the Louvre towards the Comedie Francaise and into the Gardens of the Palais Royale for one of the best places to evidence the emergence of Spring- folks lingering on every available bench, trees in bloom, beautiful grass that no one is allowed to step foot on…. And what better time to grab un petit nerveux, to get a little caffeine coursing through those jetlagged veins, than a quick sit at the cafe at the Place Colette. It is a lovely, if somewhat busy, place to stop, with a view of the metro Palais Royale glass work adorning the metro entrance. The waiters all have a third eye and crawl out of the woodwork if they sense a tip coming their way (hey, at least we Americans have one good bit of reputation working to our advantage). Oh, yes, and they have an easy-access bathroom- no charge.

 
Statue in the parc du Palais Royale, Paris, by Holman Photography
Window at Musee Carnavalet, by Holman Photography

Musee Carnavalet

 

Chocolate shoes near Place de Vosges, Paris, by Holman Photography

Chocolate Shoes

 

Place des Vosges in Paris, taken by Holman Photography from the Maison de Victor Hugo

Place des Vosges

Musee Carnavalet (if you don't speak French, audio tour needed)- in the Marais is a fascinating stroll through Parisian history. Sadly, it is under construction for major renovations until mid to end of 2019.

 

Pompidou Center- usually houses a fabulous exhibit.  The building itself and the performers out front are fun to see.  Stroll around the area (though perhaps not late at night).

Louis Vuitton Foundation- this building is a wow, an awe-inspiring structure that flies, and curves.  It is a marvel of opaque reflections and huge spaces.  The view from the top is worth the entrance fee alone, especially the sight of Paris’s skycrapers framed by the Vuitton building, favoring the modern over the traditional Eiffel tower view.   The museum butts up against the Parc d’Acclimatization for kids, so squeals of delight will follow you through your visit.

Louis Vuitton Foundation

Les Puces de St. Ouen, including marché Paul Bert & marché Vernaison-this experience is almost a sensory overload…. stuffed foxes, bin upon bin of silverware, copper pans, chandeliers, vintage posters and old Ricard sets, and oh, let’s not forget the people.  I truly could do a whole photo essay on the shop owners alone: men in silk cravats, ladies who look as if they have become part of their displays.  Try les Merveilles de Babellou for your copper fix, and truly, you can’t go wrong if you just wander.  Warning: you may spend your whole day, or two…. or three….

Pavillon de la Reine in Paris on Place des Vosges, image by Holman Photography
Pavillon de la Reine hotel in Paris, interior library and lounge, image by Holman Photography

Stay:

 

Pavillon de la Reine was just as lovely as I had anticipated during all the years I passed by and could not afford it.  Rooms are simple, but elegantly appointed (it goes without saying they are also small).  But the lounge/library areas are velvety and beckoning- it is hard to choose between them for breakfast.   The basement has a workout area and spa. The location is truly hard to beat, in the middle of charming Place des Vosges.  It is elegant, luxurious, and a favorite Paris spot.

 

 

Hotel Les Tournelles- If you can't swing the Pavillon de la Reine, this 24-room hotel is a wonderful alternative.  It is in the most fabulous of locations- smack dab in the middle of the Marais, one block from my favorite square, Place des Vosges, but far enough away from shops and bars that it is peaceful and quiet.  It was redesigned in 2016 (the building is a 17th Century gem) with a contemporary design dominated by teals and lively hues, but they left the open wall and ceiling beams to maintain its historical feel.  As you wind down the creaky stairs, you wish the walls could tell stories. (Or you can squeeze in the old-fashioned elevator, a throwback in and of itself.)  There is a nice little library for coffee, drinks, reading just off the lobby…. If you don’t need elevator, the rooms on top floor are a treat, with a 1-person balcony and view across Paris rooftops.  Note that there is no restaurant (and no coffee maker or fridge in the rooms).   There is a nice breakfast room in the basement, but it is shouting for windows; in the winter it must be cozy and lovely, but on a sunny day, it is not where I want to take my coffee and croissant (La Carette around the corner is a better alternative). The staff is supremely kind and helpful.

Hotel Bachaumont

Pavillon de la Reine

 

ÎLE SAINT LOUIS & ÎLE DE LA CITÉ

Hotel Jeu du Paume - it would be hard to find a more central location in Paris than this hotel.  It is located in the middle of l’Ile Saint Louis, with easy access to either bank.   There are a few cute cafes and brasseries nearby (as well as Bertillon ice cream).  The building has been converted from the old tennis courts, and, as such, has high vaulted ceilings and exposed beams.  There is an area for breakfast and tea in the middle of the open space- make sure to ask for a room that is on an upper floor, as the rooms on the ground floor open onto the dining area.  The rooms are more spacious than most hotels of the same ilk, and are decorated plainly, with exposed wood floors and ceilings.

Marche des Fleurs, Reine Elizabeth II- Ile de la Cite- birds, flowers, flowers and more beautiful flowers. Only about a block long, but the smells and sights are such a lovely change from the tourist sights and throngs of of bodies nearby.

Ste. Chappelle Cathedral, across from Notre Dame on l’Ile de la Cité, is more spectacular in some ways than its more famous sister.  It is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture, which survived the Revolution but has had to endure much restoration.  It’s steeples and stained glass windows are awe inspiring, but more intimate in feel than Notre Dame. Well worth a visit.

Notre Dame- as of April 25 2019, parts of the cathedral have been reopened for viewing after the fire.  It is yet to be seen how they will manage crowds, which currently are unbearable.  Check with your hotel before you work your way into the line... you may be happy with a view from afar from one of the bridges.

LEFT BANK

 

Eats:

Les Papilles- A wine cave by day and cozy, 10 table restaurant by night, nestled between the science labs on r. Marie Curie and the Pantheon.  This was the best meal we had this trip (eclipsing an extravagant Alain Ducasse afternoon.)  They have a large table downstairs in case you have a larger group.  But sitting upstairs next to the wine (which you will pull from the wall for your dinner at only a 7 euro mark up), watching the owner hobnob with his customers, and taking in the scents from the meal next to you is half the fun. Rsvs a must. http://www.lespapillesparis.fr/informations/

Pavillon de la Fontaine is now La Terrasse de Madame- in Luxembourg gardens.  Take a seat and have patience if you aren’t attended to immediately.  The waiters are friendly, but often overworked here.  And why wouldn’t they be in this stunning setting under shade trees where your snack or lunch will be the treat of the day- not for the food, though it isn’t bad at all, but for the view in every direction of statues, gardens, fountains, kids playing ball,  lovers strolling by, and regulars meeting for their weekly Ricard together.

 

Les Deux Magots- Yes, it's touristy and pricey, but their tuna niçoise/ curry salad, cheese plates, view of the church and people watching are worth it.  What better place to feel a part of history, experience the full Parisian waiter routine, people-watch at leisure and enjoy a light French snack of goat cheese on toasted dark bread from Poilane, or a Croque Madame, especially if you’ve never had one, or my fave, the Salade Deux Magots with green beans, boiled egg, raisins, chicken with a balsamic dressing and yellow curry drizzle, accompanied by a crisp bottle of Sancerre?  Ah, c’est la vie.

At Bonaparte, across from St. Germain church and a few steps from Les Deux Magots, you may see a mash of bodies standing in front; don’t be put off- they are awaiting the opening of the theatre next door, and will, eventually disperse.   This is a lovely, open-windowed place to have an aperatif or even dinner,  even if, because of its location, it also attracts tourists.  But the waiters are skilled at handling non-French speaking guests, the food is decent, and the possibility for meeting, or at least eavesdropping, on your neighbor is high.  Bonaparte is full of hustle and bustle and jubilance.

Les Deux Magots

 
 

Hotel Rafael rooftop bar-   While the hotel itself has a “men’s club” feel with leather banquets and red velvet bar, this traditional hotel near l"Arc de Triomphe holds a well-kept secret: a rooftop bar with views that will make you draw in a breath. Skip the 20 euro drinks at the downstairs, old-school, dark wood salon full of suited businessmen and head to the seventh floor. This rooftop has to be one of the highlights of Paris- a garden spot where you can relax over a drink with the Tour Eiffel in the background.  It is also a place to see and be seen, so go early or get in line.  At last visit, they were serving a Ylang and tequila drink that was so good I had to have two!

 

Faust- We really enjoyed this place, which was recommended by a local friend of ours. It is a hop, skip and jump from the Eiffel Tower, under Pont Alexandre IIII bridge.  Appointed with marble floors, soaring, backlit bar shelves, and towering street lamps.    One of the friendliest staffs we encountered, and some unique twists on French food- almost like being in California (ha).

 

 

La Palette- a favorite for the location and theme and outdoor seating on a not-too-busy corner in the 7th/6th.  White-aproned waiters with slicked back hair and “un air particulier” about them seat regulars up against the wall of the building, the best seats for people watching.  The art-themed interior is spotted with palettes (as one might imagine), paintings, and a toilet that fits only the slenderest of French women.  The back room is often full of football fans- stick to the outdoor, shade-covered sidewalk for your rosé, cheese plate and “petit nerveux”.   

In the eventing, you may want to head back out for a 5-6 block walk to Rue des Canettes & Rue Guisarde where, though tourists abound, just as many locals reserve places to dine on this restaurant-lined street. Boucherie Rouliere is one of my favorites for a steak frites, and a few more creative dishes, though if you would like to reserve on thefork.com, and receive a %15 discount try La Boussole . (I love booking a restaurant for the first night of a trip so I don’t have to think about where to go when I am tired and my brain shuts off). La Boussole offers some basic classics but all of them have a Middle Eastern twist, a dip here, a glaze there, some couscous on the side. There are numerous other creperies, pubs, restaurants and bistros in this area- ranging from a few tables to many, all of which look quite delightful. Hmmm, guess I will just have to go back.

Chez René- Stroll along the Seine at sunset, while it is alive with boats, revelers, trumpets, dancers, and people stealing a quiet moment to read; it’s a sight to remember.    When I went to Chez René for a dinner-for-one, I ate next to a dog (not terribly unusual for France).  If you can grab a corner booth, sit back and watch the dance that is the spicy, bald waiter ducking under the hidden door in the bar floor, popping up to welcome more arrivals.   This red leather banqueted, white table clothed restaurant is known for its beef bourgignon.  Its walls are adorned with superb, old posters, a clock stopped at 2:01.  End your meal with fresh strawberries de bois, sprinkled with sugar and cream whipped to hard.  Holy cow.

View from Hotel Rafael

Chez René

Activities:

 

Rodin Museum- open all year round.  Even if you aren’t a die-hard fan, the gardens themselves are worth the entrance fee.  Pack a picnic. His artwork, which speckles the estate and the house where he lived, is a bonus.  His Gates of Hell stopped me in my tracks (not to mention the photo opp it provided when a gaggle of nuns stopped to look).

 

Army Museum- worth a full morning, perhaps a day.  This is one of the most interesting, strategic overviews of WWII history I have seen.  My husband lost himself in the historical collections that fill the rest of the museum.  Napoleon’s tomb is in the back. 

 

Rue Mouffetard- market day is incredible, other days still an eye- and nose-full.  Great little pop-in restaurants and pubs (raclette wheels will beckon you; succomb)!

 

Canal St. Martin locks- this is an up and coming area, used as a backdrop for the film Amelie.  We loved strolling along side the boats which were awaiting the swinging arms of the streets to open.  (Don’t get on a boat, just watch from above one of the many bridges).  Chez prune is a nice little place to stop for coffee.  Olive and mustard yellow paint, vines, a copper bar and very friendly folks await inside.

 

Luxembourg Garden- one of those places I go every time I visit.  Beautiful green, lakes with kids floating boats, rickety chairs on rocky paths, fountains, couples picnicking, men in caps playing boules; it’s some of the best of Paris wrapped up in a beautiful, little, verdant package.

 

Pont des Arts - one of the most romantic spots in Paris. Strolling over the Pont des Arts, in spite of the tourists, and the cliché, bereted accordian player busquing for a Euro... even with the lovers buying locks to place on the fencing, and the nasal wail of the Bateaux Mouches loudspeakers floating below, the romance of the city tingles in the air, in every direction. Notre Dame/ Ile St Louis are on your right, the Tour Eiffel hinting from afar left, the Louvre and Tuileries beckoning ahead, and the domed roofs of the Left bank are at your back. It is hard not to cross this bridge without a smirk- either in remembrance of a long-ago kiss or in a state of daydream thinking about the one you wish you had with you.

 

Rodin Museum

 

Stay:

I think of all hotels and locations in Paris, the Relais Saint Germain has become my favorite.  It is in a superbly accessible, yet still mostly quiet, location, the staff is lovely, the rooms, especially the upper ones with decks, ooze charm, and let's not overlook the access to one of the Paris hotspots, Le Comptoir for dinner (breakfast also included).  It is a quintessentially Parisian experience, with still a few creeky stairs and some rooms have small bathrooms, but it represents all the good Paris has to offer.  Plus, it is near 3 or 4 other terrific cafes, and is near shopping.

Hotel Buci- It goes without saying that most hotel rooms in Paris are small, as is this, but not all are equal; this darling place is quaint, but still luxurious. If you have never been to Paris, the location is pretty hard to beat... smack dab in the middle of restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, and fresh markets just blocks from the Seine. On the down side, it is also tourist-central. But sit in the comfy chairs by the window for an apperatif, and you have the best view around for people watching. The hotel is decorated with velvety, dark hues, lively wallpapers (I loved the aerial view of the city in black and white), and the breakfast downstairs is fine, though I think I would prefer being out in the hustle and bustle, watching the fashions pass by and the musicians perform out front.

L’Hotel- a small, quaint, luxurious, if a little dark, boutique hotel. Lush furnishings, tall curtains, tapestried walls, kind people (more than once did we see staff chase down a taxi for a forgotten item).  The impressive atrium, which will entice you to crane your neck up to see the dazzling, lighted dome, lends brightness and character to the whole place, and the pictures in the bar of famous visitors are more endearing than braggadocio.  It is smack dab in the middle of a gallerie-littered area, and a nice spot to access both banks.  Nearby food options are scarce (meaning you will be in for a 10 minute walk- see La Palette), but this 4 star hotel is not short on charm or dining options.  The breakfast will make even the most jetlagged of bodies jump out of bed, served in a room of rich textures, sensuous floral arrangements and, oh, the coffee.  Take a cocktail or moment of quiet out on the patio for a splash of light and fresh air- Oscar Wilde might inspire you.

A cab ride into Paris is not a particularly pretty one- factories, large office complexes, exhaust, lots of gesticulating and honking. Making your way to Hotel Saint Germain des Pres, after several likely near-death experiences, you will disentangle from your white-knuckle grip to find yourself  ½ block from the newly refurbished St. Germain des Pres church.  It is the oldest in Paris, by the way, and you might find that you become quite enamored of its not-at-all-obnoxious-in-fact-quite-lovely bells.  The staff is charming and the hotel oozes slightly worn but not off- putting, well-loved charm.   The exposed beams of the recently redecorated Corail Suite add character to the walls upholstered in a butterfly fabric with furniture to match. The bathroom may nearly made you faint if you are at all accustomed to Parisian-sized bathrooms, as it is includes a tub big enough for a 6 foot tall American.

L'Hotel

 

Hotel Buci

Relais St. Germain & Le Comptoir

Hotel St. Germain des Pres

L'Hotel

© 2004 by Jody Holman Webster

jody @ holmanphotography.com    • 650.430.5225     •Based in Pacifica, CA   

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