Any time I yearn for a few days break from hum drum life I start to dream of taking a short trip across the Channel to Paris. I’m fortunate to be living in London because the only form of travel to Paris that I’ll now consider is Eurostar! I’ve been spoilt, you see. I travelled by Eurostar for the first time in 1999 and now nothing else will do for a Parisian break. Air travel, no matter how smooth and trouble-free, just cannot compete with the relaxed train journey from London’s St Pancras station to Paris’ Gare du Nord. We’re talking about a short check-in time (minimum 30 mins) and just over 2hrs of a train journey from one city centre to another in comparison with a tube journey to a London airport (50 mins from London centre), at least an hour’s check-in before take-off, a flight time of about 50-60 mins, then pick-up luggage, clear customs and another journey into Paris which I’m guessing (never done it folks, always been a Eurostar lady) adds another hour. No contest really. And if, like me, you book in advance the train fare can be a ridiculously reasonable £69 return. Amazing really.
So what do I do once there and where would I recommend?
Well, I’m not long back from a long weekend there and this time it was even more fun and relaxing than ever. For starters we rented an apartment. We’ve always stayed in hotels in the Latin Quarter and there are some decent 2 and 3 star hotels below which are perfectly fine. All Parisian hotels have small rooms by the way, which can be a shock to some but I just need somewhere, clean, comfortable, that has a decent shower and is close to the action (by that I mean that’s within walking distance to the centre) so I’m not looking for excessive luxury. But as a lover of the fantastic food markets in Paris I have found it really hard to browse all the stalls selling wonderful meats, fish and vegetables and not be able to buy and cook with them. Plus I’m not a fan of eating out all the time. Restaurant food is wonderful but it is usually richer than I can cope with for every meal. So this time we rented an apartment, again in the 5th arrondissement (the Latin Quarter) and it was so relaxing. We found the apartment through HouseTrip and it was a painless process. As for cost, it was not necessarily much cheaper than a hotel but was not more expensive and, for me, far, far more enjoyable.
Based close to the Pantheon we were minutes away from the street markets at Place Maubert and Place Monge where we loaded up on the most diverse range of tomatoes I’ve ever seen in one place, fabulous saucisson, crab salad, breads, girolles (yes, punnets of them spread out on the stalls) and ceps. Not to mention farm butter, fresh sheep’s cheese, a pungently mature hard cow’s cheese and sheep’s yoghurt from the Basque region. So we had a couple of evenings dining in the apartment with meals happily cooked by me (girolles and ceps fried in butter with a splash of wine served on a bed of lightly toasted chewy bread and a green salad was delicious even if I say so myself). We ate out at lunch when we were hungry from drifting around the city so had the best of both worlds.
Slow down and enjoy life
One of the best thing about Paris is the slower pace of city life and the wonderful café scene. People walk slower in Paris than they do in London. Now I don’t mean to insinuate that Parisians are less dynamic than Londoners. It’s just that they walk slower but with a steady relaxed pace, as if they are enjoying the actual exercise of walking. In London people rush, rush, rush and (Olympic fever aside) don’t always appear friendly or approachable (mind you, nor are the Parisians so friendly-looking but they do look more relaxed). Of course, when I’m in Paris I’m on holidays so that may be a factor colouring my view which I can accept but I’ve done a lot of people watching in both cities and my opinion is that life runs at a slower pace in Paris (I’ve read horror stories about opening bank accounts or connecting telephones in Paris so there are downsides to a ‘relaxed’ pace of life). The best place to view all of this is from a seat in a café or bar, sipping a café creme or pastis and wondering at how few obese folk there are in the city! Another topic for another day.
Below is a list of places I love to visit; shops, restaurants, some ‘foodie’ destinations and some museums. Those of us that live in London are blessed with free entry to most of the big museums which is wonderful and allows most galleries and museums to be visited over and over again, opening the arts to all. In Paris one generally pays to enter museums and art galleries. Visit a few and you quickly feel the effect in your purse plus there are always queues. In fact, queues have meant I’ve never been to the Louvre but there are many smaller museums and galleries worth visiting, some are even free to all. On our most recent visit to Paris we also popped into some of the commercial art galleries around St Germain and saw fantastic works of art, again for free.
A word about restaurants. Eating out in Paris is fun. However, (whispers so as not to upset some) perhaps not as interesting or as exciting and certainly not as diverse as eating out in London. So when I go to dine out in Paris I’m not looking for stars or gastronomic wizardry or edgy new food trends. London has those in abundance. I’m looking for good, tasty, French cooking and to be honest, that really isn’t so hard to find. Some places become so popular with tourists that standards can slip, as I found, but even so we have had many memorable dining experiences in Paris and I share some places below. They are mostly mid-range in price and none carry stars.
So, if you live in London, you have no excuse not to pop over for either a day visit (I’ve done that a few times) or longer. If you find travel itself normally stressful then Eurostar is just the ticket for you. And if you come from further afield perhaps slot in a Parisian trip to your time in the UK? It’s a great way to compare two major world cities and cultures.
Hmm, might just see when I can fit in another trip. Interested?
Travel information.Getting there; the only way I can recommend – Eurostar.
When there; the heart of Paris is small and so is an ideal city to travel around by foot. Make sure you pack some good walking shoes, arm yourself with a map and off you go. We rarely use the Metro or RER but both are well serviced and similar to the Tube. However buses are good fun and you can get to see where you are in the city as you travel around. Each journey on the Metro, RER or bus costs 1 ticket. You can buy a book of 10 tickets (a carnet) at stations, tobacco shops or on the Eurostar. If you forget to buy on the train then buy at Gare du Nord and ask for a map as you buy them. You can also buy carnets from machines at the station but if nervous about that then the folk at the ticket office speak good english. The ticket office is situated below the ground floor. Exit the Eurostar train platform and look for steps leading down to toilets and RER/Metro. When you punch a ticket in the machine at turnstiles or the bus entrance you have an hour’s worth of travel so you can change tube lines or buses as long as it’s within the hour. HOWEVER you cannot change from bus to Metro/RER on the same ticket even if within the hour. Not sure why, but there you are!
AccommodationNow these are not luxury hotels. As I say, I just want clean, comfortable and close to action. All these I’ve stayed at and they were fine. For apartments I can recommend HouseTrip as my rental was smooth and easy and they have a good website with lots of choice. Hotel College du France
7 rue Thénard, 75005 Tel: + 33 (0)1 43 26 78 36
Very popular, reasonably priced hotel. Great location just off Blvd St Germain. Hôtel Comfort André Latin
52, Rue Gay Lussac, 75005 Tel: +33 (0)1 43 54 76 60
A larger chain hotel, comfortable and has wifi. Hotel des Trois Colleges
16 rue Cujas, 75005 Tel: +33 (0)1 43 54 67 30
Situated opposite the Sorbonne, on a quiet street and close to Place Sorbonne and Luxembourg Gardens. Housetrip
Website offering apartment rentals worldwide. Good website with the facility to leave reviews, our one rental was fairly straightforward.
Eating outSome places I’ve eaten at, liked and happy to share. Les Papilles
30 Rue Gay-Lussac 75005 Tel: +33 1 43 25 20 79
I first ate here in 2005 after reading a recommendation from the uber food blogger, David Lebovitz. We’ve eaten here many times since and enjoyed each experience. It’s still a good experience but there’s a ‘but’ hovering overhead. Basically there is one menu on offer (at an excellent price of 33 euro) that consists of a soup (always superb), a main (usually involves slow cooking served in one copper dish), a cheese plate and a dessert. Les Papilles is a wine shop/restaurant and so has walls full of wine to chose from. As a diner you pay the retail price they sell the wine at plus a corkage. However… as the years have passed it has become more of a tourist destination (no problem with that) but I get the feeling the standards have dropped somewhat. Just a little less lush on the main, not enough cooking time or perhaps some cooking shortcuts (the kitchen is TINY). The wine has also notably increased in price. As an example, the bottle of wine (a Croze Hermitage) we bought cost 36 euro retail and as usual came with a 7 euro corkage, so a final cost of 43 euro. It was a good bottle if not as good as I thought it might be for the price. The next day in Le Grand Epicerie (not a cheap place) we spied the same bottle for 17 euro retail, substantially cheaper. I have no quarrel with restaurants charging more for wine than retail. That’s where margins are made but then charging corkage on top? Hmm. So while I say ‘go’ go but don’t think you are getting retail wine prices because that seems no longer the case. Aux Charpentiers
10, Rue Mabillon 75006 Tel: +33 1 43 26 30 05
We’ve been over the years and service can be that lovely Parisian rude service especially to non-french speakers. However there were lots of french businessmen happily tucking into the prix fixe lunch on our last visit and my halting french just managed to wrestle a grim smile from the waiter. I suspect that patience with tourist isn’t high on the list (if even on it!). But it serves solid bistro classics and one year we had a wonderful long Christmas work lunch there when six of us did a Eurostar day trip to Paris in December. Perraudin
157 Rue Saint-Jacques 75005 Tel: +33 1 46 33 15 75
We ate here on the last night of our 5 day stay in Paris. I wanted bistro food, confit du canard and that’s what I had. Crispy skin, fall-apart flesh, sautéd potatoes, fresh salad, good wine all at a reasonable price and very pleasant, friendly service. Yes I said ‘pleasant, friendly service’, in a Parisian restaurant! The lady owner and her one waiter work very, very hard but they still remember to be helpful and smile. Everyone was happy, both french and english-speaking seemed to enjoy the food. Red checked table napkins add to the traditional bistro feel. Watch out for the after-dinner liqueurs as they’re fairly steeply priced. I should know! Ahem. Le Reminet
3,rue des Grands-Degres, 75005 Tel: +33 1 44 07 04 24 We’ve had many visits to this restaurant and even with a change of management it still was enjoyable. Book in advance and ask for the ground floor as the basement gets hot and claustrophobic. It will be full of tourists but so will anywhere so close to Notre Dame. Café de Musées
49, rue de Turenne 75003 Tel: +33 1 42 72 96 17
Another trusty neighbourhood restaurant, close to Place des Vosges in the Marais with tables a bit too close to each other, blackboard menu, pitchers of wine and erratic service. Just what you want and expect. We skipped the prix fixe and plumped for a roast chicken with ceps (lovely) and monkfish with white beans (very tasty). However, what got the juices going most was the delicious aroma of a stuffed cabbage at the next table. I didn’t see that on the menu and it was obvious the gentleman who had ordered it was known to the staff so maybe it was a specially-for-locals. It smelled divine. Next time I’m having it!! La Fonda
173 Rue Saint-Jacques 75005
This is a small tapas bar on rue Saint-Jacques that we popped into for a couple of drinks before heading home after a day out walking the city. I can’t vouch for the food but the music was great (a mix by one of the staff of jazzy, bluesy music). Obviously popular with the locals if we had had more days we would have come back for the food. Great happy hour prices and the lively atmosphere enticed us to stay on for a second drink. Worth trying if in the neighbourhood. Let Patios
Place de Sorbonne, 75005 Tel:+33 01 43 54 34 43 Traditional brasserie with outdoor seating off Blvd St Michael. We always drop in here for a drink, usually a panaché (lager shandy) for me or a pastis in the evening. A haunt of students and shoppers, the waiters are traditionally brusk and off-hand but they do make a mean Croque Monsieur there. Nothing special food-wise (which usually means one should chose traditional dishes or the daily in my experience) but being strides away from the Sorbonne there’s always an interesting crowd. A people-watching place.
Shopping (food and other more mundane things)Le Grand Epicerie
38 rue de Sèvres 75007 (1st floor of the Bon Marché department store).
Think Selfridges food department merged with Harvey Nicks food department (very London based description, sorry). It’s a joy to visit and the wine section offers friendly help (I love wine but I’m not confident faced with the large french choice there). I spot something new and interesting each time I visit. Shelves crammed with beautiful packaging. Lovely macarons display. Detou G (Sté)
58, rue Tiquetonne 75002
A wonderful cave of food stuffs; chocolates, spices, baking decorations, teas, tins of cassoulet, confit, jams, you name it it’s here! Fairly chaotic payment system and the shop always seem too small for the amount of people in it but if you’re a food lover, this is a pleasure den! Eric Kayser
8 rue Monge, 75005 also across the road at number 14 and many, many other places!
A renowned master baker Kayser has over 80 outlets worldwide and a healthy 16 boulangeries in Paris alone. I queued (yes, food queuing is acceptable) for a Pain de Frommage and my god was it worth it! I’d happily queue anywhere for bread like this. I also managed to sneak in a couple of Pain au Raisin when Tony was distracted. He later approved (he can be sooo puritanical sometimes!). Magasin Aurouze
8 Rue des Halles, 75001
Maddness indeed and not for the squimish this rat exterminator shop carries a wonderful tableau of rats in the window. Dancing, some in costume, rats in everyday action. Gloriously bonkers. And in a city so full of food, I’m guessing a rat exterminator should be much in demand! Established in the 1920’s and still there. Just go look at the window, I’m not expecting you to need their services while in Paris! Galeries Lafayette Haussmann
40, Boulevard Haussmann 75009
One of the iconic Parisian department stores. Worth a visit for the Art Nouveau interior alone. Has a great food section. Printemps
64, Boulevard Haussmann 75009.
Like its neighbour Galerie Lafayette, this is a must-visit large department store if you’re in Paris to shop. Great Art Nouveau interior with a stunning glass cupola. BHV
55 rue de la Verrerie, 75004
Part of the Galeries Lafayette group it carries more ‘bargains’ than its haughty sister in Haussmann. Full of good designer brands it is a major Parisian shopping institution and basically runs over 3 stores. The main store houses the women’s clothing, homeware and an excellent hardware section, there is a special wine store, BHV La Cave store (13 rue des Archives – not visited) and a men’s store BHV Homme (36, rue de la Verrerie) which has THE most beautiful male customers. In fact the men’s store is so upmarket in styling and customers that my usually ‘blind to all’ husband remarked that the male clientele on a Monday morning shopping trip were in a different league to the middle-aged female shoppers across the way. Cheeky (but true). Weekends BHV heaves with young ‘uns. Merci
111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003
Metro Saint Sébastien Froissard
We liked this friendly trendy shop a lot. Think of Habitat before it became mainstream. Located in a renovated warehouse/loft style premises, small courtyard entrance, busy cool-looking cafe out front, great designery houseware and innovative gadgets. There is also a clothes section which looked interesting and busy but we were on a wedding present seeking mission so clothes were off-limits. We scored big time here with some fabulously cool (buzz word here) wine glasses that I am most reluctant to part with. Check-out staff were helpful and friendly. Like it. Go see.
Food markets I love.Parisian food markets are wonderful democratic places where the chic ladies of the neighbourhood brush shoulders with the hoi polloi. Great produce, good prices, informed customers, interesting array of stalls without a cupcake in sight! Monge Market
Wednesday, Friday, 7 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Sunday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m
Metro : Place Monge Maubert Market
Tuesday, Thursday, 7 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.,
Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Metro : Maubert-Mutualite St-Germain covered market
4/8 rue Lobineau.
Tuesday to Saturday 8.30 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4 p.m.-7.30 p.m.
Sunday 8.30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Metro : Mabillon Boulevard Raspail
Boulevard Raspail, between Rue du Cherche-Midi and Rue de Rennes,
Tuesdays and Fridays, 7:00 am to 2:30 pm
Metro: Rennes Raspail Organic Food Market
Boulevard Raspail, between Rue du Cherche-Midi and Rue de Rennes
Sundays, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm
MuseumsNow I love a museum as much as the next woman but when on a weekend break I usually only want to do one ‘cultural’ activity. Yes, even I will admit you can have too much of a good thing. That being so I have to ‘fess up to the fact that in spite of the many, many museums to visit in Paris I’ve only visited a few and one, the Musée d’Orsay, has been the subject of repeat visits. No, I’ve never been to the Louvre. Way, waaay before Dan Brown cursed it the queues were crazy and now they’re crazy crazy. But these below I can vouch for as being worth a visit between dining and relaxing. Musée d’Orsay 5 Quai Anatole France, 7500 If you only go to one museum in Paris make it this one. I love, love, love the work of Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec and you’ll find their paintings, sculptures and sketches on the top floor with the rest of the astonishing Impressionist collection. Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Pissaro, Cézanne, Renoir, Seurat, Sisley, among many others, line the walls. The museum is housed in a former railway station and in itself is a strikingly beautiful building. As with all museums or art galleries you could easily spend most of a day here but if you only have a short time I recommend that you take a look at the model of the Opera House on the ground floor (at the end of the building opposite the entrance) and marvel as you walk over the model of the centre of Paris beneath your feet. Stop off as you walk down the aisles towards that and look at Rooms (Salons) 32 – 30. Note the Manet paintings. Manet is an interesting painter as he is regarded as a pivotal figure in the movement from Realism to Impressionism and in this museum you can gauge that by comparing the painting of others before (Ground Floor) and after him (Third Floor). His work is found on both floors! After your brief time on the Ground Floor go straight up to the Impressionists on the Third Floor (escalator behind the Opera House model takes you straight up there). Then, if you have time, take a coffee break on the Third Floor and head down the stairs and visit the other floors as you make your way to the exit. Musée Rodin 79 Rue de Varenne, 75007 I only visited this museum recently on a sunny day when the gardens were splendid and we ate our picnic lunch under trees in the shade. A great story to the building and of course many of Rodin’s iconic sculptures. Fascinating. Musée Carnavalet 23 Rue de Sévigné, 75003 Dedicated to the history of Paris, the city and its inhabitants. This museum houses an eclectic collection that you’ll happily spend an hour or so browsing over at a gentle pace. Not as crowded as the larger museums I find it a welcome break when in the Marais. Free entry, ample toilets and a pretty garden make this attractive museum even more attractive! I particularly love looking at the collection of ancient hanging shop signs. Musée du Cluny 6 Place Paul Painlevé 75005 Also known as Musée National du Moyen Âge ( National Museum of the Middle Ages) this museum is located in the Latin Quarter. It’s most spectacular work of art is the 15th century tapestry, The Lady and the Unicorn. The building itself, once again, is worth a visit. Fascinating insight into the life of parisians and the french in general long before the city became the grand city of boulevards that we know today.
So that’s My Paris. I’ll drop back from time to time and update or add some information but I hope it’s of some help to you when you plan a trip. If food is your ‘thing’ then go now and visit David Lebovitz‘s blog. An american chef living in Paris I always read his tips before popping over to the lovely city.