Three Nights in Paris: No Seine, Eiffel Tower or Champs Elysee
Whether to repeat or visit new destinations is the common traveler’s dilemma. Visiting new places usually wins, and yet I find myself returning to Paris as often as possible. Although I’ve been going to Paris since I was 15, I have barely scratched the surface and can easily fill ten days without repeating anything visited on prior stays.
Flying to Malta non-stop from New York is not an option, so when I was investigating flights and realized I could route through any European city, I opted to schedule 3 nights in Paris on the way back to the US.
Planning these 3 days was easy. On the Thursday of my 2010 trip to Paris, I tripped in a pothole rushing to lunch at Bistro Paul Bert and missed the last 3 days of my carefully planned schedule. Two years later, I finally completed that itinerary.
After arriving at my hotel, coincidentally on Rue de Malte (Malta) between Republic and Canal Saint Martin, I did a quick trip to the canal. It was quiet and peaceful, with men fishing (really?) and groups of friends in outdoor cafes and sitting on the quay next to the canal. The Bensimon store was packed.
Then I cheated and repeated. I went to the Marais, my favorite part of Paris. Stopped at Gerald Mulot for the serrano ham sandwich I cannot replicate at home and a couple chocolate mendiants on the way to Place des Vosges for lunch on the grass. Place des Vosges is not off the beaten track for some, but the average visitor on the Left Bank tourist trail may never encounter this – one of the most beautiful parks in Paris. When I’ve stayed in this part of the Marais I am asked on a daily basis by French tourists in French where they can find this park. And, yes, I am thrilled that any French woman could think I’m one of them.
Next, I walked past my old rental apartment on Rue de Braque toward Rue du Temple to avoid the slow-moving crowds on Rambuteau. This is the wholesale district of Paris, with windows crammed with jewelry, handbags and scarves. Last trip, I discovered one store amid these that was willing to sell retail, but I didn’t find anything special this time. I returned to Republic, checking out stores along the way, stopping in Monoprix (a great supermarket) to pick up special food items to bring home. Supermarkets in Paris are great sources of gifts for yourself and the foodies in your life.
For dinner, I met some expat friends at their favorite neighborhood restaurant in the 15th Arrondissement. Axuria is not a place many visitors would ever find, but it is well worth venturing to Avenue Felix Faure. The service and food was excellent and the wines are very reasonably priced. My friend Randy reviewed it for his blog Paris Missives better than I ever could, here. In fact, any restaurant I’ve been introduced to by Randy has been excellent. Les Petits Plats is another great spot I would never have found without him.
I allowed myself another repeat. A quick trip to the Sunday Richard Lenoir market – also known as the Bastille market, to pick up some of my favorite foods for a picnic in Parc Monceau. If I’m in Paris on a Sunday, I visit this market, and as a result have missed some other great ones like the Bio market on Boulevard Raspail.
In addition to the great food, this market has very fashionable accessories. The three euro polka-dot pashmina is one of the best things I’ve bought at a market, and I’m kicking myself now for not getting more colors. There are also huge bricks of lemony smelling Savon de Marseilles, plus great handbag and jewelry vendors.
But, the food! Perfectly sized cans of foie gras to bring home, sea salt from Guerande, roasted chickens dripping mustard-laced fat over new potatoes. Mushrooms I’m tempted to smuggle past Customs. I could go on and on. I picked up some sliced ham from Bayonne, those red peppers stuffed with tuna fish that proportionately cost as much as an Hermes bag in NYC, and the rectangular apricot tarte I get from the same stand every trip. A short metro ride later, I am at Parc Monceau.
Parc Monceau is one of the most elegant parks, in one of the most riche sections of Paris. I had visited years ago, but now I had new motivation for returning to the area. Little did I know until I read Edmund de Waal’s marvelous book, The Hare with Amber Eyes, that Parc Monceau was the upscale Jewish neighborhood at the turn of the last century. After walking past the house of de Waal’s ancestors – the Ephrussis, I visited the Musee Nissim de Camondo. The mansion turned museum is filled with 18th Century treasures collected by banker Moise Camondo. Major pieces of Sevres, Savonnerie carpets, Aubusson tapestries, and Orloff silver commissioned by Catherine II of Russia are just a few of the items showcased in the well-composed yet laden rooms.
Back on the metro to Pre-St-Gervais on the other side of Paris. Now that I had achieved my museum goal from 2010, I was on to the outdoors part of the day.
A short walk from this metro stop brings you to another world. You would never believe you were in Paris. Heading west along Rue de Mouzaia, you encounter little streets called villas, that even my born-and-raised Parisian friends have never visited. The homes and setting were so intimate, I felt like I was invading someone’s privacy. The first picture on this post is from this area.
After spending about an hour wandering around the narrow alleys, I headed toward Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Another item on my 2010 to-do list that was never achieved, this is a spectacular park, filled with lounging Parisians. Rather steep, it’s a good idea to start at the top and make your way downhill.
From the park, it’s a reasonable walk to the Bassin de la Villette, the body of water that leads to Canal Saint Martin. The area is lined with hip, industrial looking outdoor cafes. On Sunday, the banks of the canal and surrounding outdoor terraces were crammed with people hanging out.
As if I hadn’t walked enough, I decided to walk the Grands Boulevards from Republic to as far west as I could go before I had to jump on a metro to be on time for dinner with my French family. The Grands Boulevards were a 17th century city planning project that created beautiful, major avenues through the center of Paris. At several points along the boulevards, you see the portes, highly ornate arches that were the old doors through the fortification around the city. There are brocantes – flea markets and antique markets along the way, of varying quality, as I passed through a variety of ethnic neighborhoods. From Republic, I started on Boulevard St. Martin, which becomes Boulevard St. Denis, then Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle. The Grands Boulevards continues with name changes at major avenues; Poissonneire, Montmartre, Haussman. At Chaussee d’Antin, I jumped on the metro for the ride to Boulogne-Billancourt.
Boulogne-Billancourt is an upscale suburb, filled with modern apartment buildings, that is home to my French family. Jacqueline was my family’s au pair when I was 12 and our families have stayed in touch ever since. Her brothers, sons and their girlfriends have become my extended French family to visit every trip, or entertain in NYC. Usually, I have Sunday dinner in their home. This time I was lucky enough to arrive as Jacqueline and her husband were returning from a weekend in Brittany – with 100 oysters.
Paris is known for its enclosed shopping passages and they are all over the area around the Grands Boulevards. Galerie Viviene and Passage des Panoramas are 2 notable ones with renowned wine bars and tea shops; Passage Brady is an interesting variation – it’s full of Indian restaurants. I checked out the round Bourse building, then made my way to the cookware shops in Les Halles. Last trip, I schlepped a copper pan back from Dehillerin. This trip, I had DeBuyer pans on my mind.
I did a quick price comparison at Dehillerin, but the place was packed and I just wasn’t in the mood to spend 2 hours buying a pan, so I went to A. Simon. At A. Simon, you carry the pan to the cashier, pay and 5 minutes later, you’re out the door. Dehillerin is a much longer process of getting a receipt written on one line then taking it to a separate area to pay. While this style of service is refreshing, on a 3 day trip I don’t have time.
G. Detou is heaven for cooks, bakers and the food obsessed. Where else can you find blue sel de Perse? As in salt from Persia. The name G. Detou is a French play on words, meaning “I have it all” – and they certainly do. One of the best bargains in Paris – the glass tubes filled with fresh vanilla pods on the counter.
While these places are not well off the beaten track (David Lebovitz has covered them extensively on his site), they’re not known to a lot of visitors. I’ve also been told on the snarly Paris Tripadvisor forum that Dehillerin is only for professionals. I’m sure the store wouldn’t appreciate having their business limited in such a way. If you’re serious enough to want copper cookware, or specific tart pans, you shouldn’t feel funny or intimidated entering Dehillerin. They’re very nice and most of the staff speaks great English.
Monday was my only free night for dinner, and I did not plan well. I intended to get to Frenchie’s Bar a Vins as soon as it opened, but didn’t make it until 7:30. By then, every table at this overhyped place was full – and there was a line. I checked out Rue du Paradis in the 10th, which is supposedly the new restaurant hot spot, but I must have missed it.
For some reason, I was craving choucroute, or some sort of pork sausages, and ended up at the Taverne Karlsbrau on Republic. It was late and the server was very flexible about letting me swap the scary andouillette sausage on the special for something less funky.
I’ve been to Paris countless times, but I have never been to Pere Lachaise, the famous cemetery that my generation knows as the place where Jim Morrison is buried. Just as I was wondering how I would find anything in the cemetery, I noticed a group of Spanish women with a necessary map of the place – they pointed me to the bar near the entrance where I could buy the 5 euro map. By the time I found Jim Morrison’s grave, these same women had ignored the fence and signs not to enter the grave and were, er, passionately rubbing themselves on the grave. What seemed like a long while later, they were still at it, but nicely dismounted to let me take a few shots.
Many visitors go to this cemetery, but do they go to the nearby Tuesday market? Probably not. Not a touristy market, it seemed to go on forever, with food and household items that vary as the neighborhood ethnicity changes. It starts as the Pere Lachaise market near the metro stop with the same name on Boulevard de Menilmontant and stretches on through Belleville. If I didn’t to leave for the airport, I would have followed the market to the end.
In a city as crammed full with amazing and everyday sights like Paris, it is easy to visit the city numerous times without repeating, unless you want to.
Off the Beaten Track Paris books on Amazon:
Hidden Gardens of Paris: A Guide to the Parks, Squares and Woodlands
Off the Beaten Track Resource:
Paris Pratique – the map the Parisians use. Maps by arrondissement with every little rue and allee indicated.
This article was originally posted August 15, 2013.