Charming Marais I

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I enjoy Paris much more when I rent an  apartment. And not only because I save money, but renting an apartment allows me to do as Parisians do – buy food at local shops, cook at home, have a warm baguette for breakfast with the smell of fresh coffee coming from the kitchen…

I guess I’m not alone, judging from the many rental agencies now specialized in short term leases for tourists. I’ve tried many of them, good and bad ones. On the bad side, I once got such a poorly equipped place that I had to buy bed linens and a coffee maker. But after trial and error, I now know the reputable agencies, and have eliminated disaster ones.

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 seen by foot, and nowhere this is more true than in the Marais.

This part of the 4eme Arrondissement is perfect for walking. One of the oldest neighborhoods of Paris, the charm of its narrow pedestrian-only streets and small specialty stores is known worldwide,  as are its restaurants, boutiques and cafes. The Marais is also the gay district of Paris, full or art galleries and shops with the latest in clothes, shoes, home decoration and everything else in between. Even food looks better in their windows!

Some of the stores there are so ahead of their time that they 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 abound in the Marais and make sure Paris will remain the fashion capital of the world.

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 the 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, Bistrot de L’Oulette, then turned left at the corner to go to Cafe Hugo, right on Place des Vosges. Named after French writer Victor Hugo, who lived next door on what is now a museum with his name, Cafe Hugo’s food is nothing special, what makes it be always crowded is the great view Place des Vosges, a magnificent square right in the middle of it all. Even in the winter it is possible to seat outside, as the Hugo provides  movable heaters in an area covered with transparent plastic. I feel like a queen sitting there having a capuccino and watching the world pass by – people watching is one of the greatest things to do in the Marais.

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After Cafe Hugo I would visit antique shops and art galleries under the arches of Place des Vosges, where all styles – from very contemporary to more traditional – are represented. Moving on to Rue des Francs Bourgeois, leaving Place des Vosges behind, I would pass Rue de Turenne, always stopping for some window shopping. This is an area crowded with sophisticated locals and well heeled tourists, all sporting the latest fashion styles and the newest iPhones. Lots of Americans there in December,  no one would say our dollar was so low, $1.44 against the Euro, the weakest it had been in a long time. God bless.

Despite the weak dollar, I managed to do a little shopping: for white shirts I went to Anne Fontaine or Rayure; for the latest in fun designer clothes at reasonable prices there is always La Piscine, on 13 rue des Francs-Bourgeois. Last time I bought such a nice dress there, my 20 year old daughter just had to have it for herself!

476986_1482ff66f36a4dc49f45646f89f2e9a6I like to walk on Rue des Francs Bourgeois passing Rue Sevigne, then turn left on Rue Pavee towards Rue des Rosier, 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 women shop there.

I find Rue des Rosiers one of the most charming in the city and love to spend time there.  Mid-way through it, there is a deli called Chez Marianne, a perfect spot for a mid-afternoon break. From there I walk to Rue du Vieille du Temple, home to many gay bars and trendy boutiques, and after browsing their stores I turn left at Rue du Roi de Sicile. Sometimes I go to a creperie called Page 35, on Rue du Parc Royal – it’s a small place removed from the crowded area, but their crepes are excellent and the service very pleasant.

 

But there is much more to the Marais than restaurants and boutiques: there is the Carnavalet Museum, about the history of Paris, a great Picasso Museum that covers his earlier period, and many cultural activities. To see the whole Marais one just needs time, and curiosity – everything else is right there.

As I never have that much time, I usually return to New York before the end of my “to see” list.

 

Next time, hopefully. The Marais will be there, for sure…

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