I enjoy Paris more when I rent an apartment than when I stay 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 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 visited 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, its narrow pedestrian-only streets and small specialty stores are charming and 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 styles in clothes, shoes, home decoration – and everything else in between. Even food looks better in the windows of those small shops.
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 abound in the Marais, and make sure 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 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, Bistro de L’Oulette; then I would turn left at the corner and go to Cafe 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, Cafe Hugo’s food is nothing special, to be honest, but it’s always crowded. Even in the winter it is possible to seat outside, it provides movable heaters in a covered area from where it’s great to sit and watch people passing by – people watching is one of the greatest things to do in the Marais.
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 where sophisticated locals and well heeled tourists shop, all sporting the latest fashion 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 managed to do a little shopping, anyway – 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 that my 20 year old daughter just had to have it for herself!
I like to walk on Rue des Francs Bourgeois passing Rue Sevigne, then turn left on Rue Pavee 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 …