Just what are you to do when your fiance wants to take you to Paris, yet you’ve already been twice before? Embrace it – because visiting Paris for the third time is when you get to really relax and see the city.
When you first go to Paris, you’re preoccupied with ticking those famous sights off your travel checklist. Taking in the sheer grandeur of the Eiffel Tower – check. Wondering what life was like for Quasimodo in the bell tower of Notre Dame – check. Being slightly dismayed to have queued to see the Mona Lisa at The Louvre and discover it’s the size of a notebook – check. Paying 90 euros to see performers lip sing at the Moulin Rouge – check. Debating whether it’s really Jim Morrison that’s buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery – check.
Second time round is your chance to catch up on the things you ran out of time for in your first visit. Staying in Montmartre, with so many quintessential Parisian activities on your doorstep, like climbing the steps to the Sacre Coeur and having your portrait sketched in the Place du Tertre. Or booking places at an English speaking cabaret restaurant only to return later that evening to the wrong, French speaking one, not understanding a word but still having a great time. Or exploring the two extremes of relationships, from the sentimentality of the ‘I love you wall’ to the carnal physicality of the Museum of Eroticism.
So third time around, five years later, fiance in tow, what’s left to do? Not rush around cramming in sights, that’s for sure, but taking the time for some romantic strolling, fine dining, and designer (window) shopping. If you feel like you’ve done it all in Paris, here are five things that for me made Paris as exciting and beautiful as the first time around.
1. Staying in a converted boulangerie in Le Marais
Legend has it that the 17th century building that is now the Hotel du Petit Moulin was once Paris’s first bakery, which counted the likes of Victor Hugo among its clientele. The traditional shopfront that remains gives the hotel a real feeling of old world enchantment, yet once you step inside, you’re wowed by the vibrant, bold colours that tell you you’re not in the 17th century any more, Toto. Designed by none other than Christian Lacroix himself, it’s achingly stylish – no two rooms are the same – yet still homey and welcoming.What could be more Parisian than staying in a converted boulangerie designed by a French fashion designer?
Then there’s the fact that you have Le Marais and its seemingly endless selection of trendy galleries, boutiques, cafes and restaurants – not bad for an area that was once rather rundown following its aristocratic heyday in the 17th and 18th centuries. For a self-confessed shopaholic like me it is retail heaven – an addictive mix of independent local stores stocking one off finds and fashion forward designer labels such as Helmut Lang, The Kooples, Maje, Sonia Rykiel, Marc Jacobs, APC, Surface to Air and others – all staffed, naturally, by the most attractive Parisians, who are surprisingly rather cheerful.
The nearby Rue Vieille due Temple is a villagey delight, packed with both grubby run of the mill brasseries alternated by hipster run restaurants (just the right amount of hipsters to keep it on the right side of appealing rather than annoying), punctuated by trinket stores and street art. It reminded me of Covent Garden or Soho in London but without the infuriating throngs of tourists – making mooching around here the perfect leisurely weekend activity.
2. Have brunch at Canal St-Martin
We took advantage of the summer sunshine to take a walk from Le Marais to Canal St-Martin – about half an hour away. Where part of the film Amelie was filmed, Canal St Martin is the graffiti lined, padlock covered, favourite local reading and brunch spot. We pitched up at Chez Prune, a cafe/restaurant by day and bar by night, and a pleasingly suitable balance between grimy and trendy. Frequented by a mix of chirpy tourists and sultry Parisians (students and artists especially, so I’ve read), moodily chain smoking off last night’s hangover and casually leaving lipstick stained cigarette butts on the table.
3. Indulge in the tasting menu at Le Chateaubriand
Le Chateaubriand is one of Paris’s best restaurants and the world’s 27th best as voted by San Pellegrino. Situated on the bustling Avenue De Parmentier, you could be forgiven for doing a double take, because unlike your usual gourmet institution, it looks like a regular Parisian brasserie. For such a critically acclaimed restaurant, it is refreshingly casual without the stuffy Michelin starred silver service and snooty hushed tone waiters and with a price tag to match (65 euros for the tasting menu). You can only book for the first sitting, or get in line for the second round.
The menu is in French, and the waiter will either explain all the courses upfront, or just tell you what each dish is as it comes. We went for the latter as we like the surprise factor. The food just keeps on coming…..some of our favourite courses are pictured below. The innocent looking yet insanely delicious cheese puff. The tart gazpacho with the secret ceviche hidden at the bottom. The pea and cucumber soup laced with crunchy coffee beans (it shouldn’t work, but it does). The delicately seared tuna with meaty mushrooms and garden fresh corn husks (if you go to the bathroom, you can see the chefs munching on these as they test each husk for freshness before serving it up). The deep, dark, squid and squid ink. The deconstructed macaron with precariously balanced whole egg yolk that means you need to eat it all in one bite (again, shouldn’t work but it does).
So, so good.
4. Eat and drink like a Parisian
We began our journey with a cheeky croque monsieur washed down with a bottle of champagne on the Eurostar. Because when you’re on the moving Eurostar, you’re technically in Paris, right, so you may as well start behaving like you’re there!
The burgers in Paris are a revelation. They might be an American concept, and revived by the new breed of London burger joints that have sprung up over the past year, but Parisians knock them out of the park. Crispy yet soft brioche buns with an unpretentious salad garnish – it’s all about the juicy, tender meat. No self respecting establishment ever bats an eyelid when you order a burger medium rare, and amen to that. I would go back to Paris yet again purely to eat another of this city’s fine burgers. The one below was eaten at Chez Justine in Oberkampf.
The below platter, consumed in a cafe on the Rue St Honore, was, believe it or not, listed as a snack. And it could have fed four people – piled with four different types of cheese, four different types of meats, and because there was some more room on the plate, some pate and pickles. Oh and the basket of bread next to it also came with it. Phil valiantly got through about three quarters of it, as any manly man should, but it was too much even for a cheese fanatic like him.
5. Stroll along and take it all in!
Because after all that food you seriously do need to do some walking. Luckily walking around Paris is thoroughly entertaining. I’ll leave you with the below to round off what was my best trip to Paris yet – third time around.