This post on Paris and any more posts on Paris for that matter will always be dedicated to my sister. I don’t think anyone could love a city more and I can’t wait to return there with her and my mom someday. Each time I visit Paris, it is easy to fall more and more in love with it – perhaps that is one of the reasons it is known as the city of love although its official nickname is in fact, the city of light. I’ve luckily been to Paris a several times but each visit has left me with new memories, new delicious bakeries to sample, new finds and new lists already piled high for my return. It’s one of those cities that you could easily spend a few days in and still not brush the surface. The city is sprawling with the main attractions spread quite far apart and each area has its own distinct pocket of culture, food, romance and hidden treasures.
This trip in particular was a very special one. Phil’s mom, Barbara joined us for this adventure and what a memorable one it was. Barbara whose previously planned trip to Paris many years ago was put on hold due to the French student riots, meant that she wasn’t able to visit Paris then and hadn’t had the opportunity since. When Barbara mentioned a trip to the UK to see her 7 brothers and sisters in Devon earlier this year, Phil decided this was the time and grabbed the opportunity to get his mom to her Paris.
Because we were travelling from Jersey and wanted to make the journey as easy as possible, we took the ferry to France and then from St Malo – the train to Paris. There is a direct train to Paris with a journey time of 3 and a half hours but because of timings, we had a quick stop in Rennes with a journey time of around 4 hours. Travelling by train is a lovely, a more relaxing way to spend your journey taking in the beautiful French countryside. We travelled on SCNF, France’s national railway and you can find tickets easily online here. You arrive at Montparnasse station – as opposed to Gare du Nord where the Eurostar comes in from London traversing the Channel Tunnel. We were staying in the 1st arrondissement and to get into the city there are a few options – via taxi (which we opted for) via public transport or with Uber if you are familiar with this app.
The city of Paris is divided into twenty arrondissements arranged in a clockwise spiral starting from the middle of the city. We were situated on the pedestrian street, Rue Montorgueil – in the heart of Paris. This is an alive and vibey street full of restaurants and markets, wine and cheese shops, bakeries and bars. Paris is a great city to rent an apartment in because then you can live like a true Parisian and grab croissants and coffee to go in the morning from a local boulangerie or pick up fresh produce from a market close by. The door to our apartment was situated between these very two and every morning we ate fresh croissants and pastries as we listened to and watched the bustling street below. We stayed in this apartment through Airbnb and I would definitely recommend it on location alone but it was just what we needed and the host Maria was great.
On our first evening, we didn’t want to venture too far and opted for one of the many lively restaurants on the street to sample some Escargot which is becoming a bit of a first night tradition. After dinner, Phil and I visited aveK cocktail bar for some Moscow mules and mingled with local Parisians and tourists alike in an intimate, trendy bar playing some great music.
We also stumbled upon Passage du Grand Cerf – one of Paris’s many undercover passageways. These are hidden gems and perfect for wetter days in Paris. 25 of these passages still exist and are open to the public. Some house antique stores, while others have souvenir shops and crepe counters. Passage du Grand Cerf links rue Saint-Denis and the Montorgueil neighbourhood. It is very stately with its glass ceiling and lighting and is filled with small designer and jewellery shops selling unique pieces.
We awoke the next morning and stumbled the few steps downstairs for freshly made croissants both plain as well as some of the best almond croissants I’d ever tasted (although after tasting a few I realised this almond slice of deliciousness was in fact the norm and each one I tried was wonderful). We then made our way in the morning drizzle to Marche des Enfant Rouge. On our way, we passed Bontemps Patisserie – a beautiful, fresh patisserie bursting with spring flowers and pastel colours. I had hoped to rather frequent one of the bustling open air markets like Bastille but with the weather not on our side, this was a good alternative. It is quite a bit smaller than the French markets I’ve been to before and is in fact more of a food hall where you can grab a quick bite to eat, stock up on fresh produce and socialise. If you can get to the bigger, more vibrant food markets I would recommend it.
After the market we strolled along Rue des Archives in search of Anthropologie – my personal favourite shop and a novelty when visiting abroad. Unfortunately it was closed but we were happy to take in the streets and found a beautiful jewellery store called Claire Naa just next door to the stately National Archives. This typical Marais Street is recommended for a pleasant walk to explore the upmarket neighbourhood heading south towards the Seine.
The road brings you out in front of City Hall, another iconic building. From here we crossed the Seine to Île de la Cité in search of Notre Dame. There are two natural islands on the Seine, Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis. Although we didn’t frequent Île Saint-Louis on this trip, I would recommend a visit here. It is one of the most affluent areas in Paris and full of quaint coffee shops, restaurants and bakeries. It feels like its own world in the middle of Paris and a great place to find some peace and quiet away from the crowds.
Notre Dame, french for ‘Our Lady of Paris is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic Architecture, and it is among the largest and most well-known churches in the world. A few steps away is Bertie’s cupcakery, notorious for its charming selection of cupcakes and flavours. We stopped for a quick coffee before continuing on our journey across Pont Neuf (the oldest bridge in Paris), headed for the most iconic site in Paris – the Eiffel Tower.
I’ve visited this celebrated spot before. My friend Lauren Thompson and I have climbed up and on our last trip here, Phil and I braved the cold to venture up to the top to sample its sweeping views and romantic premise. Barbara was seeing this for her first time and while standing under this formidable icon is breath-taking, we all agreed that as you walked a bit away from the Eiffel Tower, the view is even more impressive. If you are venturing up I would recommend buying your tickets beforehand online to avoid queues on the day. You can buy them here.
For a more distant view, I’d recommend crossing Pont d’Lena Bridge towards Trocadéro. Nicknamed the site that launched a 1000 selfies, this location is a great way to take in the Eiffel Tower in all its glory. If you head further up, you’ll pass the National theatre and various museums. Trocadero is also home to upscale shopping and trendy cafes. Rather tired from walking across the city, we sat down for a late lunch at Carette. We opted for the ubiquitous French Quiche Lorraine presented on fine bone china and we felt very special/privileged as we dined amongst, what felt like, the stylish Parisian high society. I opted to finish off with their lime tart – held to be the best in Paris. Although rather pricey, I would recommend this spot for a little elegant and girly indulgence.
With sore feet and tired limbs, we decided to eat in that night. With a street full of dining options, the choices were endless. We opted for French burgers from Big Fernand whose staff all greeted us with great excitement when we mentioned we were from South Africa. We also grabbed a few salads from Exki – highly recommended for healthier options and delicious, refreshing frozen yoghurt from Chacun ses Goûts for dessert. All of this within a kilometre radius of our flat. Another recommendation is Stohrer and although we didn’t chose anything from here, it is a great alternative for take home meals. We opened a bottle of Bordeaux red and munched on our gourmet eat in dinner happy to get some rest ahead of the next day’s itinerary.
As we awoke to our last full day in Paris, there were a few sites still to get through. After a quick, traditional breakfast of croissants and coffee, this time from Le Pain Quotidien, 200 metres from our apartment – we took to the streets for yet another day in this magical city. We were headed for the Louvre and on our way made a stop at Jardin Nelson Mandela. This pretty public garden, watched over by a grand church was renamed after the South African hero, a few days after his passing.
Just before the Seine we arrived at the Louvre Palace. This impressive building is steeped in history as the former royal palace and was the actual seat of power in France until Louis XIII moved to Versailles in 1682, taking the government with him. It now houses the renowned Musee du Louvre as well as various government departments. From here you walk through archways and get your first glimpse of the famed monument, home to thousands of masterpieces, most notably the Mona Lisa. We didn’t go inside as you would need half a day for this alone and we didn’t have enough time but if you do, I would recommend booking online as the queues on any day can be very lengthy. From the Louvre we strolled towards the Tuileries Gardens and the sun started to come out just as we came into view of the distant Arc de Triomphe down the renowned Champs-Élysées (a pronunciation I will never quite master).
From here we had pre-booked tickets for an hour boat cruise along the Seine to take in the sights from a different angle. On our way we passed the Love Lock Bridge – Pont des Arts. Legend has it that sweethearts lock a padlock to the bridge and throw the key into the Seine below to symbolize unbreakable love. The locks were recently moved as the bridge was carrying 10 tonnes of locks and risked collapsing. The notion has spread worldwide and sparked contention of late. While some people embrace them, many see them as litter or vandalism. I personally love taking pictures of the locks and thinking of all the couples declaring their love – cheesy I know.
The boat cruise was an informative and relaxing way to take in the city and you have to pinch yourself while travelling down the iconic Seine River (and passing) underneath all of its historic bridges. We went with Vedettes du Pont Neuf which I can highly recommend for an hour cruise at 10 Euro. We finished just in time to escape a sudden thunderstorm including hail. We managed to duck into a stylish little restaurant where we decided to have lunch. Luckily the storm didn’t last long and we completed our day with unforgettable macaroons from Pierre Herme on Rue du Cambon and a stop at the Arc de Triomphe and magnificent Champs-Élysées.
On our way back to the apartment we stumbled across Eric Kayser bakery (also on our road) and carefully selected some beautiful pastries to savour with some French champagne.
For our farewell dinner, both to Paris and to Phil’s mom, who was to return to the UK the next day, we chose Brasserie Bofinger. Brassier Bofinger is the epitome of fine French dining from the sumptuous meal to the smartly dressed waiters, to the opulent surroundings. We opted for the set menu – Barbara had the pea gazpacho, Phil the oyster selection and myself the fois gras – all beautifully presented with subtle flavours. We all opted for the duck as our main course and although I’m biased because duck is my absolute favourite, the dish was full of flavour and finesse. For dessert, Phil had the strawberry soup, a refreshing and unique dish and I chose the very French crème brullee – my favourite! I would definitely recommend this restaurant. We managed to get a table under the glass dome with its pretty wisteria overhang to enjoy this inescapable Parisian delight steeped in history – what a memorable evening.
Our final morning in Paris started in much the same way as our other mornings did and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. This time we frequented Eric Kayser bakery for our fresh croissants plus a rose brioche – delicious, flaky pastry that already has me dreaming of French bakeries.
We made our way in good time to the airport and were glad we did. One word of advice for Charles De Galle airport is that you must give yourself more than enough time. It is a sprawling airport with multiple terminals so you need to check their website or with your airline in advance. We got the RER B directly from Chatele les Halles to Charles de Gaulle 2 which was very easy and stress free and takes around 35 minutes. Once at your terminal there are different gates and you also need to give yourself enough time for security and the walk to the gates. For more information visit their website.
These are on my list for next time and if you find yourself in Paris, try them out
Coffee spots: Boot Café, Foundation café, O Coffee shop, Broken Biscuits, Fragments
Lunch spots: Café Flore, Ellsworth (or for brunch) and Ralph’s
Dinner spots: Septime (reservations recommended), Se Bon, Verjus
Other things to add to your Paris list are;
- Try an Ispahan croissant at Pierre Herme – flavour combination of litchi, rose and raspberry in a buttery, flaky croissant
- Have lunch or tea at Laduree (my sister managed to get us a spot here on our previous trip)
- Explore the Latin Quarter – On the left bank of the Seine, the Latin Quarter is a lively neighbourhood with plenty of bars and cafes and a great place to explore the winding streets, shops and enjoy the village-like atmosphere.
- Stroll through Montmartre – The famously romantic part of Paris is the artsy, residential neighbourhood of Montmartre. The view across Paris from the Sacre Coeur church is breathtaking and its a delightful place for wandering through narrow alleys and finding atmospheric cafes. One of my fondest memories of Paris is watching my sister getting her portrait done on her 21st birthday in this area made famous by French artists gone by.
- Visit Jardin du Luxembourg – a little oasis to wander through and dedicated to the children of Paris by Napoléon
- Wander along Canal St Martin
- Take a trip to Versailles (I haven’t done this yet but I believe it is a wonderful day trip)
- Do a walking tour following the footsteps of famous poets or artists
- Enjoy a picnic on the bank of the Seine River
- Discover the undercover passageways
- Find some hidden gems at Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen, an extensive flea market ( haven’t done this but would love to go someday)
- Treat yourself to a show at the Palais Garnier, a symbol of Paris
- Catch a concert at Zenith concert hall – we managed to watch my favourite band here, the Lumineers who sauntered through the crowd and performed right where we were standing!
For more information or inspiration on Paris, visit:
- Paris in 4 months (a beautiful blog about living in Paris – most of my recommendations are from here)
- New York Times, 36 hours in Paris
‘Paris is always a good idea’ – Audrey Hepburn
A few pics from previous visits
2 Comments Add yours
Lovely!! Felt as if I was righ there savouring fragrant croissants at a patisserie on the banks of the Seine.
Marvelous writing, so glad you are keeping such beautiful record of these trips. Something to look back on.