I must confess to having had a love affair for over 30 years… a love affair with the wondrous city of Paris.
See, we have a history, Paris and me: it was the place where I went for my first overseas trip; where my husband proposed; and, where we first ventured overseas as a whole family. It has a very special place in my heart.
So when my husband was there for work and I was given the opportunity to visit again, I was excited, but apprehensive.
Who would look after the boys?
How would I go travelling on my own?
Would this grand lady still be the same?
But then I decided – this was to be my trip to visit all the hidden gems of Paris. Ooh la, la! Come with me.
Favourite Parisian street
First a trip to my very favourite street in Paris – Rue Mouffetard. Starting at the fountain that featured in the movie, Midnight in Paris, we’ll stroll along the cobblestoned streets, past fresh fruit and vegetable markets overflowing with the sweetest of raspberries, tumbling bundles of artichokes and ripe pears.
Walk with me as we pass the fromagerie and heavily scented flower markets and into the many artisan boutiques and shoe shops – I’ll just pick up some ballet flats and a quirky handbag, before we stroll on to the top of the street where a plaque proclaims: Ernest Hemingway lived here.
Around the corner, watch out! We are bustled into a busy sea of students from the many universities nearby, nudging us towards the Pantheon – a beautiful Neo classical building which is the mausoleum for such dignitaries as Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Marie Curie.
Let’s cross over to the other side of the street and browse through bookstores and artisan jewellery stores, what a delight.
It’s time for tea … we’ll rest at Le Jardin d’ Ivy restaurant, and yes, there is a beautiful indoor garden at the back. In Paris, it is best to order from the fixed price menus as they are great value, but even then, look out for the fine print. Today’s feast includes goat’s cheese millefeuille, duck magret and poached pear dessert. Divine!
For lovers of the written word
Pursuing my passion, come on, we’ll browse through the antique bookstores on the Left Bank, before heading to the Marais where you find the Museum of Manuscripts and Letters.
Within this unobtrusive space are letters that have been written home from passengers on the Titanic, tiny Beatrix Potter originals, formulas written by Galileo and music composed by Mozart.
Marvel at the unique boutiques of the Marais and the quaint village of St Paul with its antique shops and hidden away squares. Around the corner is the beautiful park Place de Vosges, one of the oldest squares in Paris. In number 6 is the home of Victor Hugo – the atmospheric museum within shows how he lived his life and contains much of his writing and artwork.
We walk to the quaint Square Catherine and enjoy a home style lunch at Le Marche or if you prefer, we could go to Le Procope, the city’s oldest literature café opened in 1686.
In the evening we begin to explore the shelves of The Shakespeare and Company bookstore where you can buy your English bestsellers, alongside the classics and rare books. We could be lost for hours picking through the shelves; but don’t worry, Le Petit Châtelet – a sensational restaurant with views across to Notre Dame is nearby, let’s go. Keep an eye out for politicians and dignitaries who are regulars.
Explore the 16th Arrondisement with me
Ah, the 16th Arrondisement – full of hidden treasures. Let’s slip into the Musèe Marmottan where artwork is displayed in a home, the pieces are interspersed with antique furniture and ornate architecture.
Walk through the rooms gazing at paintings by Berthe Morisot, Gaugin and Renoir, to the basement where a treasure trove of paintings is housed donated by Monet’s family. The collection includes the beautiful Impressionistic works – Sunrise, a collection of his Nympheas (waterlilies) work and the magnificent Soleil Levant.
We’ll walk back to explore the vintage fashion shops dotted throughout the 16th Arrondisement. Reciproque has six store fronts and it is worth exploring the couture, handbag and shoe stores. There are Chanel jackets, handbags from Dior, and Christian Louboutin skyhigh heels, all at a fraction of their original prices. A pair of killer heels may make their way into my luggage.
For dinner, let’s go to Flandrin; a beautiful restaurant favoured by the locals, found in an old train station or we can board the ‘Calife’ – a bistro boat which leisurely floats along the Seine, providing you with a relaxed view of the many Parisian landmarks at night. There’s a three-course dinner with a backdrop of the City of Lights. At 10pm on the dot we will stop beside the Eiffel Tower as she put on her spectacular light show. I’m in love.
From the boat you can spy, under the Pont de Alexandre, the trendy restaurant Faust – the superb décor is fashioned after the streets of old Paris with gaslights and cobblestones, as well as atmospheric booths.
Step back in time
The next morning, for a look at medieval Paris we will take the yellow line metro to Chateau de Vincennes – a medieval, moated castle which is perfectly preserved so that you can see what life was like in 14th century Paris. Let’s walk with the locals through the many sprawling parks surrounding the castle.
Finally, after a busy morning we will head back through the Tuileries Gardens and head straight to Angelina’s to enjoy decadent hot chocolate and a pastry. Angelina’s is a Paris institution. It’s fun to people watch as the Grand dames of Paris (and often their handbag pooches) sup in the ornate surroundings.
And so, au revoir
The love affair continues and thanks for coming with me. Au revoir, Paris, until we meet again.