So where should I start with this amazing place called Paris?
First, a general suggestion for planning a trip to a city. Gather all the tips and suggestion you collected online and mark them with numbers on the city’s map, with a key on the side describing the names, addresses and types of places. Don’t trust yourself to remember everything just by the name alone. This way you can easily find all the interesting places you found online and wanted to check out while touring the city streets on foot. You’re unlikely to miss museums and monuments, but it’s a shame to miss a hidden restaurant or shop you wished to visit but missed four blocks ago. From experience, you never go back, because there is so much to see moving forward…
I’m happy to share some of my notes with you and most note that Paris is filled with countless great shops and restaurants. Therefore, I will only mention several “flag ships” which, in my opinion, make the Parisian experience even better.
Merci – A charming shop on the edge of the Le Marais. It’s an environment-friendly concept shop which donates a large part of its profits for social development.
The shop is filled with charm and inspiration with a focus on the whole shopping experience, rather than just the products themselves.
It is divided into departments: Furniture and Houseware – great!
Clothing (unnecessary, in my opinion), Gardening, Jewelry, Cosmetics, Café and Restaurant.
An excellent place for great gifts.
Le Bon Marche – Luxury boutique spreading over a huge area of a building. On the entrance floor you will find every possible fashion “super”-brand and on higher floors you will find departments for houseware, furniture, lighting, clothing (children’s included), lingerie (if not in Paris…), cosmetics, toys and more. The price is high as is the demand. I don’t have pictures because I felt uncomfortable pulling my camera out in such a refined environment. If you like beautiful and up-to-date items in an uncompromising quality (and with no budget limitations), this is the place for you.
L’Occitane Spa – Right in front of “Le Bon Marche” is the “L’Occitane” shop, whose branches can be found back home as well. Only, here above the French cosmetic shop there is a spa. After several days of intensive walking from dawn till dusk, a spa treatment will fill like a first aid treatment bordering on a lifesaving one more than a mere luxurious treat. Ordering an appointment ahead of time is mandatory, I managed to make one just one day earlier, and I can safely say this was the best massage I ever experienced. I don’t know if it was because I desperately needed it… but it was definitely a great joy and put me right back on my feet.
Galeries Lafayette – One of the world’s most beautiful and famous department stores. Beside the abundance and product quality, it’s worth visiting just for the beautiful building itself. A colorful glass dome rises 30 meters above the balconies of the five floors. Beautiful Art Nouveau details give the whole building a jewel-box-like appearance.
Colette – The French ‘temple’ of coolness and trends. Here you will find magazines from all over the world, gadgets, art, fashion and souvenirs. The prices are ludicrous and in my opinion disproportional to the products themselves. With all due respect to the ‘coolness’, and there is respect, it felt somewhat empty to me. Still worth a visit.
Food and Restaurants:
It seems no nation takes its culinary legacy with the same seriousness as the French, and it’s our gain. Countless excellent boulangeries (bakeries), patisseries (pastries), fromageries (cheese shops) and wine shops in every street corner combined with countless gardens and parks promise tasty and romantic picnics whenever you wish. Some notes about three places every ‘foody’ should check out.
La Grande Epicerié – Lousy translates to “The Grand Grocery Store”, which is quite of an understatement. The daughter store of “La Bon Marche” (across the street), it is a “super deli” sprawling across an area of over 3,000 m2.
You can find any kind of food in it, from all over the world, in countless types and qualities. From the standard to the bizarre.
For example, those are candies made from alcohol with various insects and arachnids inside them. We bought the vodka one with the yellow scorpion, though only as a “conversation piece” and to freak the boys out.
A glimpse to the “water wall”. It includes dozens types of water from all over the world, in case you thought water are simply water.
The prices aren’t low and the containers are beautiful. You can buy hermetically closed products which will survive a flight or food ready to be eaten from the deli.
Pierre Hermé – He is one of the most praised pastry chefs in the world. He owns several stores in Paris, as well as in serval other cities around the globe. I marked all of his stores on my map, just in case I will need something sugary all of a sudden. On my birthday’s morning I chose the Buonaparte street store for our breakfast.
And it wasn’t easy. Usually I’m glad my eyes are bigger than my eating capacity, but this time I regretted it… and had to choose.
I chose a tart with pistachios cream and strawberries, Sheets of milk chocolate with gnash on a wonderful torte, and the best of all was the divine vanilla tart. We washed the sweetness with a pink champagne we bought at the “La Grande Epicerié” just a few blocks over, as we rested in a small garden next to the shop.
Gerard Mulot – Located in the same quarter, right next to the Luxemburg Gardens. An excellent place to organize a great picnic in the adjacent park. Beside the mandatory patisserie boulangerie (which we didn’t check, as we were on our way to Pierre Hermé…), the deli as countless fresh and tasty quiches, salads and sandwiches.
Fauchon – Located in Madeline Square close to the opera house is one of the most famous delis in the world. Fauchon’s empire started with a small grocery shop which opened in 1886 and evolved over time into a grand Parisian culinary institution. In one building there is a deli for prepared food, a café and a bar, and in the next building packaged gourmet food, chocolate and marmalades are sold.
In my opinion, the branding is horrible, with outlandish pinks and blacks which ruins the apatite, but the food is marvelous. One of the shop clerks, who saw us trying to understand the difference between ten different types of foie gras, was happy to accompany us through the store with explanation about the different products in the store, and even let try various types of food. We bought several types of delicious mustard (unlike anything from the supermarket), goose liver, champagne jam, cheeses, wines, baguettes and marmalades.
If you still have room for more, we will move on to the restaurants.
Le Moulin de la Galette – Located on the Montmartre and named after the famous windmill which was the inspiration for many of Renoir’s and Van Gough’s paintings. Confusingly, the restaurant is also located inside a windmill close to the titular one.
Unfortunately, here as well the pinks-and-blacks design does more harm than good. We preferred to sit on the small patio. While the plastic flowers and the bored waiter were a letdown, once the food arrived it was precise and delicious. It’s a great restaurant with sensible prices, and one of its owners is the chef Antoine Heerah. Definitely a league above the tourist traps around it.
Les Diables au Thym – A small and surprising restaurant not far from our hotel. The kind of meals which leave you both satisfied and hungry for more. The place’s design is simple and lacks pretension, small tables with white tablecloth, a complete contrast to the served dishes. The staff itself didn’t speak English well, but the other dinners helped us communicate. The small space between the tables leads to a quick conversation with the neighboring dinners. The rest of the dinners were locals (usually a good sign) and they told us the chef is a rising star with flattering reviews. And the meal was indeed excellent.
Aux Lyonnais – A bistro owned by the highly-acclaimed chef with the Michelin stars Alain Ducasse. It was first opened in 1890 and is filled with historic charm. Alain Ducasse bought it in 2002 and added it to his collection of restaurants, which gives the dinners an opportunity to eat food from one of the leading chefs of the world. The prices are sensible but not cheap and the food is excellent but not as complex as in some other restaurants. In the end the experience is worthwhile and highly recommended. We ordered the following dishes:
A glass of champagne, little bread toasts with cheese dip and onions, a plate of sausages and goose liver with potatoes.
Artichoke and foie gras, rabbit legs, Saint Marcelin cheese (which was the most delicious cheese I ever tried).
And for dessert, a chocolate praline.
It was delicious and challenging. For a meal with so many dishes, you should come hungry, and avoid the inviting breads served next to the sauces.
The waiters were charming, attentive and surprisingly friendly. During the meal there were some graceful mistakes, uncharacteristic to such restaurants, which embarrassed the staff, but only entertained us (we come from a far more laid back culture, after all). By the end of the meal, once the head waiter heard it was my birthday he insisted on treating us with an additional dessert. Unfortunately, we were so full we couldn’t eat a speck, so instead he excused himself and soon after returned with two glasses of pink champagne, then, he leant toward us and whispered “after you taste this champagne you won’t be able to drink any other type of champagne”. And indeed, it was an excellent champagne! I took a picture of the bottle (here above) and searched for it in the “Grande Epicerié”. They were surprised from the specific request and we were told it’s from a highly-acclaimed boutique winery. While they didn’t have the exact same wine, they did have other wines from the same winery, one of which we brought home with us.
At the end of the meal we received a gift, a great looking recipe book of the various dishes served in the restaurant. Excited and a little bit tipsy, I first shook the head waiter’s hand, but when it felt lacking, I kissed him on both chicks, as French tradition dictates. He was flushed with surprise, but soon afterwards looked proud and we said farewells to each other in good nature. We laughed about it all the way back to the hotel, knowing that the meal was one we would remember.
I hope you were filled with inspiration for your next vacation, because a real vacation is the best gift you could give not only to yourself, but for your family as well, your health, your partner, and your career. One thing I envy the French for is the “Vacances”, a national summer vacation during August, with no pretense. From the CEO to last of the janitors, from the ice cream shops owners (Once I asked the owner of one of the best ice cream shops in Paris how could he close the shop in August when it’s the season for ice cream and tourism?! and he didn’t understand the question) to the boutique owners. Everybody knows that a time out from the race of life, family quality time, the accumulation of experiences and the much needed rest are necessary for balance, sanity and happiness. Instead here we insist on staying in our August “soup” (35 degrees Celsius, with 90% humidity), with the kids on vacation, meetings and work, even though year after year I find that no one really get anything done during this month anyway. A double loss, both with the kids and with work.
So until we would wise up ad organize a real national summer vacation, don’t give up on yourselves and give yourselves at least a few days off each year in order to “recharge” yourselves.