Ahh...Paris in spring. the thought provokes images of window boxes overflowing with flowers in bloom, Parisians picnicing on the grassy fields of tree lined parks, the smell of freshly baked Croissants in the morning and couples hand in hand strolling along the banks of the Seine.
Although glimpses of this "Paris in Spring" were present during our trip, it was a bit early for warm spring weather. A few light sprinkles of rain and cloud cover cooled our first full day making for an enjoyable walk through the city, A full day of rain and cold breezes dampened our walking tour of the gardens of Versailles, then sunny/partly cloudy, cool weather prevailed for the rest of the trip. Despite the weather Paris delivered once again forming great memories for years to come
With Paris now a short 2.5 hour flight for us, we can easily return to enjoy Paris anytime. Our last visit in 2005 we focused on the sights and monuments that most first time visitors do. The Eifel Tower, The Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Les Champs-Elysée, Notre Dame, The Latin Quarter, etc... For this trip we set our sights on exploring new areas of Paris along with a day trip out to Versailles.
The districts of Le Marais and Canal Saint-Martins were the focus for this trip so we based ourselves in Chatelet, an area just off of the right bank of the Seine river in the heart of the historic district.
I'm trying something a bit different in this post by displaying all photos in a grid format. By doing this sometimes the photo gets a little cut off around the edges but you can still click on a photo to see full size and scroll through in full size mode as well.
We stayed at the small 38 room 19th century Hotel Britannique. The hotel was perfectly located for our focus this trip, great streets and neighborhoods for walking and taking in the sights, several small restaurants, bakeries and shops within a few steps of the hotel and convenient metro stops and transportation options at our doorstep. The staff and services, although limited at the Hotel were top notch, the rooms were small as expected for an older hotel but well maintained and clean. The elevator was very small, about the size of a phone booth but we were happy there was one as our room was on the fifth floor. The walls were a bit thin, we could hear conversations in the next room, the view was of the building next door but quiet and insulated from street noise at night.
For our first nights dinner we were craving a French experience in both food and environment. The Hotel recommended Au Vieux Comptoir just around the corner for authentic home style french cuisine. It was too cold to sit outside so the indoor seating was packed tight and cozy, which turned out to be okay. The food and service were outstanding and very reasonable. We sampled a Burrata and cured tomato starter (I know, it's not French), Ravioli, Fish, and Paris Brest for dessert.
The historic district of Le Marais was the first order of exploration this trip so we signed up for a walking food tour through the district. Heading out mid morning we stopped around the corner at our new favorite Boulangerie, Paris Baguette for coffee and pastry to start the day. Passing through small side streets and bustling tree lined main streets filled with parisiennes headed to work, it was a short walk through Le Marais to meet up with our guide for the morning. Our guides purpose for the day was to not only fill our bellies and please our palates with some of the best renditions on classic French treats, but to educate us a bit along the way. Most of the shops that we stopped in focused on one item and were awarded accolades for their work. Along the historic district route we sampled...The best Viennoiserie (Croissants) @ Au Petite Versailles, Chocolates & Macaroons @ Le Lautrec, Falafel @ Chez Hanna, Tea @ Mariage Freres, Gaufres Méringues @ Aux Mereilleux de Fred, Fromage (Cheese) @ Laurent Dubois, Croque Monsieur and wines @ Vins des Pyrenees.
Our "Splurge" for the trip was dinner at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Étoile. First, let me say that the food was fantastic. perfectly prepared and presented. The service however, was rushed and inattentive. We felt like we were hurried like cattle through the meal service. The Sommelier was very good, although the wine selections were very overpriced. The menu is priced for a three star restaurant but would be hard pressed to receive one star due to the overall experience. The restaurant is in a basement so it can feel a little enclosed but the decor was nice. Most of the seating is at a "Bar" surrounding the kitchen so you can observe the preparation.
We opted to curate our own tasting menu from the ala carte items starting with Coquille Saint-Jacques, Langoustine in truffled ravioli, with steamed green cabbage, Vendee Quail caramelized with duck foie gras and chanterelle mushrooms, Noirmoutier Sole entire small boat, “Belle Meunière”, and a nice bottle of white wine
After dinner a short walk from the Arc de Triomphe and down Les Champs-Elysees then a short metro to Chatelet where we walked along the Seine at Pont Neuf and back to the hotel.
At Pont Neuf a huge sculpture in the likeness of Yayoi Kusama has been erected at the headquarters of Louis Vuitton. The Japanese artist appears to be repainting the facade of the building with colored dots, which just happens to be the theme Louis Vuitton's new dotted collaboration with the famous designer.
Early the next morning we´re off to the train station to meet our guide for a day of exploration in Versailles. A short train ride brought us to the Versailles station about an eight minute walk to the gates of the Palace. The town of versailles is much more than the Palace and gardens and is certainly on our list to spend additional time in when the weather is a bit nicer. As far as the Palace and Grounds are concerned, perhaps the weather was influential but to me its a one time visit. The opulence and lavish spending of other people's money to boost your own ego doesn't have so much appeal.
Our tour began in the gardens of the palace which are grand and quite stunning. You could certainly spend a full day on the grounds alone marveling at the spectacular fountains, sculptures and carefully curated and manicured gardens. If it were not for the rain we would have spent more time outside and opted for the golf cart rental in order to cover more ground
Inside the Palace we were joined by hundreds of fellow tourists wandering through the many floors and wings in amazement of the sights.
Late lunch in Versailles at La Guinguette. A small casual bistro featuring classic French and International dishes. We opted for the International and went with a Pastrami club and the crispy chicken taco
More sights from walking the streets of Le Marais.
Dinner tonight at Lombardi, craving a little Italian food tonight and found this casual restaurant place for outstanding pasta dishes. The Rigatoni al Funghi with Sauce Champignons, morels, grilled chicken and Parmesan was fantastic.
A little political unrest during our stay. The government had just passed an increase of two years to the retirement age from 62-64. We noticed a few businesses has broken and/or boarded up windows from a few protestors who chose to be destructive. Law enforcement was out in full force, the Police in the white vans and the Gendarmerie in the dark blue. Since we were near the Government center the streets around the hotel were used as a staging area for the riot police. One night we were sitting at a bistro across the street from the hotel when eleven Gendarmerie vans came around the corner with blue lights flashing, lined up the vehicles at the curb in front of the windows while patrons inside the Bistro watched in curiosity. As the Gendarm poured out from the vans in full riot gear we watched a few disburse to the nearby streets then rushing to return as an apparent call came in to move the convoys, with lights and sirens blaring, to another location. We never felt threatened by the protests especially with all of the police presence to ensure that they were demonstrating peacefully.
On the agenda today is a walk crossing through Le Marais into the Canal Saint-Martins neighborhood up along the canal to Parc de la Villette where we will hop on a boat to cruise down the Canal through its 9 locks and into the Seine river. Canal Saint-Martin is both a waterway and a trending area of Paris.
An up-and-coming neighborhood filled with younger Parisians who are attracted to the cheaper rents, la branché (that's trendy in French ), the restaurant scene, and the canal itself. The streets of Canal Saint-Martins are peppered with cafes, ethnic restaurants, and old favorites like Le Verre Volé, Chez Prune, and Hotel du Nord. You instantly feel that this is a neighborhood as you approach by the many families, dog walkers, and local establishments that fill the streets. A large section of the canal is covered and creates a long garden like parkway. Today we ran into a neighbord market set up along this parkway filled with vendors and locals stocking up on their supplies. Further along the canal re-appears and is lined with restaurants and shops along the streets while locals sit on the canal edge basking in the warmth of the sun.
After a lengthy walk we arrived at Parc de la Villette where we boarded the boat for the 2.5 hour cruise down stream. It is a very leisurly trip as the boat navigates through nine locks but the scenery along the way is beautiful. We eventually transition into the tunnel portion which is under the Parkway where we walked earlier. Skylights at the top of the tunnel let in abundant natural light creating artful reflections as the sun bounces off the water and onto the brick walls. As we exit the tunnel and pass through the final lock we enter the Siene river passing some of the city's famous monuments. Notre Dame can be seen covered in massive scaffolding as restoration continues from the devastating fire in 2019. The city is hard at work to finish projects like this prior to the Summer Olympics in 2024.
Another short walk from the Hotel we enjoyed dinner tonight at Au Trappist. As the name suggests there are many belgium selections for food and for beers. The food was very good, a great variety, and reasonable prices. Most dishes are large and appropriate for sharing. We sampled the endive and blue cheese salad, French Onion soup, Mussels Marinara, and Steak Frites.
Our last morning in Paris calls for one last pastry at our new favorite Boulangerie and a quick trip to pick up French cheeses for home and as gifts for our neighbor.
A la prochaine Paris