My husband and I were thrilled and blessed to make our first trip to France earlier this summer, and I have to say, I can definitely see why the country and Paris especially are so world-renowned. They were almost everything they are cracked up to be, and then some. Gorgeous in the travel videos we saw and even more so in person. It was even worth the fact that now, nearly a month later, I still have a stark distinction between my workout personal bests in the “before France” and “after France” categories.
Paris was our first stop. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it: I’m not a “big city person,” and I don’t see myself as a “Paris person” either. But I loved it. It was an enchanting combination of old and new beauty, history, architecture, and sophistication. We only had a few days, so we darted from museums to neighborhoods to sights, trying to fit in as much as we could while still taking time to enjoy leisurely cheese trays, glasses of wine, and people-watching.
The best restaurant we found was Les Bonnes Soeurs at 8 Rue du Pas de la Mule, 75003, near Place des Vosges in the Marais district. (Mind you, our strategy was to fit convenient restaurants into our sight-seeing instead of seeking out the best and brightest eateries in the city.) Our guidebook called it an inventive blend of light-hearted and traditional fare, with “the best fries I’ve tasted in Paris.” Now, “inventive” and “light-hearted” are definitely my cup of tea, but “best fries?” Not so much. We had already rejected two restaurants before deciding on this one, so it was with high hopes and a bit of weariness that we sat down. It turned out to be one of my favorite restaurants of the entire trip, and by far the best we came across in Paris.
My husband and I were traveling with my lovely mom, who is gluten-intolerant and so loves to see potatoes in restaurants. She verified that the hamburger and fries were in fact fantastic. What stole the show for me was the chilled avocado-mint-cucumber soup. It was so good that my mom considered ordering it after her meal instead of dessert, and I wanted to come back for dinner and order it again. I can’t wait to try to remake it at home. My husband had bruschetta, the highlight of which was an incredibly flavorful blended basil-oil drizzle on the bread under the tomatoes and chopped basil. I had a tough time choosing a main course but settled on mushroom risotto. The women at the table next to us ordered the presse de chevre as an appetizer, and it turned out to be a huge, gorgeous stack of layered goat cheese, tomatoes, and olive tapenade. It was all I could do not to take pictures, but I sized up the French patrons around us and decided with a sigh that I didn’t want to be the disturbing American in the restaurant. :)
Nearby, Amorino serves tasty gelato shaped like roses at 31 rue Vieille du Temple, 75004. Wish I’d known about the chocolate made with organic soy milk flavor I just found on their website! Also check the site for locations in numerous other cities, including New York, Berlin, Barcelona, and London.
We happened upon a fun kitchen store on the walk between the restaurant and gelato place, I think it was either on Rue St. Antoine or Rue du Rivoli, the busy thoroughfares. I gleefully snatched up a few adorable polka dot bowls, two tiny heart-shaped dishes, and two tea bag rests. Then I managed to protect them against breakage in my suitcase for the next 8 days of the trip! I’m so sorry I neglected to catch the name of the place, but David Lebovitz has a list of similar stores that I wish I’d read before traveling.
There was a charming flower market, much bigger than you’d expect, right on the street next to the Cite Metro Stop on Ile de la Cite. The Conciergerie was close by and we were so glad we stopped in. It was a beautiful former prison, bursting at the seams with centuries of historical significance. You can see a re-creation of Marie-Antoinette’s cell there and the building itself was gorgeous.
We walked up the stairs to the second level of the Eiffel Tower, which resulted in a lovely view, but also made our calves sore for way more days than seemed fair. And, truly, we are reasonably fit people! We hike, run and walk on the treadmills at the gym, and go on hour-and-a-half walks with the dog. My mom said she had no such effects the one other time she visited and took the stairs. So I’m not sure if we went too fast or if we were dehydrated from the plane or what, but consider yourself appropriately warned!
Sadly, we didn’t make it to all the museums we wanted to visit, but we did go to the Louvre, which was much more chaotic than I expected. I’m not sure why I thought it would be a serene strolling museum instead of mayhem, but I did. We liked the Orsay better, but it was still strangely more like a loud, jostling herd of people than the world-class museum I imagined. Maybe one day we’ll try again in the off-season! The Orangerie was more easily likeable- much smaller but mercifully less crowded, and full of lovely Impressionist works including Monet’s wall-size water lilies.
We stayed at the Hotel Beaugency in the Rue Cler area, at 21 Rue Duvivier, 75007. It was fine for a big city hotel and the location was okay- walking distance to the Eiffel Tower and surrounded by little cafes and a small street market. But, the hotel rooms were tiny, even by European standards. Though of course we spent very little time in the room, it was still inconvenient to have to scoot around the bed one at a time or crawl over it instead of, you know, walking upright. And, though there were plenty of restaurants in the area, we never found one that was above-average. If I had to do it over, I think I’d seek out a hotel in the Marais area, which seemed to have more appealing restaurants and shops.
Another place you might be interested in staying is the Gentle Gourmet Bed and Breakfast, which is vegan and can accommodate other special diets too. We wanted to go there for dinner, but didn’t end up squeezing it into our visit this time.
The guidebook we relied on was Rick Steves’ France 2011. I always find his writing dependable and helpful, and I enjoy his TV show as well. We definitely got our money’s worth out of this book, and honestly would have even if we’d paid twice as much. I also wish I’d known about David Lebovitz’s site before our trip. (Yes, I am probably the only food blog reader in the world who was unaware of David Lebovitz.) It looks like he has a great deal of information collected from his years living in Paris.