Our winter weekend in Paris – the food, the sights, the video

Let me take you along on our pre-Christmas weekend break in Paris with a round-up of everything that we enjoyed. We had winter blue skies and walked everywhere we could, enjoyed plenty of delicious food, met up with old friends and made new ones, tried to avoid the cliche sights and find some hidden corners. Here’s my Paris diary;

Christmas market in front of Notre Dame in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Christmas market in front of Notre Dame in Paris

Friday night flight from Bristol

We arrive late on Friday night, on the Air France flight from Bristol. From Charles de Gaule airport it’s easy to take the RER mainline and connect on the Metro to Montparnasse, although it’s around 10pm before we finally reach the hotel. It’s dark and drizzly and the area around the hotel looks unremarkable, like many a city centre with restaurants closing and late night corner shops. We walk through the colourful modern lounge area of Hotel Pullman and check into our room on the 23rd floor ready for a good night’s sleep, as the next day we have a tour of Marche d’Aligre planned.  Read my review of Hotel Pullman Paris Montparnasse here.

The lounge at Hotel Pullman Paris Montparnasse Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The lounge at Hotel Pullman Paris Montparnasse

I hope you enjoy the video below of our Winter Weekend in Paris

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Our deluxe room at Hotel Pullman Paris Montparnasse Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Our deluxe room at Hotel Pullman Paris Montparnasse

Saturday morning – a tour of Marche d’Aligre

Saturday morning and the grey of the night before seems to be lifting, as we enjoy a good breakfast in the stylish modern Restaurant Justin, with fruit, yoghurt and a miniature version of my favourite French breakfast pastry, the pain raisin. Of course, if I was a true Parisian it would just be a quick coffee, crust of baguette and a cigarette on the run. We catch the Metro to Ledru Rollin and are soon greeted by our guide David, from Viator who run various food tours of Paris. After a quick oriention of the Paris arondissments – everythings done by numbers here rather than names as we would in London, we stroll through the market admiring the most beautifully presented produce I’ve ever seen.

Not a speck of dirt anywhere and everything is fresh, shiny and arranged in neat and appetising piles. David explains that this is market is 300 years old and receives the pick of the Rungis wholesale vegetable market, yet because of the fast turnover, the prices here are very reasonable. We hear how Jerusalem artichokes that were a staple in WW2 have been redicovered by fashionable chefs, how round courgettes are grown to be stuffed into Farcis and how certain varieties of the humble potato are so highly prized that they can cost a small fortune.

Vegetables in Marche d'Aligre, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Vegetables in Marche d’Aligre, Paris

Moving inside to the covered market we are practically drooling at the piles of cheese, the fresh meat and charcuterie and the fat fois gras which David explains should be covered in salt and spices to cure for a few days before being served at Christmas. We buy a pinch of saffron at the Tunisian grocer and some old fashioned sweets at the Grainetarie before admiring all the pretty glass and porcelain in the flea market.

Finally we move on to some of the food shops where we take a tasting plate of cheeses into the nearby wine shop to try with a glass of 2001 Medoc that the wine merchant has opened for his Christmas customers. We work our way through the creamy Rocamadour, earthy Saint Nectaire and finish with some blue Roquefort topped with a sliver of Pate de Coings or Quince cheese which is a delicious balance of fruity and salty.

Cheese shop in Marche d'Aligre, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cheese shop in Marche d’Aligre, Paris

David leaves us with a recommendation of of some of the market restaurants to try for lunch and we squeeze into a table at Le Chat Bossu where Guy enjoyes the rabbit stew Plat de Jour and I’m feeling adventurous so I try the Steak Tartare – raw chopped steak seasoned with capers, ketchup and tabasco according to the waitress. Read about our Gourmet Tour of Marche d’Aligre here

Trying Steak Tartare at Le Chat Bossu Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Trying Steak Tartare at Le Chat Bossu

Saturday afternoon – exploring Bastille and a walk by the Seine

After lunch we have a few hours to fill before a rendezvous with an old friend on the Rive Gauche, and with the sun shining we decide to walk towards the Seine and enjoy soaking up the atmosphere of Paris. Our path takes us by chance up onto the Promenade plantée, a green pathway on an old viaduct high above the street level, which we walk along until the path runs out and we descend the steps to street level again.

Promenade Plantee in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Promenade Plantee in Paris

Further along the road we reach Place de Bastille where there’s a Christmas funfair underway just beside the July Column that was built to commemorate the revolution of July 1830. The busy road intersection and the family crowds around the funfair have broken the peaceful mood of the Promenade Plantee, and we decide to seek calm along the banks of the Canal Saint Martin that runs down to join the Seine.

The July Column at Bastille, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The July Column at Bastille, Paris

We dip down from road level, to walk alongside the tow-path on a level with the houseboats that are moored here. It reminds me a bit of the Regents Canal in London as we weave under the canal bridges and then turn left to walk along the Seine along a narrow cobbled footpath. Down here it seems a world away from the busy streets of Paris and we can see Notre Dame in the distance on Ile de la Cité.

Canal Saint Martin in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Canal Saint Martin in Paris

Walking along the Seine in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walking along the Seine in Paris

Path by the Seine in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Path by the Seine in Paris

We have to pass several bridges, walking further than we’d like in the wrong direction before we finally find a place to cross the Seine and walk back in the opposite direction to enter the Jardin des Plantes.

It’s set out in classical French style with long vistas looking down towards the Natural History Museum, although some of the beds are full of herbs and other botanical plants giving them a wild and romantic look which contrasts with the formal paths and parterres.

In the Jardin des Plantes in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

In the Jardin des Plantes in Paris

Exhibition in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Exhibition in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

Down the fence to one side is an art exhibition with some oversized close-up photography of crystals and rocks and we can see in the next part of the garden the Menagerie. Guy is very taken with the Hotel des Abeilles – a Bee Hotel made of wood where the bumble bees and other insects can hibernate in winter, as Guy is in charge of the bees at his work. I’d like to go in the glass-houses which remind me of Kew Gardens but there’s a charge, a queue and we don’t really have enough time anyway.

Greenhouse in the Jardin des Plantes Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Greenhouse in the Jardin des Plantes

Hotel a Abeilles in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel a Abeilles in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

We hurry on to our meeting with my old friend Pierre-Jean and his three lovely teenage boys – I used to stay with his family in Bordeaux when I was their age, and we have a happy hour or two over a beer remembering old times.

Saturday evening – dining with locals with Cookening

Back at Hotel Pullman Montparnasse we make a quick turn-around, before heading out again to have dinner near the hotel with our Cookening host, Adelia. We want to try out the concept of dining with locals which is catching on in many European cities and have booked through the Paris based Cookening website that connects dinner hosts and dinner guests. Luckily Adelia’s apartment is within walking distance of our hotel and before long we are enjoying an eye-wateringly strong rum Caribbean punch and nibbling on some hot meat pastries.

Crab soup at our dinner with locals through Cookening Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Crab soup at our dinner with locals through Cookening

It turns out that Adelia is originally from Guadaloupe and she cooks us a delicious French Creole meal of rich crab soup and chicken with beans and “Sauce Chien” followed by caramalised pineapple and mango ice cream. We spend a very pleasant evening chatting with Adelia and her daughter about life in the Caribbean where she is headed for Christmas, as well as French politics and the high level of taxation, which seems to be a topic of concern for every Parisian we meet. With all the rum punch and wine thank goodness it’s just a short way back to the Hotel Pullman. Read about our Dining with Locals with Cookening

Dining with locals in Paris via Cookening Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dining with locals in Paris via Cookening

Sunday Morning – church and coffee at St Justin de la Pauvre

On Sunday morning we’ve arranged to meet our friends again for mass but we want to catch a bit more of the Sunday morning market scene so we get off the metro a couple of stops early at Rue Mouffetard where we’ve heard there’s an excellent market. We walk down the street itself which is certainly full of wonderful food shops, but are disappointed to find that there doesn’t seem to be a market there today.

Fishmongers on Rue Mouffetard, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Fishmongers on Rue Mouffetard, Paris

Undeterred we walk up Rue Monge towards the Seine dodging the queue for fresh artizan bread that’s forming outside Eric Kayser. Although this popular baker has other branches around the city, this is his original branch and all the breads are named after landmarks of the 5th aronissement where it’s situated. There’s time to drool outside the windows of Le Bon Bon au Palais, a cute sweet shop which was full of Japanese schoolgirls last time we passed by and has jars of colourful marshmallows in the window. Sadly we are there just before opening time and no time to wait.

Church of Saint Julien-le-Pauvre in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Church of Saint Julien-le-Pauvre in Paris

We arrive within sight of Notre dame at the church of Saint Julien le Pauvre with a Christmas craft market in the square close by, and enjoy the music and service at this Catholic/Greek Melkite church with a beautiful gilded altar screen. Afterwards we pop across the cobbled street for coffee in the tiny Odette tea shop which is known for its choux pastries in a multitude of flavours, and from the miniature upstairs tea room we can pretend we are in our medieval garret looking towards Notre Dame on the other side of the River Seine.

Odette tea shop near Notre Dame in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Odette tea shop near Notre Dame in Paris

Sunday afternoon – Place des Vosges and Maison Victor Hugo

Leaving our friends, we pass in front of Notre Dame Cathedral where the queue of tourists is snaking out the door and I instinctively zip up my bag against the pick-pockets and scam-merchants that frequent such tourist hot-spots. Nevertheless, we take a few photos of the carved stone facade that is sparkling white after a 10 year cleaning project, before walking on through the pretty garden of Jean XXIII and over the bridge onto Ile Saint Louis. The main road of rue Saint Louis-en-l’Ile is full of small, charming shops and galleries, including Galerie Kara, which sells jewellery, antiques and objets for the home from India, China and Asia and is owned by a friend, but as it’s closed we walk over the bridge into the Marais. We’ve heard that this is the trendy area of Paris, and indeed the narrow streets are picturesque although we’re surprised to find that the small shops are mainly filled with well-known high street brands.

Place des Vosges in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Place des Vosges in Paris

The streets are crowded and full of tourists but they thin out as we arrive at Place des Vosges. We love the elegant 17th century architecture that surrounds the square which has a small park where locals are relaxing and children playing. Surrounding the square are arched arcades with art galleries and cafes and we walk around three sides of the square before we find what we’ve come to see; Maison Victor Hugo. The apartment at 6, Place des Vosges was lived in by Victor Hugo between 1832 and 1848 and is now a museum, run by the City of Paris. It is furnished in the same style as it would have been in Hugo’s day, although it represents more of a commentary on his life than an exact replica of the way he left it, unlike his house on Guernsey which we visited when we were there.

Chinese room in Maison Victor Hugo, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Chinese room in Maison Victor Hugo, Paris

We particularly enjoy the rooms that feature Hugo’s own decoration, such as the Chinese room which was originally designed by Victor Hugo for the house on Guernsey of his mistress Juliette Drouet. The final room is the red bedroom which houses the original furnishings and decor of Victor Hugo’s bedroom from another Paris apartment with his dark oak fourposter bed and tall desk where he could write standing up.

Victor Hugo's bedroom at Maison Victor Hugo, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Victor Hugo’s bedroom at Maison Victor Hugo, Paris

After our visit, we decide to make the most of the fine weather and walk back from Place des Vosges, crossing the Seine and walking back along past the booksellers on Quai Austerlitz who are starting to pack up for the day. We stop to buy a Bob Dylan poster as a gift for our teenage son and contine to Pont de l’Archevêché immediately opposite Notre Dame where lovers come to attach a padlock with their names and throw the key into the river.

Book sellers along the Seine in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Book sellers along the Seine in Paris

The views of Notre Dame from the river as the evening sky turns pink are stunning, but by now we’ve run out of energy and take the metro back to our hotel. Read my article about Notre Dame here.

Notre Dame at sunset, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Notre Dame at sunset, Paris

Sunday evening – dinner at Hotel Pullman

As many restaurants are closed on Sunday night, we decide to dine in the hotel at Cafe Atlantic. As an aperitif, I enjoy my Ciapirinha cocktail while Guy has a beer before we moved to the casual dining area for a light dinner.

Cocktails at Hotel Pullman Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cocktails at Hotel Pullman

I  order the Plat de jour with grilled fish in a creamy sauce while Guy chooses the Jarret de Veau braisse, a small steak with a mixture of braised Mediterranean vegetables, followed by a plate of cheese with green salad. And so to bed, to pack our bags ready for the flight home tomorrow.

Monday Morning – coffee with friends

On Monday morning we check out of Hotel Pullman and head back towards Notre Dame for coffee with a childhood friend, Fabienne (owner of Galerie Kara) whose family I frequently visited as a teenager in Bordeax. We chat over old times and catch up with family news before she accompanies us back to the Ile de la Cite train station to catch the RER train back to Paris Charles de Gaule for our Air France flight home.

Flight from Paris with Air France Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Flight from Paris with Air France

All the Paris posts

Our hotel room with a view – Review of Hotel Pullman Paris Montparnasse with video
A Postcard from Notre Dame de Paris
The fresh taste of Paris – our tour of Marche d’Aligre with Viator
Dine with the locals in Paris (via Guadaloupe) – with Cookening
25 delicious food tips in Paris – from top bloggers and Paris locals

Visitor Information for your weekend in Paris

Flights: Heather and Guy flew with Air France from Bristol to Paris – thanks to Air France for providing Heather’s flight. There are several flights per day with Air France to Paris Charles de Gaule Airport from London Heathrow and other regional airports.

Getting from the airport: The best value and quickest way to get from Charles de Gaule Airport (also known as Roissy) is to take the train directly from the airport station (a 10-15 min walk from the arrival gates). We bought a ticket at the machine (around €9.50 one way) in the station which covered our journey on the RER regional train to central Paris, with an easy change onto the Metro to take us to our hotel. The whole journey was around 1 hour from CDG Airport to Montparnasse. An alternative which might suit you if you are staying near Montparnasse is the Air France ‘Les Cars’ Airport Bus which drops you right opposite the Hotel Pullman Montparnasse where we were staying (around €16.10 one way). The Paris by Train website has useful information about getting to and from the airport by train and if you’re combining business and pleasure you’ll find this Business Travel Guide to Paris useful on the HeatherowExpress Blog.

Getting around: We found the metro to be an easy and convenient way to get around and all tickets are valid on metro and buses so you can keep your options open. We considered buying the Ticket Mobilis day passes but were glad we didn’t in the end as we found that a ‘Carnet’ or book of 10 individual metro tickets (€13.30) lasted us both for the weekend, as we only took 1-2 Metro journeys each day and walked to many places as the weather was good. Information about Metro options here

Where to stay: We stayed at Hotel Pullman Montparnasse, a large, modern hotel opposite Gare Montparnasse which is very conveniently situated for transport links and an easy ride on the Metro to all the main sightseeing areas. The decor is vibrant and modern, with great views over the city from the upper floors, and we found the staff to be very friendly and helpful. Thanks to Hotel Pullman Montparnasse who hosted our 3 night stay in Paris.

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

The fresh taste of Paris – our gourmet tour of Marché d’Aligre with Viator

Where in Paris can you buy the best fois gras for your celebration meal, eat oysters with a glass of chilled Sancerre on a Saturday morning or take away a delicious rotisserie chicken from the North African butcher for your bargain Sunday lunch? Marché d’Aligre is one of the oldest and most popular markets in Paris and has a repution for both its reasonable prices and fantastic quality produce, so we were deighted to explore the market with the help of  local guide David, on our gourmet walking tour with Viator.

Heather and our Viator guide David in the Fromagerie Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather and our Viator guide David in the Fromagerie at Marche d’Aligre

We met outside the Metro Ledru Rollin and were looking around for the crowd of people when David approached us and explained that today the group would consist of only me and Guy (it would never be more than 8 people anyway). David gave us a quick orientation of the different neighbourhoods or arondissements that surround Marché d’Aligre which is in the 12th, before leading us down the street towards the market.

Marché d’Aligre was established 300 years ago and the area was originally a neighbourhood for carpenters and artizans, but now has a large North African poulation which gives the market a multicultural flavour. As a bonus you get three markets in one place; an outdoor fruit and veg market, an indoor food market and an outdoor flea market, as well as many food shops in the streets nearby – quite a magnet for gourmets. It’s also a great area for bars and restaurants, as you can be sure that with access to the best of the market, the produce will be really fresh and high quality. David pointed out a few possibilities for lunch such as Le Baron Rouge (1 rue Théophile Roussel), an old fashioned Parisian wine bar where you can stand and order wine by the glass, accompanied by oysters which are served at weekends. Just around the corner we noted his recommendations for Le Charolais (15 rue de Cotte) for top quality meat or Le Chat Bossu (126 rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine) for steak tartare which I later tried for lunch.

Vegetables at Marche d'Aligre in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Vegetables at Marche d’Aligre in Paris

We strolled with David through the open air market, marvelling at the beautifully presented piles of fruit and vegetables. Everything was plump and appetising, with not a leaf out of place and no sign of dirt or earth. Many of the stalls are supplied by small specialist farmers and because of its high turnover the market gets the pick of the produce from the huge wholesale Rungis market.

With the eye of someone who loves to cook and eat, David pointed out the unusual varieties of vegetables; the Topinambour or Jerusalem artichoke which was a cheap staple during the second world war and has now been made fashionable by the top chefs; the globe shaped courgettes that are used to make farcis or stuffed vegetables baked in the oven; and the speciality potatoes such as those from Noirmoutier on the Atlantic coast, the purple Vitelotte potatoes and the nutty Ratte de Touquet. As David described how the mild white onions should be cooked down slowly in butter to make a caramellised syrupy sauce, my mouth was starting to water.

Fresh Vegetables at Marche d'Aligre in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Fresh Vegetables at Marche d’Aligre in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

We stopped at the Algerian butcher who sold some of the best meat around according to David, although you won’t find it as beautifully presented as in the French butchers who prepare everything ready to pop in the oven. They sold an excellent Merguez, a spicy North African sausage made with veal or lamb and on Sunday mornings there’s a queue down the road for their rotisserie chicken that we could see roasting on the spit. We popped into the Tunisian grocer who was having a chat to his customers, all ladies in headscarfs, and came out with a pot of saffron for a couple of euros to put in our risottos. Just around the corner was the Graineterie, with the old fashioned atmosphere of a hardware shop at home, although in fact it sold grains and flours for cooking as well bird seed for your canary with some household and gardening items at the back.

Cheese stall in the covered market at Marche d'Aligre in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cheese stall in the covered market at Marche d’Aligre in Paris

Next stop was the covered market with several butchers, cheese stalls and fishmongers which would be the place to buy some deli items for a picnic or the paupiette stuffed meat parcels to carry home and cook in your apartment. We noticed the large Fois Gras duck livers ready for Christmas that come from the Périgord region of France, the land of the Three Musketeers, and a luxury at around €60 for one liver. To prepare the fresh liver, David told us how to leave it in the fridge for a few days covered with sea salt and spices to cure, before serving as a luxurious starter or canapé.

In front of the covered market, there was a flea market which is here every day filling the square, with brocantes, vintage clothes, antique china and glass with a bit of African art thrown in. I was tempted by some pretty antique glasses engraved with stars but decided they were probably too delicate to get home in one piece.

Flea Market at Marche d'Aligre in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Flea Market at Marche d’Aligre in Paris

Around the market were plenty of food shops and we popped into a fromagerie where David pointed out the sign on most of the cheeses that indicated they were Lait Cru or unpasteurised. Apparently this is a concept that some of David’s American visitors find hard to believe – all those germs! “But it’s the germs that make the cheese so tasty!” David assured us. On the counter running the length of the shop were the mild Brie de Meau and the stronger Brie de Melun, oozing gently. There was the Mimolette,  a French version of Gouda from Lille that had been aged for 36 months to develop the flavour, the Brebis made from sheep’s milk from Pays Basque in the Pyrenees, the Saint Nectaire from the Auvergne that every French family has in their fridge and the Comté de Noel from the Jura, a 24 month matured version of Comté that’s popular at Christmas.

Cheeses at the Fromagerie in Marche d'Aligre in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cheeses at the Fromagerie in Marche d’Aligre in Paris

As the cheese shop was getting pretty busy, we moved on the wine shop along the road to taste a platter of cheese that we’d brought from the fromagerie with a Tour de By red wine from the Bordeaux Medoc region which was a treat that they had opened for customers to taste. We worked our way through the cheeses in between sips of our expensive wine with David providing the tasting commentary. We tried a Rocamadour, a creamy goats cheese which is often served melted on salad and the Saint Nectaire which was mild and creamy with a sharp aftertaste of the ash that’s put on the outside of the cheese and gives it flavour. Next we tasted the smooth and elegant Basque cheese Ossau-Iraty which was perfect with a glass of wine, then the rounded and flavoursome Comté which had been matured for 24 months rather than the normal six, finishing with the blue Roquefort served with a slice of Pate de Coings or Quince cheese.

Les Chocolats d'Aligre in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Les Chocolats d’Aligre at Marche d’Aligre in Paris

For desert we moved onto Les Chocolats d’Aligre next door where they specialised in selling the chocolates of different artizan chocolatiers in and around Paris. The photos of the producers were on display, many of them proudly wearing the tricolour collar or ribbon that indicated they had been awarded the coveted status of Meilleur Ouvriers de France.

Like wines or coffee beans, the cocoa beans are from specific places in Madagascar, Venezuela and Peru and the French style of chocolate is to minimise the fat and sugar to make a darker, intense flavour, in contrast to the Belgian style which is more creamy, using the fat around the cocoa bean. We tried three different chocolates; an unusual coriander flavour, followed by one with a classic smooth ganache filling and then a nutty chocolate to finish. We couldn’t resist buying a box of the prettily coloured chocolate tubes as a gift for our Cookening host that evening as well as some Sauternes soaked chocolate raisins for Christmas entertaining.

After a couple of hours our tour of the market was at an end but David was happy to share his gourmet’s knowledge of the Paris food scene with us and told us where to go for the best chocolate and patisseries. As our tour ended right outside Le Chat Bossu, we decided to take David’s recommendation and try it for lunch.

Lunch at Le Chat Bossu at Marche d'Aligre in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Lunch at Le Chat Bossu at Marche d’Aligre in Paris

The restaurant was busy with no tables free but by now we’d adopted the Parisian attitude to food – if it’s full it must be good and we were prepared to wait, sitting at the zinc bar with a coffee. Once we were seated at a tiny table with our backs against a large mirror wall, Guy ordered the Plat de Jour which was a dish of rabbit and vegetables while I decided to try the Steak Tartare that David had recommended. The waitress looked at me quizzically and asked “You know what it is Madame?” While many might find the idea of raw meat rather unpleasant, I enjoyed this dish of raw chopped steak with the texture of smoked salmon, flavoured with mustard, ketchup, tabasco, capers, salt and pepper. Our lunch of two dishes plus a couple of drinks and coffees was €33.50, quite a bargain for Paris.

If you’d like to visit Marche d’Aligre

Marche d’Aligre is open daily Tuesday-Saturday 8am-1pm and 4pm-7.30pm. On Sunday the market is open only until 1pm and it’s closed Monday. The food shops and stalls in the covered market keep normal shop hours. Nearest Metro: Ledru Rollin

Our tour of Marche d’Aligre was provided by Viator.com who offer sightseeing tours and activities worldwide with knowledgeable local guides. Viator have many different food themed and other tours in Paris and you can book the same Walking tour of Marche d’Aligre here. The cost at time of writing was around £51 per person for a 2 hour tour (although David spend more like 3 hours with us as I was taking so many photos) which I thought was excellent value. The maximum group size is 8 people and we were the only people on that day, so we were lucky to get a personal tour. Thanks to Viator who provided a complimentary tour for Heather and Guy.

More tales from our trip to Paris

Our hotel room with a view – Review of Hotel Pullman Paris Montparnasse with video
A Postcard from Notre Dame de Paris
Dine with the locals in Paris (via Guadaloupe) – with Cookening
25 delicious food tips in Paris – from top bloggers and Paris locals
Our winter weekend in Paris – the food, the sights, the video

Visitor Information for your weekend in Paris

Flights: Heather and Guy flew with Air France from Bristol to Paris – thanks to Air France for providing Heather’s flight. There are several flights per day with Air France to Paris Charles de Gaule Airport from London Heathrow and other regional airports.

Where to stay: We stayed at Hotel Pullman Montparnasse, a large, modern hotel opposite Gare Montparnasse which is very conveniently situated for transport links and an easy ride on the Metro to all the main sightseeing areas. The decor is vibrant and modern, with great views over the city from the upper floors, and we found the staff to be very friendly and helpful. Thanks to Hotel Pullman Montparnasse who hosted our 3 night stay in Paris.

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

Click to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, news and reader offers

HOHT newsletter

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Dine with the locals in Paris (via Guadaloupe) – with Cookening

“It’s not the rum that makes you drunk, it’s the sugar!” joked Adelia as she mixed us an eyewateringly strong punch from her native Guadaloupe. She scooped out the fresh passionfruit that she’d bought earlier at the market into the glass of rum, cane sugar and freshly squeezed lime and showed us how to swirl our glass to dissolve the sugar in a way that is second nature to anyone from the Caribbean. Our dinner with “Une Vrai Parisienne” was getting off to a good start!

Heather with our Cookening.com host, Adelia Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather with our Cookening host, Adelia

I’d read plenty about the concept of  ’supper clubs’ where locals in a city open their doors to groups of paying guests for a meal or culinary evening – a sort of Air BnB for dining out. When I met Frenchman, Cédric Giorgi at a conference and learned that he was a co-founder of a ‘Dining with Locals’ website called Cookening.com I wanted to try out the concept for myself during our weekend in Paris.

There were many interesting hosts in Paris on the Cookening.com website but I decided to book with Adelia, as her apartment was near our hotel and her profile said that she specialised in French Creole cooking which I thought could bring an interesting perspective on Parisian food. A few messages via the Cookening website later and Voila! here we were sitting in Adelia’s sitting room, chatting like old friends.

Adelia’s apartment overlooking Boulevarde de Montparnasse was quite small which is typical for central Paris. The kitchen was tiny and I thought it’s no wonder that Parisians eat out a lot compared to the English who generally entertain at home. Adelia was originally from Guadaloupe but had moved to Europe in her 20′s to study business and later settled in Paris. We were joined for dinner by her teenage daughter Josephine who came in from a day’s shopping and showed us the outfits she had bought for all her parties at Christmas and New Year.

Adelia makes us a Rum Punch from Guadaloupe Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Adelia makes us a Rum Punch from Guadaloupe

After plying us with the rum punch Adelia revealed that the strong one was typically drunk by the men, but that the ladies usually preferred the Planter’s Punch she had made with pineapple, orange juice and guava mixed with rum. “How do you tell a Frenchman drinking champagne from a man from Guadaloupe?” Adelia asked us. The answer?  A Frenchman will swirl his champagne first to release the ‘nose’ and then sip it, while a man from Guadaloupe will sip first and then swirl the glass as if swirling his rum punch to dissolve the sugar.

We nibbled on some minature meat pastries and also the Caribbean speciality of Boudin Creole – a small fat sausage with a soft filling that was highly spiced with nutmeg, cloves and chilli – a little too spicy for my tastes. To add to the Caribbean flavour, Adelia played us some opera, sung by Fabrice di Falco, a ‘Sopraniste’ with a high warbling voice from Martinique, the next island over to Guadaloupe.

Adelia serves us Crab soup from Guadaloupe Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Adelia serves us Crab soup from Guadaloupe

Before long, Adelia’s tiny little dog, Itsy, got loose from the bedroom and started running around wildly, checking out everything we were doing. Josephine showed us the little cage that she’d bought so that he could fly with them on the plane when they went back to Guadaloupe for Christmas. “What breed is he?” we asked. “He’s mixed” replied Adelia laughing with her daughter “just like us!”  We talked a bit about the places we had travelled and Adelia told us how her relatives were scattered all over the world, which made for some good holidays. Her uncle had once showed her how Guadaloupe was a tiny speck on the map of the world and advised her to leave if she could. Now the family was scattered all around the globe.  ”We’re not a family” she joked, “we’re a UNESCO!”.

We moved to the dining table that Adelia had beautifully decorated with a white table cloth, scattered with red leaves and chilli peppers as decoration. Our first course was a rich, creamy crab soup with a pile of fresh crab meat. On Easter Monday in Guadaloupe, all the families go out to the mangroves by the sea to fish for crabs. While eating our soup, Adelia told us about her family in Guadaloupe and her Grandfather who had received five citations from General de Gaule for his bravery in the Second World War.

Left: Creole style chicken with rice and beans, Right: Cooked pineapple with mango ice cream Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Left: Creole style chicken with rice and beans, Right: Cooked pineapple with mango ice cream

The conversation moved even further back in history to the topic of slavery in the Caribbean. “In Guadaloupe we call white visitors Les Oreilles” Adelia told us. “We pretend it’s because they can’t understand our language but actually it’s because if a slave escaped and was recaptured, the white masters would cut off their ear.” Many escaped slaves tried to get to Canada where they could live freely but were often pursued for many years afterwards to make an example of them.

We moved onto the main course of chicken with rice and beans served with a delicious sauce of onion, garlic, oil and lime juice which is served over many different dishes in Guadaloupe, such as grilled fish or chicken. They call it Sauce Chien, because its so good that you could eat a dog with it and it would still taste delicious! The people of Guadaloupe don’t have a high a regard for dogs, we learned, as it was the dogs that would be sent out to track down the escaped slaves. In Guadaloupe the ultimate insult is to say that you “lie like a dog” or you’re “lazy like a dog”. But when people joke that the people of the Caribbean are lazy, they retort  ”We worked for four centuries for free, now we have four centuries to relax!”

Heather and Guy enjoy the Cookening dinner in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather and Guy enjoy the Cookening dinner in Paris

After the main course, Adelia’s daughter brought us a refreshing glass of coconut milk followed by our desert of caramalised pineapple with mango ice cream, garnished with a pod of vanilla. The conversation turned to travel plans for 2014 and Adelia recommended another of her favourite islands, Dominica which has rivers, vocanoes and geysers.  All too soon the meal and the evening was over and we walked the short distance back to Hotel Pullman Montparnasse where we were staying.

The whole Cookening experience with Adelia was delightful. Not only had we eaten some delicious food but through it we’d explored the whole culture and history of Guadaloupe and the French Caribbean, as well as making new friends of Adelia and Josephine, not to mention Itsy the dog.

Tips for booking a Dining with Locals experience

  • When reviewing which host to contact, look at their location as well as the price, as when the evening is over it’s nice to have just a short journey back to your hotel, not a trek from one side of the city to the other. We were really pleased that Adelia’s apartment was within walking distance of our hotel.
  • Check whether there are already dinners arranged for the dates you are free as this is more likely to mean to are part of a larger group. If the host is taking a booking just for you then it will probably be a smaller group, perhaps just you and your host.
  • Contact your first choice of host and then give them a day or two to respond before contacting other potential hosts. We found that the hosts were very quick to get back to us so there was no need to contact lots of people.
  • After your evening don’t forget to leave a review, as this helps other guests to choose a host that’s right for them. On the Cookening website the hosts also leave a review of the guests, you can see what Adelia wrote about me here.
  • Check whether the booking fee is included in the advertised price or whether it’s an extra that will be added as you complete your booking.

You can book your ‘Dining with locals’ experience on the Cookening website. There are a large number of Cookening hosts in Paris and also in different locations around France and Europe, offering everything from aperitif, to brunch and dinner. Thanks to Cookening who gave us a voucher to try out the experience.

More fun from our trip to Paris

Our hotel room with a view – Review of Hotel Pullman Paris Montparnasse with video
A Postcard from Notre Dame de Paris
The fresh taste of Paris – our tour of Marche d’Aligre with Viator
25 delicious food tips in Paris – from top bloggers and Paris locals
Our winter weekend in Paris – the food, the sights, the video

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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