Dublin, Lisbon, Rome – where will your next citybreak be?

When spring arrives with sunshine and daffodils, it always puts me in the mood for planning my next getaway, a mini-break to throw off the chill of winter and tide me over until the summer holidays. If you’re in the mood for a weekend away in Europe or the UK, take a look at the fun web app from SuperBreak to fuel your holiday inspiration. Whether you’re planning a relaxing half term break with the family, a weekend of eating and entertainment with your friends, or a cultural city-break with your partner, here are some of the destinations that you might want to consider;

If you’re a couple looking for a weekend of food, drink and entertainment you might look at….

Dublin

Dublin at night Photo by Lendog64 on Flickr

Dublin at night, the ultimate party town

What Superbreak have to say; Just a quick jump across the water and you can enjoy traditional Bars, comedy clubs, delicious local food and the ever-so-friendly Irish welcome! Guinness at the ready!

What I enjoyed about Dublin;

  • I love the way that the Irish always have a story to tell, that you can go into any pub and strike up a conversation with a complete stranger and there’s always some music and a song or two.
  • Visit the Guinness Storehouse in an amazing 7 storey old warehouse with modern glass additions to learn about Dublin’s favourite tipple – you’ll be shown how to pull the perfect pint of the black stuff and can buy up the brand’s heritage (love the retro toucans).
  • Take the train out to Sandy Cove, a seaside spot where the members of the 40 foot swimming club test the water every day of the year and where James Joyce lived in an old Martello tower and liked to take a dip.

Here’s what I wrote about Dublin: The best of TBEX, the best of Dublin

But if you and your partner are looking for a weekend of culture in Europe, why not try…

Rome

The Trevi Fountain in Rome Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Throw your coin in the Trevi Fountain in Rome to return some day

What Superbreak have to say; With a wealth of history, culture and plenty of Italian charisma, you can’t help but feel the love on a weekend break in Rome with someone special.

What I enjoyed about Rome;

  • Buying a gelato from the kiosk shop on the island in the Tiber and eating it with a view of the river where Dan Brown’s hero, in the book Angels and Demons, parachutes out of an exploding helicopter to land on the island.
  • Visiting the Turtle fountain or Fontana delle Tartarughe in Piazza Mattei first thing in the morning before the crowds have gathered – so much more charming and less crowded than the Trevi Fountain.
  • Visiting the daily fruit and vegetable market in Campo de’Fiori and buying a slice of pizza fresh from the oven from the artizan bakery at one end, then sitting on the steps of the central monument to eat it.

Here’s one of my stories about Rome: The view from the dome of St Peter’s in Rome

If you are a couple who fancy a weekend of culture in the UK take a look at …

Stratford-upon-Avon

The river at Stratford-upon-Avon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Picnic by the river at Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare

What Superbreak have to say; Discover the quaint city of Stratford upon Avon on a romantic weekend break. Step back in time in this historic city and see the spots where Shakespeare’s most famous plays were created.

What I love to do in Stratford-upon-Avon;

  • Visit the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, a fabulous venue that has gone through a multi-million pound renovation. You must try and get a ticket to see one of their Shakespeare productions but even if you can’t, be sure to pop in to wander round the building, visit one of the exhibitions, climb the tower or take a backstage tour.
  • Taking afternoon tea at the Arden Hotel right opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the perfect place for a lunch stop in between sightseeing or a pre-theatre dinner before you pop across the road for the performance.
  • Several of the houses in and around Stratford associated with Shakespeare and his family are open to the public, and we we especially love Anne Hathaway’s Cottage with its cottage garden and the settle by the fire where young William might have snuggled with his new bride Anne.

Here’s what I wrote about Stratford-upon-Avon: The Tower and other Transformations at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon

But if you are a group who’d like a weekend of culture in Europe why not try …

Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Visit the great Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

What Superbreak have to say; With history, landmarks and iconic French architecture around every corner, Paris offers everything a group would need for a cultural break. Don’t forget your camera!

What I enjoyed about Paris;

  • Wandering around the Parisian’s choice of market, Marche d’Aligre with the most polished and perfect fruit and vegetables, a mouthwatering selection of prepared dishes in the covered market and a flea market where you can buy everything from vintage footwear to elegant wine glasses.
  • Walking down Canal Saint Martin to admire all the houseboats and then continuing along the narrow footpath right beside the Seine, with views of Notre Dame in the distance – a world away from the tourist crowds at the cathedral itself.
  • Exploring the covered arcades with art galleries and street cafes in Place des Vosges and then visiting Maison Victor Hugo to find out about the life and times of this celebrated French writer, author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Here’s what I wrote about Paris: Our winter weekend in Paris, the food, the sights, the video

And if and your friends are looking for a weekend of culture in Europe, why not try…

Lisbon

The vintage trams in Lisbon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ride the vintage trams in Lisbon up the hill

What Superbreak have to say; A weekend break in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital offers an eclectic mix of fascinating Portuguese history and contemporary art and culture.

What I loved about Lisbon;

  • Listening to the mournful Fado singers who perform in the restaurants in the Bairo Alto and Alfama neighbourhoods – don’t expect the food to be anything special but the music will touch your soul.
  • Eating Pasteis de Belem from the famous cakes shop near the Monastery of Jerónimos - these creamy custard tarts are the signature of Lisbon and you can either sit in the vaulted cafe rooms at the back of the shop or take them away to eat in the gardens overlooking the port.
  • Taking the yellow, vintage No 28 tram up the hill to the Castelo de Sao Jorge where you can walk around the ramparts and gaze over the rooftops towards the river where the ships left to conquer the New World centuries ago.

Here’s one of my stories about Lisbon: An autumn weekend in Lisbon – Podcast

There are plenty more inspirational short break destinations to discover with the SuperBreak app so why not give it a try and see where your inspiration leads you.

About the Superbreak Holiday Inspirator:  To celebrate their 30th anniversary, Yorkshire based holiday company  Superbreak.com have created a fun app to help you choose the perfect UK or European city break based on who you’re travelling with and what you enjoy. Check out the Superbreak Holiday Inspirator Webapp or follow the coversation on the Superbreak Facebook Page or on Twitter @Superbreak using hashtag #SuperBreakinspo

This article is brought to you in partnership with Superbreak.com

Photo Credits: Dublin at night by LenDog64 Other photos by Heatheronhertravels.com

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

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

If you can’t see the video above of our Winter weekend in Paris, view it on my blog here and on YouTube here

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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

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