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