Photo By: Photos by Eren Gknar/Special to the Town Crier
With just a few days to squeeze in all the shops and restaurants in Paris, you have to whittle down the list. We started by finding our home base in the St.-Germain-de-Près-district.
Although we depended on the Internet and a variety of guidebooks, our trial-and-error method slowed us down, too.
Hotels and restaurants
A good travel agent might steer you toward the right hotel or district, depending on your interests.
Priscilla Repetti at Ligtelyn Travel in Los Altos, for example, recommends Hotel D’Aubusson, 33 Rue Dauphine in the Sixth Arrondissement on the Left Bank. Close to Pont Neuf on the Seine, D’Aubusson offers “incredible service,” according to Repetti. Staying three nights or longer can lower the rates, but rooms start at 365 euros.
“It’s a deluxe, small boutique hotel, very charming and accessible,” she said.
Off the beaten path – taxi drivers got lost dropping us off – we stayed at the four-star Hotel de l’Abbaye, 10 Rue Cassette, which seems deceptively inconspicuous. Once inside, you notice the so-Parisian ivy-filled courtyard lounge with striped upholstered chairs. We had breakfast daily, dipping pain au chocolat and croissants happily into our café crèmes.
It was also a good place to meet fellow Americans and get tips, although the small restaurant was open to the public. Debbie Horn, a Texan who said she visits Paris annually, suggested we take in the marché des puces (flea markets) around Paris, including the Marché Vavin. One treasure she brought home for her son was a French version of Lincoln Logs designed in castle shapes.
Our small-by-American-standards room overlooked the courtyard, and we could often hear French wafting up from locals who had stopped by for a glass of wine. With free WiFi, air conditioning, a working elevator and room service, 265 euros a night with petit dejeuner seemed doable. A bottle of champagne greeted us our first night, and fresh fruit appeared magically wrapped in sprigs of mint every afternoon. The 44-room refuge runs specials and also has suites.
Nearby, the Metro St. Sulpice took us wherever we wanted to go, although we factored in time to get lost each trip.
We discovered a friendly bistro, Le Vin Sobre, 25 Rue des Feuillantines in the Fifth Arrondissement. Approximately a mile from the Musée d’Orsay, it’s a neighborhood bistro where you can get an above-average plat du jour. We sampled the kir and got good advice on the wine list from the owner.
The Sixth Arrondissement provides plenty of shopping and eating opportunities. We heard a lot about Deyrolle, 46 Rue du Bac, a taxidermist mentioned by Adam Gopnik in his book “From Paris to the Moon.”
Next to the hotel, the Café Cassette, 73 Rue de Rennes offered three-course meals, or you could just have a coffee or wine. We ordered a plate of cured meats to share for 14.50 euros and were surprised to find that Happy Hour spanned 6:30-8:30 p.m., as at many brasseries.
A walk to L’Odéon Theatre, near the Luxembourg Gardens, uncovered the Marché St.-Germain-des-Près, 14 Rue Lobineau. Stores and boutiques, like Nid d’Abeille and Le Phare de la Baleine, coexist with the Gap.
Several restaurants dotted the square, including J’Go, a French chain featuring home cooking like lamb pots and grilled lamb plates. We had two “formules J’Go” for 36 euros each, featuring beans and lamb, as well as Plaisance Rose wine. The food attracted an after-work crowd of Parisians, not so many tourists.
Ladurée patisserie, 21 Rue Bonaparte, is a tea house offering rainbow colors of macaroons. Bring home boxes of tea cups or fancy patisseries that will definitely make an impression, but they’re not cheap.
Restaurant with a view
We had hoped to take in dinner at Le Jules Verne, 11 Rue Augereau, Champ de Mars, the Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, but it was closed for the August vacation. Our Cityvision tour guide assured us that we would have had to make reservations weeks in advance, anyway.
Luckily, we got a similar view at the less gastronomically feted Le 58 Tour Eiffel, also a Ducasse eatery at the Tower, which boasts several smaller self-service cafes. Lunch started at 20 euros for “picnic chic” meals, including starter, entrée and dessert. Wine costs more, but we never sat down at a table in Paris without wine glasses already set out. After ordering at a downstairs counter, we packed kitschy steel girder baskets with our bread and desserts to carry back upstairs.
Settling in with the amazing view of the Trocadero district, we nibbled on a maché mayonnaise salad, seared tuna with mashed potatoes and Eiffel cake made with pralines and chocolate. The floor-to-ceiling windows make the lookout spectacular, and later we stepped out onto the 360-degree observation deck to spot Sacré Coeur on Montmartre and Hotel de Ville (City Hall).
While most other landmarks had sit-down restaurants inside, only the Louvre’s self-service cafés were open, so we followed the crowd to Café Marly, in the Napoleon Court under the Richelieu wing. We had a great view of the I.M. Pei-designed Pyramid, and while the café was crowded, the food was average.
Day trip to Chartres
Our impromptu day trip to Chartres merited the time away from Paris. There, we took in the stained glass and the beautiful cathedral, listening to an organ concert in the hushed church.
We found gifts to take home across the street at a souvenir shop: a fleur-de-lis pillow and some provencal Santons, or little saint figurines used in nativity scenes.
The town itself charms with its meandering streets, medieval section and scores of shops with quaint storefronts. We ate at a bistro right in front of the cathedral but later spotted several others, like Tomate & Piment.
For lunch, we had delightful quiche salad plates at Le Pichet 3, 19 Rue du Cheval Blanc, a real country place that calls itself a “restau-boutique” because it also sells locally made food, jewelry and scarves.