Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Paris

Monday, March 22nd, 2004

Parisian on a bike

Parisian on a bike

Paris is a magnificent city that not only captivates you with its exquisite architecture, but enriches you with the depth of its art and culture. Paris is a walking city; because if you travel any other way, you will miss too much. It’s true that the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame are the key historic sites; but it is not until you have walked the different neighborhoods will you understand all that Paris has to offer. The heart and soul of Paris is not found in any museum; it’s in its people…the artist painting in the park, the writer smoking in a cafĂ©, or a woman hiking along the Seine.

Paris is a large city, broken into 20 arrondissements (districts) bisected by the Seine River. The right bank is dominated by the major historic sites, the fanciest shops, and the most expensive hotels. The left bank is more bohemian, with small cafes, antique stores and creative shops giving it an artistic flair. But Paris is not two distinct regions split by the Seine; it is a city of many neighborhoods, each with a unique charm. Rather than dwell on those major attractions covered in depth by the guidebooks; I would like to highlight a few of my favorite neighborhoods; and some of the hidden gems of Paris.

If Paris is a new city for you, perhaps take a boat ride along the Seine, or go to the top of the Eiffel Tower to get an appreciation for how expansive the city is. Although the Eiffel Tower is primarily for tourists, everyone can appreciate its splendor as it lights up like a shimmering Christmas tree every night on the hour.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

Notre Dame, located on the Ile de Cite, is a masterpiece, yet I prefer Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. The cathedral is a spectacular example of Roman-Byzantine architecture; with its massive domes and turrets. The bronze front doors are exquisite with their relief sculptures depicting scenes from the life of Christ, including the Last Supper. The vast interior is covered with mosaics and beautiful stained glass. The cathedral is perched high on a hill, the second highest point in Paris after the Eiffel Tower. The front steps are a popular rest stop, providing a dramatic view of the entire city.

Parc Monceau

Parc Monceau

Although the Lourve is described as one of the best museums on earth, and the Musee d’Orsay has a tremendous collection of impressionist art; there are a number of smaller museums that are worthy of a visit. In the 17th arrondissement, just a short walk from the Arc de Triomphe, are Musee Jacquemart-Andre and Musee Nissam de Camondo. These spectacular mansions give you a good idea how the haute bourgeoise lived and entertained in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Musee Jacquemart-Andre’s double spiral marble staircase is unbelievable; and its art collection impressive, including works by Botticelli and Bellini. Be sure to get the audioguide which provides an excellent narration on the home’s history. While in the 17th arrondissement, make sure to visit the Parc Monceau behind the Musee Nissam de Camondo; perhaps the prettiest park in all of Paris. St. Alexandre Nevsky Cathedral is a spectacular Russian Othodox church located just a short distance from the Parc Monceau. It’s five golden domes are stunning and unique, and the interior frescos and mosaics are beautiful.

Organic Market

Organic Market

Sunday mornings are very sleepy in Paris, but it is a great day to visit the markets. The grand flea market, Marche aux Puces de St Ouen on the northern outskirts of the city (metro stop Porte de Clignancourt) is a true experience. Don’t be fooled when you first see jeans and handbags; this market is one of the best places to purchase antique furniture. It spans over 15 acres and has hundreds of dealers and vendors; and will ship anywhere in the world. Camard is a reasonable and reliable shipper. Another fun market on Sundays is in the 6th arrondissement; the Organic food market on Boulevard Raspail. The Parisians bring along their shopping carts, picking up meat, fish, fruits and vegetables. There are also stands with grains, homemade sauerkraut and organic wines. But you do not have to be a Parisian to take part; you can buy cheese, bread and excellent charcuterie to make lunch for a picnic in Luxembourg Gardens. There are even stands cooking up fresh potato galettes and buckwheat crepes with egg and cheese…a great breakfast treat.

The Marais is another great neighborhood to visit, and is located about a mile east of the Louvre. It was the area of royal residence for centuries, before they abandoned the area during the revolution. The Place des Voges is the heart of the Marais. Uniform brick and stone buildings with arcades form a perfect square around a park that was the scene of many historic events over the centuries. The perfect symmetry makes it one of the most unique and beautiful squares in the world. But the rest of the Marais is not as formal. Over the last 40 years many galleries, cafes, restaurants, and chic fashion boutiques have moved in, giving it a comfortable artistic feel. Many of the old grand mansions have been restored and turned into museums. Three of these are: Musee Carnavalet, Musee Cognacq-Jay and Musee Picasso. Near the Pompidou Center is a true classic bistro, Benoit, and it is still one of the best in Paris. One of their specialties is chicken baked in a thick salt crust, really moist and delicious. The foie gras and cassolet are also both outstanding, but be prepared to take a nap after eating a meal like that

Spending time on the left bank is particularly enjoyable because it offers beauty, art and culture in a very relaxed environment. The main street, Blvd St Germain des Pres, is scattered with cafes and brasseries where people like Hemmingway, Satre and Camus spent time. Centrally located is a magnificent park, Luxembourg Gardens, where families play on the lawn and children sail toy boats in the pond. Near the Luxemburg is St Suplice, a beautiful twin-towered church. The interior is massive, with a high vaulted ceilings and large arched windows. Note the murals by Eugene Delacroix to the right of the main doors. As you stroll the streets of the left bank, you will notice a variety of artistic shops. Rue Jacob is filled with antique stores and interior designers. Rue du Bac has stores specializing in beautiful linens. Flower shops are eye popping, with Christian Totou and Flamant being two of the best. And throughout the area, art galleries, antique bookstores and chic boutiques will keep you entertained for hours. One of my favorite small museums, The Rodin, is in the 7th arrondissement. The mansion itself is beautiful, and it contains a fabulous collection of Rodin sculptures. Behind the museum is a formal garden of boxwoods and roses intermixed with additional sculptures. Visiting it is a real treat during the warmer months.

There are many great places to eat on the left bank ranging from the casual bistro to the more formal Le Jules Verne located on the second platform of the Eiffel Tower. Les Bookinistes, which is the second restaurant of noted chef Guy Savoy, is excellent. It is a more modern bistro, with a hint of Californian style. Brasserie Lipp is a classic; but stick to the basics like steak frites. Le Chamarre is a new chic restaurant. The food is French, however it incorporates exotic spices from Mauritius (home of one of the chefs). Rotisserie d’en Face has long been a favorite, serving simple meals with a focus on spit-roasted meats and poultry. Unfortunately the consistent La Bastide Odeon was extremely disappointing during my last visit; perhaps they changed chefs.

Seine River

Seine River

There are so many things to enjoy in Paris, but one of favorites is just strolling along the Seine. The river weaves through the center of Paris, framed on each side by some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Notice that each bridge is different, some more modern and sleek, others quite ornate with elaborate statues. Boats carrying tourists along the river add life to an otherwise slow moving river. It was fun watching a couple walking hand in hand along the Seine. A group from a passing boat began to call to the couple…the couple kissed and the boat erupted in cheers. Paris is a city that is alive and will capture your heart…I can’t wait to return.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Sunday, March 21st, 2004

L’Atelier is now my favorite restaurant in the entire world. Joel Robuchon, who many thought was Paris’ best chef, closed his restaurant Jamin about 6 years ago to go into retirement. A little over a year ago he opened L’Atelier, taking it in a whole new direction. Rather than the very formal style typical of Jamin; he opted for a small sleek, modern restaurant. It’s quite unique in that everyone sits at one of two lacquered bars with views into the kitchen. And even more unusual, there are no reservations.

Although the food is incredible; what made the restaurant amazing is the casual atmosphere. The first time I went, the waiter encouraged me to order several first courses, thereby allowing me to try many of the chef’s signature dishes. And since the first courses are “tastes”, usually only two or three bites, it was like designing your own tasting menu. It feels like your at a Tapas bar with the best chef in France.

Every dish I had was excellent; but let me share a few that were surreal. A carpacchio of scallop with poppy seeds, pepper, cayenne, and dill, drizzled with a citrus dressing. The brightness of the lemons, complemented by a perfect blend of seasonings, made this dish come alive; it melts in your mouth. Another favorite was a poached egg served in a martini glass covered with a frothy creamed spinach, topped with tiny croutons. It may sound odd, but it was absolutely delicious. You must try it, because there is no way you could recreate something like this at home. Languistine ravioli with truffle was one of the chef’s signature dishes from Jamin, and it tasted like velvet. It’s a large steamed dumpling stuffed with chunks of languistine, served on a bed of wilted savoy cabbage. It’s topped with black truffle and a heavenly brown sauce.

L’Atelier is located just off Rue du Bac on Rue Montalembert. Since you are not able to make reservations, I recommend going early, perhaps 12:15 for lunch. It is expensive, but worth every penny.

Worth seeking out…

Saturday, March 20th, 2004
  • E. Dehillerin, which first opened in 1820, is a kitchen supply store extraordinaire. It is where Julia Child outfitted her kitchen when she first moved to Paris, and it has the largest collection of copper pots I have ever seen. Web site is www.e-dehillerin.fr.
  • Huile d’olive (extra virgin olive oil) by J. LeBlanc is used by many top chefs including Joel Robuchon. The oil was green, cloudy and fabulous. It is sold in a tiny store on Rue Jacob. Note that many flavored oils are available as well.
  • Bathelemy is a magnificent cheese store on Rue de Grenelle. Although the store is small, it offers a huge selection of French cheese displayed on marble counter tops.
  • Although you can buy a great baguette at many of the boulangeries; Poilane bakery is a family business on Cherche Midi known for some of the best bread in Paris.
  • There are many outdoors markets in Paris, and in addition to the Organic market on Sundays on Blvd Raspail, I particularly enjoyed the one on Ave du President Wilson. It is held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. This market has been held since 1873 with some very high end vendors offering fish, meat, produce and flowers. I met a 6th generation vendor of foie gras that had plates offered for tastingÂ…decadent. The web site is www.bestfoiegras.com.

Staying on the Left Bank

Friday, March 19th, 2004

Paris is filled with magnificent hotels, and some of the most famous, such as The Ritz, George V (Four Seasons) and The Crillion are on the right bank. But if you want the more relaxed setting of the left bank, there are many smaller hotels, typically 60 rooms or less, that run from very expensive to quite reasonable.

Relais Christine is a gem. Housed in a mansion originally built in 1231, it is set back from the street by a beautiful stone courtyard. A warm and inviting lounge is situated off the lobby with elegant carpets, large comfortable chairs and a roaring fireplace. It is the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail before dinner. The rooms are large and comfortable with wonderful linens, antique furniture and marble baths. The biggest suites are duplexes, but since they are on the top floor, the small windows tend to make the rooms rather dark. Service is top-notch and even spa services are available. Rates are very expensive www.relaischristine.com

Hotel Montalembert is a modern hotel; very sleek and stylish. The chic lobby bar is certainly a place to mix with the most fashionable trendsetters, but relaxed enough to be comfortable in jeans. The rooms can be small, but are well designed. The rooms are pure luxury, sumptuous beds, marble bathrooms, and all the latest gadgets. Rates are expensive. www.montalembert.com

Hotel duc de Saint Simon is a charming hotel with 36 rooms located just off the Blvd. St Germain. The hotel gives the feeling of a French country house, but it is downtown Paris. The rooms are comfortable, although not large, with brightly colored fabrics, big pillows and beautiful antiques. A few of the rooms have small terraces with potted flowers, and tables and chairs; a perfect spot to enjoy breakfast. A small courtyard is another ideal breakfast location for those warm days. Prices are moderate.

Three tiny gems… museums

Friday, February 27th, 2004

The Louvre, the Uffizi, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art are certainly some of the finest museums in the world. However I prefer the tiny gems. The small museums that focus on only one, or perhaps a handful of artists; yet their collections will amaze you. I have three favorites: the Villa Borghese, the Frick, and the Rodin.

The Villa Borghese, which is located in the Borghese Gardens in Rome, is absolutely breathtaking. The Villa was designed in 1605 for Cardinal Scipione Borghese and exhibits sculptures on the ground floor and artwork on the second floor. The collection of Bernini sculptures, including Apollo and Daphne, is the most impressive I have ever seen.

The Frick Collection on Fifth Ave in New York City is housed in a mansion built for Henry Clay Frick in 1914. Paintings and sculpture are placed throughout the mansion in much the same way as Henry Frick did when he lived here. It is this relaxed atmosphere that makes the Frick so unique. The Living Room, Dining Room, East & West Gallery are adorned with such masters as Rembrandt, Degas, El Greco, Turner and Vermeer.

The Rodin museum in Paris is another treat. A beautiful chateau built around 1730, surrounded by perfectly manicured gardens, provides a great venue to appreciate the works of Rodin. He actually lived there for 6 years prior to his death in 1917. He donated all his work, including his private collection with pieces by Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh. Rodin’s sculptures are fabulous, and the collection includes The Thinker and The Kiss. During the warmer months, a walk through the garden of boxwoods and roses intermixed with sculpture is particularly enjoyable.

Sometimes it is much more moving to visit a tiny museum and appreciate just a few pieces of exquisite art, than diluting the experience by being overwhelmed by too many choices.