5 years, 10 months ago
Getting lost in Paris isn’t so easy these days. Doesn’t matter where you are in the city a disembodied voice will mangle street names at you until you’re exactly where you want to be, at the appointed time, all synchronised and nicely tidied and touristy. Take a wrong turn and the voice recalibrates and herds you back on track like a demented cyber-collie road-testing an electric-blue energy drink.
Good news if you’re on a sort of historic monument Supermarket Sweep. But for those who love a meander and long for the days when you had to get your bearings by having a beer and asking the waiter, it’s all a bit organised. Where’s the romance, the chance discovery, the excuse to sit in cafés, drink beer, philosophise?
Now the trick is to, ‘think lost’. You don’t need to go phone-less, you just need to put yourself in the way of places you might have happened on by chance in the good old days when doing Paris without a plan was still a possibility. I like to think of it as ‘determined drifting’. Here are a few suggestions to get started with but beware, aimlessness can be highly addictive once you get the hang of it.
La Promenade Plantée, L’Opera de la Bastille – Saint Mande
Long before New York seduced us with the High-Line, Paris gave us La Promenade Plantée. Another re-purposed railway endeavour from a country that’s turned such things into an art form, La Promenade Plantée is 4.7km of leafy greenness built along the 19th century Vincennes Viaduct. Prosaically put: it’s an elevated walkway. But for the Parisians who know and love it, La Promenade Plantée with its lush allées and open views is for strolling and earnest conversation, picnics in Jardin de Reuilly, walking dogs (on a lead please), cycling, children’s play parks and artisan shopping at Viaduct des Arts. It’s also part of the lovely Véloroute de Marne. Need a ‘vélo’? Try www.en.velib.paris.fr.
Le Camion Qui Fume
The street food frenzy’s taken its time to reach Paris (we are French, we must have cutlery) but now it’s here with a vengeance. So much so, there’s even an annual festival of all things eaten with fingers. But the original – and in my opinion still the best – is Le Camion Qui Fume. Spot a long line of unusually patient Parisians near a white and blue truck and chances are they’re waiting for the city’s finest burgers. These are the edible entente cordiale: US tradition (the owner’s from Los Angeles) and fantastic French ingredients and originality. Worth getting lost for? Certainly. But Le Camion Qui Fume is only open as long as the food lasts so if you’d rather not take a chance www.lecamionquifume.com
Le Village Saint Paul, Le Marais, 4ème
Everyone loves Le Marais. It’s like Paris stopped somewhere around the 17th century because it couldn’t get more charming. But even the quarter’s most ardent admirers occasionally complain of a slightly ‘too tourist’ shine about the ancient place. Not so Village Saint Paul. Squeezed between Rue de Jardin St. Paul and Rue St. Paul, this little ‘village’ is like the Autonomous State of Delightfulness in Le Marais. Village Saint Paul is best known for tiny shops crammed full of marvellous stuff that makes you want to move to Paris permanently just so you can have an excuse to buy things. For vintage notebooks, stationery, toys and kitchenware visit Au Petit Bonheur La Chance. Au Bon Usage has possibly the world’s most eclectic selection of chairs. Au Fil D’Elise stocks impeccably beautiful and seductive vintage clothing. Cassiopée is wonderful for glass and china. Visit Village Saint Paul at the weekend and most of the shops are open, the stated price isn’t necessarily what you’re expected to pay and wander up side-streets for real finds – sort of like being lost, almost.
Carousel, Jardin du Luxembourg, 6ème
Paris is full of carousels and if you’re looking for glamour, ignore me, and head for Hôtel de Ville. But if you like your carousels ancient and stately with proudly careworn steeds and a sense of tradition, ride the city’s oldest in the glorious Jardin du Luxembourg. For a mere €2,50 you (or someone more age appropriate) can take a turn on the very horses that have made appearances in stories, paintings and illustrations of Parisian life since 1879. And you can try your hand at ‘Jeu de Bague’ here too, a sort of carousel jousting game requiring the lightening reflexes and perfect hand eye coordination of a five year old.
Au Petit Fer à Cheval, 30 Rue Vieille du Temple, Le Marais, 4ème
Right opposite La Belle Hortense (bookshop, wine bar and Parisian institution) Au Petit Fer à Cheval would be the perfect place to find yourself in the days when you could get lost in Paris. But that’s about the only nostalgia box this little retro bar doesn’t tick. If you’re lucky enough to snag a seat on the pavement or at the street front windows Au Petit Fer à Cheval is ideal for people watching. And it’s open till 0100 so you can drink beer until you eventually need to ask one of the waiters for directions.
Square Marcel-Bleustein-Blanchet, Montmartre, 18ème
credit: Klasse im Garten
The Square Marcel-Bleustein-Blanchet in Montmartre gives you the city’s best view of the Sacre Coeur – bit of a turn-around, since most people head up the Sacre Couer for a view of everything else. Apart from its famous and mighty neighbour, the Square is one of the prettiest small parks in Montmartre and the dense, leafy allées are gorgeous on a summer afternoon. Take a stroll and watch the locals play Pétanque, then name one thing more French than the click of boules.
Marché d’Aligre, Quartier Bastille, 12ème
One of the biggest and busiest morning markets in Paris, Marché Aligre sells every ingredient you could ever want and then some. Dive in and don’t be shy. This is a working market that draws serious cooks from all over the city and help, advice and general chat is as much part of making a living here as selling stuff. Go early for fresh bread and fish, then stay on till lunchtime and take a plate of oysters and a glass of wine at Le Baron Rouge – it’s a bit of a tradition and attracts the tv and film types who live locally so expect to eat on the pavement and on your feet. Marché Aligre is open every day till 1300 and closed Mondays, but it’s best mid-week and at the weekend.
Last word of advice on ‘determined drifting’: if you do find yourself in need of directions don’t, under any circumstances, use your phone’s place name pronunciation. Trust me, those Parisians aren’t laughing with you.