Strolling aimlessly through the streets of Paris is one of my "must do" suggestions for every visitor to the city. An essential part of experiencing the city, I've ranked it at the top of any list I give friends, right there with eating pastries. I know I'm not alone in this way of thinking either, in both the walking and the eating pastries. As I write this, I'm looking at four books on my shelf, each solely dedicated to the subject of walking in Paris. Those books are just four drops in the pool of books you can find on the subject. Not only for tourists, so popular is strolling the streets of Paris, there's a name for it in French, flâner and the stroller is a flâneur.
"A flâneur is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles thorugh a city without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the place and in covert search of adventure, aesthetic or erotic." ~ from the book The Flâneur by Edmund White
Yes, I am a fan of walking the city wherever I go, but even more so in Paris. By foot you are able to know the city easily and more intimately. When I lived there, I had some favorite strolls throughout the city, some that I would repeat almost daily. Like any true food lover, mine were based around food. Of course, I'd notice any famous monument, museum, and the grand architecture in my path, but it was the patisseries, boulangeries, fromageries and other fooderies that goverened my routes.
Each time I return to Paris, I find myself retracing these steps, seeing familiar shops and the new ones that have popped up since I've left. Whenever friends traveling to Paris ask for food & travel tips, I usually make them little maps of some of my favorite walks, marking the important food spots along the way.
These maps have been so helpful and popular with my friends that I've decided to make a series of them here on the blog. The first of these Paris Walks for Food Lover's begins with the stroll I took almost every day while I lived in Paris, and it's the first walk I take whenever I return.
It is in the heart of the Saint-Germain quarter, full of sidewalk cafés, Haussman's tree-lined grand boulevards and also narrow nooks and alleys still around from Medevial times. Besides covering some of the prettiest streets of the neighborhood, it also takes you to three of the best patisseries in Paris, many cafes - the famous intellectual ones and more, a chocolatier, and little shops where you can pick up delicious food souvenirs from your trip.
We start at the corner of rue de Seine and rue Lobineau, at Patisserie Gerard Mulot, right across the street from where my apartment was. It basically takes you on a 3/4 mile circle around the heart of the Saint-Germain quarter.
Gerard Mulot (76 rue de Seine) Chef Mulot has been on this corner for 30 years, and he has a loyal Parisian following. He not only sells pastries, but also chocolates, bread, viennoiseries and some savory items. All of which, could easily make quite a nice array of picnic fare. The staff will pack your purchases in a signature Mulot pink box to take away. My favorites are the pastries. My recommendations: the lemon tart, chocolate tart, another lemon dessert called the Harliquin, and the Troubadour - a sweet caramel & caramel mousse combination on a crunchy sablé breton. Of his macarons, the citron, the orange-cinnamon, the caramel, and the nougat are the ones I like best.
Marché Couvert Saint-Germain (4/8 rue Lobineau) - A little spot of Parisian history, the marché couvert (covered market) now stands where the Saint-Germain Fair used to be. First records of the fair date back to 1176. The fair's festivities took place yearly from February 3 until Palm Sunday until a fired destroyed the wooden building in 1762. The covered market, that now fills the space, is open every day except Monday. It has a wide range of food & produce, along with an Italian specialty shop and the wine shop Bacchus et Ariane.
Eglise Saint-Sulpice (Place Saint-Sulpice) For a little break from food, you can slip inside the church of St. Sulpice. The grand interior is the second largest in Paris, Notre Dame being the largest. The church holds the famous and biggest organ of the city where many notable organists have played. There are also three Delacroix frescoes worth seeing. Currently popular with visitors is the Meridian line on the floor of the church. Originally used as a sun dial to determine the equinox, and Easter, it is probably more famous for its mention in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. At noon on the winter solstice (December 21), the sun rays hit the obelisk at the end of the line. And, at noon on the spring and autumn equinoxes (March 21 or September 21), the sun rays hit the bronze table. The square of Saint-Sulpice provides benches where you can sit, snack on some of the pastries or listen to the water cascade from the Fountain of the Four Bishops, also in the square.
Café de la Mairie (8 Place Saint-Sulpice) If you'd prefer to sit at a table, this café is a perfect spot to look out onto the church and its square. One of the many literary cafés in the area, it has also appeared in many French movies, most likely because of its location and view of the square.
Pierre Herme (72 rue Bonaparte) - One of the big names, if not the biggest name, in French pastries. This small boutique on rue Bonaparte almost always has a line running out the door. My favorites are his Tarts "Infiniment" (immensely) in flavors of vanille, citron and cafe. Each lives up to its name and is immensely and intensely flavored with either vanilla, lemon or coffee. I'm also a fan of the chocolate dome Plentitude and the Montebello (a pistachio & almond dacquoise with pistachio pastry cream and strawberries). Of his many, and sometimes outrageous, macaron flavors, I really like the caramel. I would never recommend that you visit only one patisserie while in Paris; however, if time allows for only one, Pierre Herme is the place to go.
City-Pharma (26 rue du Four) Why, you ask, is a pharmacy on this food walk? Well, I would be remiss, especially with my female readers, for not pointing out this little gem. Not only for medicine, the French go to pharmacies also, or mainly, for cosmetics. City-Pharma has the best prices in the city and stocks many French names in skin & hair care, like Rene Furterer, Nuxe, Caudalie, Vichy, Uriage, Biotherm and many more. The prices are especially nice compared to what you would pay for them in the U.S. I make sure to stop in and stock up on my favorite brands whenever I'm in Paris.
These three cafés situated in a triangle on the corner of rue Bonaparte and Blvd. Saint-Germain have been serving big names in philosophy, literature, fashion, and the cinema for over 200 years. You can join the likes of Sartre, Albert Camus, Apollinaire, Trotsky, Picasso, James Joyce, Hemingway, Francis Ford Coppola, and Johnny Depp, just to name a few. Besides the history, all are great places to hangout and people watch while having a coffee, hot chocolate, or snack.
Eglise Saint Germain (3 Place Saint-Germain) The oldest church in Paris. Or maybe I should say, the place where a church has been for the longest. It was originally built in 542 to house holy relics. After four Norman attacks and the Revolution, only a few columns remain from the original church. The abbey was completely destroyed. Rebuilding started in the 1000s and the church was reconsecrated by Pope Alexander III in 1163. The old little church with ivy covered walls and its bell tower looming over the broad and more modern Boulevard Saint-Germain is one of the prettiest in the city. In the church's park, a tranquil spot where many trees provide shade and singing birds, is a Picasso bust, an homage to Picasso's friend the poet Apolliniare.
LaDuree (21 rue Bonaparte) Yes, another patisserie; it's also a salon de the. While LaDuree is most famous for its macarons, and I do like them - especially with ice cream, they have some outstanding pastries, too. Whether you sit in the salon or get something to take away in the lovely boxes fit for Marie Antoinette, please try more than just the macarons. My pastry favorites: Religeuse, Plaisir Sucre, the individual St. Honore, Carré Chocolat, and the Harmonie (a bigger version of the pistachio macaron, with pistachio pastry cream and berries).
Note: Strike what I said earlier about only being able to go to one patisserie. You really must go to at least two, Pierre Herme & LaDuree, and this walk makes it easy to do.
Go east on rue Jacob to get back to rue de Seine. On the way, you can stop in at Huilerie Leblanc (6 rue Jacob) to pick up artisanal olive oils, vinegars and mustards.
Bar du Marché (75 rue de Seine) On the corner of rue de Seine and rue de Buci, this might be one of the liveliest cafés in the Saint-Germain quarter. Always packed and seemingly always open, (they close at 2am), it's one of my favorite spots to sit, people watch or chat an afternoon away.
da rosa (62 rue de Seine) This is both an epicerie and a cafe, but I especially like to go here for an evening aperitif of wine with prosciutto & small plates of nibbles. They have some of the best Iberico ham from Spain and Culatello di Zibello from Italy. After nibbling, you can pick up some food items in the epicerie to take home.
Grom Gelato (81 rue de Seine) - A newer edition to my walk, this Italian gelato chain wasn't there when I lived in Paris. During my recent wanderings, I've been known to stop here for a little taste of Italy while in Paris.
Pierre Marcolini Chocolates (89 rue de Seine) Every walk should end with a box of chocolates, and this chocolatier from Belgium makes some of the finest. They are pricey, but so worth trying, even if only a few.
You can reach rue de Seine and rue Bonaparte easily from any of these metro stations: Odeon (Lines 4 & 10), Mabillon (Line 10), Saint-Germain de Près (Line 4) and even Saint-Sulpice (Line 4).
Paris Food Walks is a new series here on Food Lover's Odyssey. It is a way for me to show you "my Paris" through the strolls I took while living there and continue to take with each visit back. E very few weeks, I'll share one of my strolls through the streets of Paris with you. Some of the walks will be short and some, like this, a little longer, but they will always be inspired and attuned to the food along the path. I will include any noteworthy or historical sights, too, in case you want to take a break from eating.
Join me in Provence in 2013 for a French Pastry Culinary Vacation and learn how to create these and other classic French pastries! Details here: Pastry-Making Vacation in Provence
View Rue de Seine and Bonaparte Food Lover's Walk in a larger map