Adventures In France: Paris
Hello everyone! Worried that I had abandoned you on your bread journey? Nope, I’m back! After 2 1/2 weeks honeymooning in France my wife and I returned home with full bellies and camera memory cards. After starting in Paris we drove south to Dijon, Annecy, Aix-en-Provence, and Nice with brief stops in Orange, Avignon, and Cassis along the way. Here’s the quick rundown: bread, pastry, small windy roads, lavender, hikes and picnics, Michigan alumni, World Cup, Beauty & the Beast jokes, art, cheese, more bread.
Over the next two weeks (posts on Monday & Friday) I’ll be sharing the longer version with plenty of pictures. The fact that we’ve only spent 1 1/2 out of the last 6 weeks at home coupled with me starting a new job soon means things are a bit hectic, and I used up my cache of recipes and photoshops the past few months. So these two weeks will give me time to build up a few recipes to share with you. In writing this first post I have realized how difficult it will be to do this trip justice, but I am sure going to try! Today’s post will be just Paris, and on Friday I’ll detail our travels in Dijon and Annecy. Next Monday will cover Provence, and the Friday after the Riviera and some final thoughts. So, off to Paris!
We arrived in Paris in the early morning of the 17th and after a relatively uneventful journey to our hotel in Le Marais we set off to go exploring. Of course, first we had to stop for some coffee and pastry. Particularly in the area we were staying, I was blown away by the sheer number of bakeries, cafes, and restaurants. It seemed that 9/10 store fronts were food related. Dining out is a huge part of the culture and there are always more than enough happy customers to fill these different places.
We walked over to île Saint Louis, Notre Dame, and the Sorbonne (once a college tour guide, always a college tour guide). After a nap and lengthy wander down the Champs-Elysees (and up the Arc du Triomphe) we had dinner at Ladurée. We had quite a nice meal there (beef tartare and salmon picatta) but didn’t leave before picking out a few macarons (rose, caramel/sea salt, peach, pistachio, and lime/basil) on the way out, since they are known for their pastry.
We are both lucky enough to have been to Paris before, so we passed on return visits to the Louvre and Versailles. We began our first full day with a trip to the Musée d’Orsay followed by a nice late (or normal time for Parisians) lunch on the Seine. Afterward we went toward the Les Halles area to go on the ‘Bellies on Foot’ food tour with La Cuisine Paris. The tour was a really interesting blend of area architectural/political/food history, complete with visits to several specialty shops to get foie gras, cheese, charcuterie, bread, and pastry. My wife about halfway through had a very unfortunately timed stomach ache which made the tasting portion of the tour not nearly as much fun, but we would more than make up for it the next few weeks.
I asked our tour guide for some boulangerie recommendations and it was at that point that I learned about the Paris baguette competition. Each year a jury tastes well over 100 baguettes from different bakers and crowns a winner. In addition to a cash prize and the right to forever display the accomplishment proudly in their window, the winner receives a contract to supply the bread for the residence of the French President for a year. Paris By Mouth has a pretty interesting look at the competition from the inside and a handy map of recent winners for your next visit. We ended up going to several including the 2010 winner, Le Grenier à Pain.
The following day we took the recommendation of Wee from Of Bread and Quinces (thank you for all your suggestions!!) and went to Blé Sucré for croissants. As he hinted it was a bit sweeter than most I have had, but it was so incredibly crisp and flaky on the outside with the most magical buttery inside. Without any care for how I looked I was sure to let no crumb escape.
With happy stomachs we walked through the Bastille market and then hopped the metro to Montmartre. We got baguettes from Le Grenier à Pain, went to the cafe from Amélie, and had a fantastic picnic lunch halfway up the steps to Sacré Coeur.
We made the requisite visit to the Eiffel Tower and climbed near 700 step to the middle deck (who has time to wait 90 minutes for the elevator?!). There is still a pretty fantastic view even though you aren’t more than 50% of the way up, and we could see the World Cup viewing area that had been set up at the Trocadéro.
On our last full day in Paris we had breakfast at Au Petit Versailles Du Marais (2nd place in the 2014 baguette competition) and returned to the Les Halles area to poke around kitchen supply stores. We stopped at E. Dehillerin where Julia Child shopped and countless big name chefs go to buy supplies. They are known for their copper pots which perform best on a gas stove (we have electric), so we didn’t get anything. We did get a really nice pastry mold from Mora which had a seemingly endless supply of baking equipment from piping tools, pastry tins, chocolate molds, ingredients, and more.
From there it was off to the Pompidou where we spent about 6 hours (with a lengthy lunch break in between) roaming the halls of modern art exhibits. We left in time to spend an hour at the Musée de l’Orangerie to see Monet’s giant water lily paintings. I really enjoyed the art exhibits we saw everywhere else but I think this was my favorite. The eight incredible canvases themselves combined with the environment (gigantic open and otherwise bare, quiet spaces) created a really wonderful experience where you could just sit and take in each painting without much distraction. Dinner that night was at a nearby Provencal restaurant, Chez Janou, where we finished off an excellent meal with crème brûlée.
The following morning with much difficulty we returned to the airport (crazy delays from a rail workers strike caused us to abandon the hilariously overcrowded train station and take a taxi) to pick up our rental car. From there, it was off to Dijon while listening to the GPS butcher any French word it came across. The adventure continues on Friday!