Paris: A Taste of the Marais

When you are an American in Paris, traversing the city in search of the best food, it is cliché – but perhaps inevitable – to invoke Julia Child, she of the unbounded enthusiasm for France’s culinary pleasures. Winding through the city’s charming streets and eating in its delicious restaurants, I kept thinking about her – and one specific piece of Julia Child wisdom in particular continued to pop into my mind:

“People who love to eat are always the best people.”

It’s true, isn’t it, though? Everywhere I went this semester, from Budapest to Stockholm to Lisbon and beyond, I made a point to search for the local delicacies. Along the way, I met plenty of people who were passionate about food: cheesemakers with an encyclopedic knowledge about how fromage is aged, chocolatiers who take pride in infusing their treats with unexpected flavors, shop owners who are passionate about sourcing their ingredients from local suppliers, and, of course, fellow traveling foodies, searching, like me, for their next great bite. And all of these folks, all of these culinary enthusiasts from every corner of Europe (and beyond), were pretty wonderful people, just as good old Julia promised they would be.

I met up with one such group of awesome foodies in Paris, where I took the Taste of the Marais food tour with Paris by Mouth. Led by our excellent guide, Jennifer, we began at 134 RdT Bakery. Just how good is this place? In 2013, it won 2nd place for the best croissant in Paris, and in 2009, it took home 2nd for the best baguette – a pretty notable feat in a town jam-packed with world class bakeries.

We stocked up on goodies and headed to a nearby park to snack. There, our guide explained exactly what to look for when shopping for your daily croissant or baguette. When picking a croissant, make sure to buy the croissant au beurre, made with real butter (stay away from the croissant ordinaire, baked with margarine).

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When it comes to baguettes, look for bakeries labeled “Artisan Boulanger” – this means that everything is mixed and baked right on site. As for the baguette itself, when you cut into it, its interior shouldn’t be too white – think more of a beige or light brown – and it should have large, irregular holes (note: if you’re interested in learning more about what makes a baguette great, this video from Paris By Mouth is pretty handy).

Fortified by our delicious croissant and baguettes, we headed around the corner to Jacques Genin, purveyor of gourmet chocolate, caramels, and pâtes de fruits. Genin himself, we were told, has a bit of reputation for being eccentric and mercurial – in other words, he’s pretty much what you would expect any artistic genius to be.

Genius, by the way, is not a word I use lightly; the confections at Jacques Genin were incredible. We were lucky enough to sample several treats. First, we tried spearmint chocolates. Genin grows his own herbs on his rooftop, and the mint flavor he gets in his chocolates is incredibly pure. In my iPhone notes, I excitedly typed, “like eating a sprig of mint!!” (which, indeed, it was.)

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We also tried the famous Jacques Genin caramels, which people affectionately – and not without good reason – dub “butter bombs.” These were unlike any caramel I have ever tried before, as they weren’t chewy at all; they simply melted in your mouth. I sampled a mango flavored caramel and a regular one and, after leaving the tour, those two morsels seemed inadequate – I regretted not buying more to take home with me!

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When it comes to sweets, I’m definitely a chocolate kind of gal – so it was a surprise to me that my highlight at Jacques Genin was not chocolate at all, but rather the brightly-colored pâtes de fruits. These come in a variety of flavors, including raspberry, mango, banana, and blood orange (the flavor I chose). The genius of these treats was much like the spearmint chocolate: the fruit flavor that comes through is concentrated and strong; there’s no excessive, sickly-sweet sugariness, just pure fruit.

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Next, we walked to Thiercelin Épicerie Fine, a spice shop frequented by the likes of Jacques Genin and Alain Ducasse. The point here was not necessarily to eat – though we did sample a truly delicious honey (said as someone who doesn’t even like honey) – but rather to get a glimpse into the place where some of Paris’s best chefs purchase their wares. It was fascinating to browse through the shop and note the unique spices for sale, some of which I had never heard of before.

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We also stopped by Ramella Charcuterie to stock up on more goodies. Much like Thiercelin, Ramella was a fascinating place just to browse to get a sense of what ordinary Parisians eat. After work, rather than cooking a meal, Parisians will often stop by their local traiteur (a take-out deli) or charcuterie for provisions. As for us, we nabbed a Rosette de Lyon (a French pork sausage) and a duck rillette to spread atop our bread (both of which we sat down and enjoyed later, at the last stop of our tour).

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Just across the street, we found Fromagerie Jouannault, home to some seriously stinky (and tasty, of course) cheeses. The sign out front has the word affineur on it, signalling that Jounnault has its own affineur, or expert in the fine art of aging cheese. Jennifer purchased several cheeses for our group, which we would sample later (if you can handle the cheesy suspense…)

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(Just a little duck-face fromage selfie, as one does in Paris)

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We also made a quick detour to Caractère de Cochon, an épicerie specializing in ham (the only shop of its kind in Paris, Jennifer told us). There, we sampled a few bites: a ham from Umbria, aged two years in wine (called Umbria ubriaco – meaning drunk!); a ham from Spanish pigs who had been fed only acorns, aged four years; and pickled garlic. I liked it all – even the pickled garlic! – and have sworn to myself that the next time I’m in France, I’ll stop by to pick up one of their ham sandwiches for a cheap but gourmet lunch.

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The Umbrian ham, aged in wine:

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The Spanish ham, with a hint of acorn:

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The pickled garlic:

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We ended our afternoon at Bibo Vino, a wine shop dedicated to ecological and sustainable practices. In addition to sampling three of Bibo Vino’s tasty wines (a Côtes du Rhône, a Sauvignon blanc from the Loire, and a wine from Corbières), we also ate the bread, cheese, and meat we had collected from earlier stops. I adore cheese, so this just may have been my favorite part of the day, as we got to eat five cheeses, each of them delicious:

  • Mothias sur Feuille: A goat cheese from the Poitou-Charentes region of western France, aged 2-4 weeks at 100% humidity. The cheese is aged with a chestnut leaf (to help it retain moisture) and has a slightly nutty flavor.
  • Rouelle du Tarn: Another goat cheese, this time from the Tarn region (near Toulouse). These cheese is also aged 2-4 weeks, and I found that it had a nice, herby taste.
  • Camembert de Normandie: This cheese is made with unpasteurized milk from a Normandy cow, aged about four weeks, and has a hint of mushroom in its flavor. It’s also nicknamed les pieds de Dieu – or “the feet of God” – so you know it must be good.
  • Comté AOC: Coming from cows in the Jura region, this cheese is aged for 30 months and is the most popular in France. Jennifer told us that it can contain notes of “melted butter, milk chocolate, hazelnuts, toast, leather, pepper, butterscotch, and sweet orange.” While I won’t go as far as claiming that I could taste all that in the cheese, I will say this: it was my absolute favorite of the day, hands down (iPhone notes, verbatim: “so so so so good!”). I wish I could buy this stuff in the US.
  • Roquefort AOC: Made from sheep’s milk from the Languedoc-Roussillon region, this cheese is generally aged three months (though it can be aged for as long as ten). While blue cheeses aren’t generally my favorites, I was glad I tried this one – I wound up enjoying it quite a bit.

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The sausage and duck rillette, purchased earlier at Ramella but eaten (and enjoyed!) at Bibo Vino:

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As is probably clear, I ended the day in a glorious cheese coma (and, since we still had leftover cheese after the tour ended, I was sent home with a generous bag of it for dinner – not that I complained). I also ended the day certain that the Taste of the Marais tour is a pretty stellar way to spend an afternoon in Paris. Not only was the food top-notch, but the experience itself was so memorable – learning about what makes certain products great and how the French eat was endlessly fascinating to me. With all the enthusiasm of my gal Julia, there’s only one thing left to say, a most hearty “Bon Appétit!”

Paris: In Search of Beauty on Rue Crémieux

Here’s a travel confession: sometimes I will see a photograph of a place, on Pinterest or a blog or anywhere, really, and I will think to myself: that’s beautiful. I want to go to there.

And that’s all it takes: a glimpse of something pretty. It doesn’t matter if there’s anything to do there, it doesn’t matter the history of the place, and it doesn’t matter how far away it may be. Sometimes, just the promise of something beautiful is enough to make me set out in search of a particular location.

Such was the case with Rue Crémieux, a lovely little street tucked away in Paris’s 12th arrondissement. I saw pictures of the street a few weeks before my visit to Paris and immediately knew I wanted to stop by, lured by the promise of the rare colorful street hidden amongst Paris’s gray and tan boulevards.

And, indeed, it was kind of cool to turn the corner to Rue Crémieux and find myself in a spot that felt like another world entirely from Paris. Not only that, but Rue Crémieux is near Gare de Lyon, and I loved the fact that there was something this pretty so close by, as I generally expect anything in the immediate vicinity of a train station to be gritty and rundown. Rue Crémieux, then, felt like a wonderful little surprise.

What did I do there, you might wonder? Not much, save walking up and down the street, snapping photographs, and getting a couple curious glances from the French moving men unloading boxes at one of the street’s brightly-hued houses. Some people might find that strange, I suppose. After all, what was the point?

Beauty, I guess.

Isn’t that enough?

Paris: Drama Under Cloudy Skies at Three Classic Landmarks

I started to have a recurring though in Paris.

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It went something like this: Paris, you are such a drama queen. Because, seriously, the city sort of was during my five days there. I mentioned before that it was rainy during my Parisian jaunt, and this led to one wonderful phenomenon: some seriously striking clouds.

I did not set foot inside Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, or Sacré-Coeur on this trip to Paris – been there, done that, and have little desire to fight through tourist throngs to do it again. But I visited each landmark nonetheless, content to simply admire them from the outside, under the blanket of Paris’s striking skies.

My hotel was located about a ten minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, so it became a nightly ritual to take a stroll by the Tower. Every time I did, it seemed like it had just rained; the clouds were always gorgeous and the puddles filled with reflections of the Tower itself.

 

As for Notre Dame, I headed to the Latin Quarter in search of cream puffs at Odette – and, being so close to the cathedral, it seemed a shame not to stop by for a bit. I spent a while wandering around outside, weaving through throngs of tourists in search of the perfect picture. Eventually, I headed over to the “Love Locks” bridge to view Notre Dame from my favorite vantage point: the back. Isn’t it more gorgeous from that side anyway?

And finally, Sacre-Coeur. I know Notre Dame is sort of “the” church that everyone thinks of when they think of Paris, but I’ve got to be honest: I’ve always loved Sacre-Coeur more. Perhaps it’s due to the location: high atop a hill in Montmartre, with a fun, lively atmosphere and gorgeous views of Paris stretching out below.

Whenever I think about these three landmarks, I think of that scene from Sex and the City where Carrie checks into the Plaza Athénée, walks out onto the balcony, and shrieks upon catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower down the road. I don’t care if they’re super touristy, I don’t care if they’re overhyped: these sites will always be oh-so-Paris to me, and I doubt I will ever lose my enthusiasm for revisiting them. And, though they’re plenty grand on their own, set against the backdrop of some seriously stunning skies, they become even more spectacular, don’t you think?

Paris: A Few Restaurants to Savor

To be honest, I feel a bit silly writing about food in Paris. It goes without saying that it’s a city of incredible culinary scope – and so, what can I add to the conversation? Much as I’d like to think otherwise, at the end of the day, I know I am a tourist, and I don’t pretend to have vast knowledge about all the culinary establishments the city has to offer. I cannot authoritatively state, “THIS, my friends, is where you should eat when in Paris” – but I can tell you about the places I have eaten at and enjoyed…which I shall now do.

Le Petit Cler:

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Le Petit Cler was, quite literally, steps from my hotel – meaning it was inevitable I’d frequent it at least once. Not inevitable, however, was that it would be good. Luckily for me, it was.

The beauty of Le Petit Cler is this: the menu is simple (it’s just a one-pager, encompassing both lunch and dinner), but the food is great. For lunch, I heartily recommend the grilled bread with roasted goat cheese, tomato, pesto, chicory, and balsamic. I love goat cheese, and this meal is pure goat cheesy perfection. For dinner, I had the flank steak and baked potato for a simple and classic meal. Whatever time of day you eat there, make sure to end your meal with a cappuccino, combined with a liberal dose of people-watching the crowds moseying down Rue Cler.

Getting there: 29 Rue Cler, 75007 Paris, France (Métro: La Tour-Maubourg or École Militaire)


Holybelly:

If Paris has hipsters, then I’m 99.9% sure they congregate at Holybelly, a cozy, hip café serving up tasty breakfasts and lunches. Well, to be honest, I’m assuming on the lunch part, as I only visited at breakfast time – but breakfast was damn good.

While everything on Holybelly’s menu looked excellent, I settled on the savory pancake dish: a pancake, topped by a fried egg, topped by another pancake, topped by another fried egg, and all served with crispy bacon and bourbon butter. It was incredible, though a bit indulgent for a breakfast (but, when in Paris…)

Getting there: 19 Rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010 Paris, France (Métro: Jacques Bonsergent)


Frenchie to Go:

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When I arrived at Frenchie, the restaurant was jam-packed (a good sign, I figured), so I ordered my food to-go. The entire menu looked great, and for an American who’s been traveling abroad for a while, it offers lots of comforting favorites: a reuben, pastrami on rye, pulled pork, and a hot dog, to name a few. I opted for the pulled pork sandwich, topped with barbeque sauce and coleslaw (plus a side of fries). It was a little taste of home and it totally hit the spot.

Getting there: 5-6 Rue du Nil, 75002 Paris, France (Métro: Sentier)


Les Cocottes:

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Les Cocottes just might be the ideal lunch spot on a cool, drizzly Paris day: the main courses here are stews, all served en cocotte, or in a Staub casserole dish. It’s warm, hearty comfort food, perfect for a pick-me-up during a chilly day of sightseeing. The restaurant has a long counter, so if you are dining solo, it’s a perfect spot: you won’t feel awkward eating there at all.

Getting there: 135 Rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris, France (Métro: École Militaire)


Pain et Chocolat:

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Another perfect breakfast spot, located just around the corner from Rue Cler. There are three breakfasts to choose from here, and I went with Le Septième: coffee or tea, fruit juice, bread with butter and jam, a croissant, a few pieces of cheese, and scrambled eggs, all for 14 euros. The food was great, and the server was quite friendly, making for a spot I could easily see myself returning to again and again.

Getting there: 16 Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, 75007 Paris, France (Métro: La Tour-Maubourg)


L’As Du Fallafel:

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It felt like a bit of a Paris cliché to make the pilgrimage to L’As Du Fallafel: everyone, it seems, goes there, and I knew the cobblestone streets surrounding the place would be jam-packed with tourists (myself included) eager to try the famous falafels. Still, if there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s food trends, and so I went.

Located in the Marais (and not too far from another favorite, L’Eclair de Genie), L’As Du Fallafel serves up seriously gigantic, filled-to-the-brim falafels. The line may be long when you get there, but don’t let it deter you: they know what they are doing, and it moves quickly. As for the falafel itself, I give it high marks – it was delicious and deserving of the hype (unlike some other places I know; cough Shake Shack cough).

Getting there: 32-34 Rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris, France (Métro: Saint-Paul)


Jules et Shim:

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Strictly speaking, does one need Korean bibimbap when in Paris? Perhaps not, but Jules et Shim is really tasty. Lured by the promise of delicious food in highly Instagrammable flower-shaped containers (not to mention the restaurant’s proximity to Canal Saint-Martin, which I had been eager to visit), I made the trip to Jules et Shim. I found the food a great value for the money: you get a filling, healthy portion, which you can enjoy at one of the restaurant’s few tables, or can take to-go to eat by the canals. An easy, quick Paris lunch – and a real win – in my book.

Getting there: 22 Rue des Vinaigriers, 75010 Paris, France (Métro: Jacques Bonsergent)


And there you have it: some of the culinary highlights of my too-short week in Paris (well, along with these desserts). Tell me: what did I miss? What are your Paris favorites?

Paris: Indulging My Sweet Tooth in the City’s Patisseries

While there are plenty of savory dishes to enjoy while in Paris – steak frites, anyone? – for me, Paris will always be about the sweets. From macarons to mille-feuille, sugary confections are everywhere in the City of Lights. And, since Paris is an eminently walkable city, you always have this excuse in your back pocket: I walked a lot today; I deserve an éclair.

As an avid reader of travel and expat blogs, many of them Paris-based, I had compiled quite the list of sweet spots I wanted to visit on this trip to Paris. While I couldn’t fit in all of them, I did manage to have more than my share of sweets while there. Here, then, a few favorites.

L’Éclair de Génie:

Of all the places high atop my “must visit” pastry shop list, L’Éclair de Génie was the clear number one. It seems like, for the past year or so, every time I’ve seen someone post about going to Paris on Instagram, a picture of these ubiquitous éclairs showed up on their feeds. Were these éclairs really worth the hype? Yes, oh yes.

Tucked away in Le Marais, the treats at L’Éclair de Génie are miniature works of art, topped with vibrant icings, fresh fruits, and gold-leafed candy. The best part is that they taste just as good as they look. The only downside here is the price; at five euro a piece, these éclairs are not the cheapest treat – but, in my opinion, they are totally worth every euro.

Getting there: 14 Rue Pavée, 75004 Paris, France (Métro: Saint-Paul)


Pierre Hermé:

Ask just about anyone in Paris, and I bet they would tell you this: Laduree may have the prettiest packaging, and it may be the shop that everyone knows about – but it doesn’t have the best macarons. As such, I figured it was time for me to expand my Parisian macaron knowledge.

There are a ton of macaron places I wanted to try in Paris, but I had to settle for just one on this trip, so I figured I would go with a classic: Pierre Hermé. There are branches located throughout the city, but I opted for the one located in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. And, though all the pastries at Pierre Hermé were ogle-worthy, I had to go with the classic macarons, my favorite flavor of which was the Miléna, a combination of fresh mint and red berries. Pro tip: take your macarons to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens and snack in the park.

Getting there: 72 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris, France (Métro: Saint-Sulpice)


Angelina:

I was on the fence about Angelina. On the one hand, it’s known to be touristy, crowded, and overpriced. But on the other hand…chocolat chaud.

Yes, I went to Angelina for the hot chocolate, just like everyone else does. It comes piping hot and crazy thick, and it feels incredibly indulgent (oh, and, delicious too). As for the rest of the food at Angelina? Meh. It’s unremarkable and skippable, in my opinion. But that hot chocolate is well worth making the trip and braving the crowds.

Getting there: 226 Rue Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France (Métro: Tuileries)


Amorino:

Confession: With drizzly skies and cool temperatures throughout my visit, it wasn’t exactly ice cream weather when I visited Paris. But do you think I would really let a little detail like the weather prevent me from sampling some gelato, particularly gelato that has been expertly sculpted into a photo-worthy flower shape by the folks at Amorino? Not a chance.

There are Amorino outposts all around the city, but I opted for the one close to my “home” on Rue Cler. I chose caramel with salted butter and Speculoos as my two flavors, which comprise a gelato match made in heaven in my humble opinion.

Getting there: 42 Rue Cler, 75007 Paris, France (Métro: École Militaire)


Odette:

If you’re looking for a snack that’s indulgent yet won’t leave you in a sugar coma for the rest of the day, the miniature cream puffs at Odette just may be your best bet (if, of course, you have enough self-control to only eat one of them). There are plenty of flavors to choose from here, but the coffee cream puffs just may have been my favorite. Plus, Odette is right down the street from Notre Dame, so I grabbed my cream puffs and headed for the cathedral, parking on a bench in front to enjoy my snacks – a pretty magical way to enjoy a cream puff, if you ask me.

Getting there: 77 Rue Galande, 75005 Paris, France (Métro: Cluny – La Sorbonne)


Les Fées Patissières:

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In terms of edible works of art, the tiny delights at Les Fées Patissières just might rival L’Éclair de Génie for beauty. The best way I can think of to describe these little guys are as cream puff cupcakes, which is convenient as I find both cream puffs and cupcakes to be pretty delicious on their own. I can’t tell you which favor here was my favorite, as I had a bit of trouble reading the labels and mostly chose my pastries on the theory of “which one looks the cutest?” (a solid strategy, to be honest). What I can tell you is this: be careful if you’re transporting these treats on the Métro, as they’re quite delicate.

Getting there: 21 Rue Rambuteau, 75004 Paris, France (Métro: Rambuteau)


If you are looking to dive deep into a sugar coma in Paris, I would highly recommend any – or all – of the places listed above. They may be calorie-laden, but if you want to indulge, there really is no better place than Paris.

Paris: Of Rainy Roses and Rodin

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I try to be optimistic when it comes to unfortunate travel situations, truly I do, but there is one travel problem I always have a hard time overcoming: bad weather. Because so much of travel, for me, depends on being outdoors, on walking around a city, on exploring its streets, a bout of bad weather can really throw a wrench in things and make me transform from “enthusiastic traveler” to “extremely grumpy person” quite quickly.

On the whole, I was blessed with good weather throughout my entire semester abroad, but my luck seemed to run out in Paris, where I was greeted with drizzly skies most every day. The rain was rarely ever a downpour, but it was ever-present during my time in the city, coming and going and then coming again, often all within the course of an hour.

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Yet the funny thing about Paris and its magic is that I barely even noticed the rain. In other cities, the constant drizzle might have bummed me out, but in Paris it barely phased me; if there was ever a city suited to moody weather, it was Paris. The elegant buildings somehow look even grander under gray skies, and damp conditions are the perfect excuse for lingering over a cappuccino at one of the many cafés scattered throughout the city.

And so, when my train from Geneva rolled into Gare de Lyon under cloudy skies, I wasn’t upset. I dropped my things off at my hotel, nestled along Rue Cler, and set out for one of my favorite locations in Paris: Musée Rodin.

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I first visited Musée Rodin in 2006, and it immediately shot to the top of my mental list of “favorite museums in the world.” What I love about it is that, especially compared with some of Paris’s biggies (I’m looking at you, Louvre and Orsay), Rodin feels quieter and more low key. This is true both within the museum itself and outside in its gardens, which are the real draw here. Seeing Rodin’s sculptures nestled among beautifully tended flowers is pretty awesome, as far as art experiences go.

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I spent an hour or so wandering around the museum and gardens, umbrella firmly in hand, admiring the rain-soaked roses and sculptures. It was a peaceful and perfect way to kick off my visit to lovely Paris – rain and all.

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Paris: At Home on Rue Cler

The beautiful thing about Paris is that I feel I could return a million times and always have new discoveries to make: new neighborhoods, new restaurants, new parks, and new pastry shops, to name a few. This was my fourth visit to the city, and even though I’m starting to feel like I know Paris well, still I’m sure I have only scratched the surface of what each arrondissement has to offer.

On the whole, I’ve done a good job (in my opinion) of visiting new places each time I find myself in Paris, yet in one large aspect, I have clearly been slacking. That is, when it comes time to pick a hotel, I seem to have one default response: stay on Rue Cler, of course.

There are so many other options – this trip, for example, I was thisclose to booking a place in Le Marais – yet something about Rue Cler keeps drawing me back in. I think, perhaps, it’s my wonderment that one tiny block can be packed with so much Parisian charm: the fromagerie selling a variety of fragrant French cheeses, the vegetable and fruit stands that pop up each morning, the creperie that cooks up wicked Nutella-laced concoctions, and Le Petit Cler, the perfect café for people watching.

Tucked away in the 7th arrondissement, Rue Cler is also a convenient base for exploring the rest of Paris. It’s an easy walk to the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, and the Rodin Museum (my personal favorite), not to mention the fact that it’s quite close to several different Métro stops. And if it’s food you seek, there are plenty of options as well, from shopping for picnic provisions at Rue Cler’s markets to eating at the many good restaurants found on the surrounding blocks. As far as Parisian home bases go, then, Rue Cler is a good one.

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I would like to say that, next time around, I’ll be a bit more adventurous in choosing accommodations, yet part of me suspects that this simply is not true. In a city that constantly offers new art exhibits, culinary experiments, and fashion trends, it’s comforting to know that Rue Cler remains as reliable as ever, a lovely little place to call “home” while living la vie parisienne.