Sidewalk cafés literally abound in Paris and can be found on just about every corner; since winters here can be grey and even a bit gloomy, it’s no surprise that at the first hint of Spring, Parisians come out en mass. Every terrace is overflowing, but too often these precious parcels of land are just steps from the street, with the whiz of scooters and haze of pollution as a backdrop, not exactly a refuge of calm by any means. However, if you know where to look, you can find little pockets of quietness, hidden away from the bustle of big city life.
The following are a few of my favorite outdoor spots on the right bank for some peace and quiet, a bit off the tourist track.
The first is the Place Saint Marthe, a peaceful square at the top of the rue Saint Marthe, a colourful street lined with an eclectic mix of artist’s ateliers, cheap and cheerful restaurants, associations and apartments—some of which are pretty run down but it makes for an interesting mix. The square itself is lovely, with hardly any traffic and two very nice cafés/bistros which are perfect for drinks or a casual dinner en plein air when the weather gets warmer.
Another secluded spot in the 10th is Café A, located just steps away from the Gare de l’Est. Leave the seedy surroundings of the station and step inside the grounds of what was once a convent—and is now the la Maison de l’Architecture—and you’ll find a beautiful courtyard café. It’s so calm that it’s hard to imagine that the Gare de l’Est is just outside its doorstep.
My next choice leads you to the Parc de Belleville, which is incidentally the highest park in Paris and offers a pretty amazing view. On a tranquil corner situated just in front of the park sits La Mer à Boire. The food here is nothing special and the inside in pretty non-descript but the terrace over looking the park is especially peaceful and the view of Paris below is worth the trip.
Rosa Bonheur, as I’ve written before, is another idyllic spot, so idyllic in fact that half of Paris now flocks to it on the weekends. Last weekend the slopping hill just in front was so crowded that it looked more like the beaches of Saint Tropez, than an urban park. Nevertheless, even with the crowds, the Buttes Chaumont is so lovely that it remains one of my favourite places to get a way from it all and if you go early, you’ll avoid the crowds.
The banks of the Canal Saint Martin are another great place for a lazy afternoon in the sun, although you’ll have to head more towards Place Stalingrad if you want some peace and quiet as the banks around rue de Lancry can be quite crowded. For picnic fare you can pick up a bottle of wine at the Verre Volé, order a pizza from Pink Flamingo (they’ll deliver it to the canal for you when it’s ready) or grab a sandwich from Chez Castro (which by the way has some of the best sandwiches in Paris).
There are also a few cafés along the canal which merit a detour. A few years ago, I would have included Point Ephémère, but it’s no longer a secret and the refugee camp that has blossomed a few feet away takes away from its charm unfortunately. Better to head to 25 Est on the Quai de la Loire or, better yet, to the Bar d’Ourq, where you can borrow a set of boules for a game of pétanque while you sit back with a glass of rosé.
So there you have it, a few of my picks to relax and soak up the sun on the next beautiful day in Paris.
Place Saint Marthe
148-154, rue du Faubourg Saint Martin, Paris 10th
Mer à Boire
1 Rue des Envierges, Paris 20th
2, allée de la Cascade, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Paris 19th
Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad, Paris 19th
68, Quai de la Loire, Paris 19th
Rosa Bonheur, the funky buvette in the Buttes Chaumont, which opened a little over a year ago without much fanfare, but then went on to become the darling of the press and bobo Parisians this summer, has metamorphosed into a full-fledged restaurant—well really a cross between a resto and rotisserie—this past week.
I fell in love with Rosa Bonheur this summer when it was still somewhat unknown, but as word got out that this charming little spot had opened in the Parc, serving drinks and tapas late into the night, it quickly became a victim of its own success and—at least on the weekends—overwhelming crowds of hipsters spilled out the doors, making it more of a headache than an oasis.
Then came news that they were opening a real restaurant in the fall and there were unconfirmed rumours that Armand Arnal, the newly-starred chef of La Chassagnette in Arles, the first organic restaurant to have a star in France, was a partner and so I was eagerly awaiting its opening which finally came about this past week.
I am still not sure to what degree, if any, Arnal plays a part (our waiter confirmed the connection but did not say to what extent and it may well be that one of his chefs is overseeing the kitchen). In any event, traces of La Chassagnette can be found, as they use organic products for the most part, or at least agriculture raisonnée, and like the owners, many of the ingredients come from the Camargue.
The three-course 29 € menu is simple, with a handful of first courses to choose from including a very nice crayfish bisque with Pastis and a “correct”, as they say in French, cabbage rémoulade with crisp apple, carrots, cabbage and shrimp, that was good, but could have used a bit of pizzazz . The main courses include a choice of two rôtis, one that changes daily, along with a roasted free-range demi-coquelet. On Thursday you’ll find a fricassee of rabbit with mustard, Friday Sète-style cuttlefish with olives, Saturday was slow-roasted spiced spare ribs, which are not something you find too often in France, and on Sunday roasted lamb shoulder, each served with seasonal, organic vegetables.
Desserts, if I remember correctly (because at this point we had finished our bottle of red and my memory is a bit foggy), included a very good rice pudding, chocolate mousse and cheese.
While the food was certainly good, it’s more the feeling of the place that would lure me back, with its choice of ingredients, amiable wait staff and unusual location hidden in one of Paris’s most beautiful parks. It was just the thing for a dreary Parisian October afternoon.
2, allée de la Cascade
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Telephone: 01 42 00 00 45 ; To reserve at the restaurant call: 01 42 03 28 67
Bar, Café open Wednesday-Sunday, 12- midnight (however the park gates close at 20h);
Restaurant is open for lunch 12h00-13h30, dinner from 20h00 until 21h30.
See the Map Here
I’m not really sure what this says about the state of French cuisine, but Paris has its first automatic bread distributor, which spits out freshly baked baguettes for a euro. I was quite sceptical at first, imagining that the bread would be a mass-produced, frozen, tasteless loaf that unfortunately you find too often in Paris. To my surprise, these were “baguettes de tradition”, bread which is decreed by a 1993 French law to be mixed, kneaded, leavened and baked on premises, without ever being frozen. They must also be additive-free and can contain only four precious ingredients–wheat flour, water, salt and yeast.
The baker proudly explained that he keeps his freshly made baguettes in a cold room which can keep up to 250 baguettes for 72 hours and then can program the machine (the Panicho Automate) to automatically bake a certain amount each hour where they are kept warm while waiting to be purchased. Drop in your euro and out pops a warm crusty baguette in its familar paper sack.
A taste test revealed that while this baguette can’t compete with Kaiser, Gosselin or Saibron, it was certainly better than the frozen junk that some boulangeries pass off as baguettes.
Avenue Mathurin Moreau
Located in the beautiful Parc des Buttes Chaumont, this newly blossomed café has quickly gained a following with bobo Parisians looking for a bit of respite from city life. It’s the perfect place for a café or an apero with friends en terrace. If you’re looking for more than a drink, you can order up plates of chorizo, Bellota or Serrano ham, along with Manchego and Salers cheese and other small tapas-style plates, simply served. Linger late enough and you can hang in the Parc after hours and enjoy the view long after the gates have closed.
2, allée de la Cascade
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Telephone: 01 42 00 00 45
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday noon till midnight, entrance by the park until 22h; on Friday and Saturdays you can enter by the gates at 7 rue Botzaris from 22h till midnight
See the Map Here