How many macarons can we try in four days? Answer- A LOT!
For 4 days in Paris, over Christmas week, my family ate up the history, the culture and the food of the City Of Lights. Whether we were tackling the Eiffel Tower in unbearable conditions, solving a mystery at the Louvre, descending deep underground to the Catacombs, or checking out the humble residence of Louis XIV, we immersed ourselves in the city and all it has to offer. Through proper planning and advanced bookings, two of my specialties, we were able to navigate the busy streets and holiday crowds. And the food! In addition to many of our spectacular Parisian meals, we sampled many sweets and treats in the beautiful Paris shops. If we weren’t creating and tasting the goodies, we were busy photographing the unique and gorgeous displays of bread, cheese, eclairs, crepes, and of course MACARONS!
And We’re Off!-Having just come from three busy days in Amsterdam, we continued our lively itinerary in Paris. We arrived late afternoon, checked in to our two (small) rooms at the Renaissance Paris Vendome Hotel and departed immediately for our ultimate adventure, a climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower. However, not without hitting some spots a long the way. We walked along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées from the great Ferris Wheel of Paris (a temporary attraction in Paris during the Xmas season) to the Arc de Triomphe. The avenue, although extremely crowded, busy, and touristy, was decked with lights and Christmas decorations. It was a fun and festive place to start.
Unfortunately, the line to get to the top of the Arc was um, ridiculous! Knowing we would get similar views on our Tower climb shortly thereafter, we were happy to get a few quick shots of the Arc and move on.
Dinner break-We preceded our Eiffel Tower visit with dinner at the famous La Fontaine de Mars, a few minute walk from the tower. It was recommended to us by many people, as well as the concierge at the hotel. Oh, and the Obamas ate here when they were in Paris. It was our first (of many) French bistro meals in the city. We dined on steak, duck, sole and frites. We shared leeks in a yummy pesto sauce as an appetizer after we had already eaten the crusty bread with the complimentary charcuterie. All of it was accompanied by a glass or two of Cab (EVERY NIGHT!). It was the perfect first Parisian meal.
Great Heights-We didn’t get to the tower until about 9pm that night so the crowds had subsided a bit by then. Note, you can only get advance tickets to ride the elevator. If you plan to walk it (like we did), you must wait on line for walking tickets. After waiting in a security line (15 minutes) to get to the grounds of the tower, we then waited about another 30 minutes to buy tickets to walk up. Oh and did I mention it was raining?
We will never forget walking up and down the drenched metal steps with the freezing cold wind and rain pellets bombarding our faces. It is not an easy work out to begin with and the extreme conditions made it almost intolerable, but oh so memorable and fun! At times I was nervous we would be blown off the tower (you really cant be-you are kind of grated in), or slip and fall on the wet and slippery steps.
We reached safety at the requisite stops of the first and second floor landings. We explored the first floor with a transparent floor (scary!) and touch screens providing you with cool tower facts. On the second floor, we checked out the shops and admired the views of the city at night. Luxury Tip-The Michelin Star awarded restaurant, Le Jules Verne, is located on the second floor of the tower. Maybe next time without my kids. 🙂
Touring tip-it is irrelevant whether you walked up or took the elevator up to arrive at the second floor. Everyone is on equal footing when accessing the ADDITIONAL elevator to get you to the top. You must wait on this extra line on the second floor to access the tippy top. Fortunately, or unfortunately, this was not an option for us. Those same cold and biting winds that we faced on our arduous climb and descent, were strong enough to prevent the elevator from running. Oh well, the second floor views were amazing anyway!
Fun Fact-There is an hourly evening light show where the tower sparkles for several minutes. We were actually climbing the tower when one occurred which was exciting. We also saw the sparkly show from the ground a few times.
Happy Hunting-Eiffel Tower-check, next up the Louvre. Touring tip-if you plan to go to the Louvre during Christmas week (and likely in the summer), hire a guide if you can afford to. We learned that during high season, people may wait on line for up to 3 hours to enter the Louvre. A guided tour allows you priority access to enter and often to get through security as well. It is definitely money well spent.
The tour that we chose was called Louvre Quest offered by Paris Muse. It was an interactive game that we played in each of the four civilizations that we explored. Before we were able to move to the next civilization, we had to answer questions and solve puzzles. Our engaging and knowledgable guide, Madeline (from New York!), strategically led us through the busy museum via unknown passages and stairways. She showed us unique vantage points to view the Venus de Milo and The Winged Victory, and maneuvered us to the front of the enormous crowd for a peek at the Mona Lisa. The tour was three hours and that was sufficient. It was long enough to see much of the museum, but not too long for my kids (and me) to lose interest. I highly recommend seeing the Louvre like this if you have kids/tweens/teens and can afford to spend a little extra money.
Pastry Chefs For A Day-Our second activity of the day was a macaron making class at Le Foodist in the Left Bank. We joined our friends to make us a total of 9 and split into four groups. We spent the afternoon learning and attempting the steps and tricks to make almost perfect macarons. We made both the macaronade aka filling (4 different types), and the shells with the colors of our choosing-pink, purple, blue and green. After admiring and photographing them, we sat down and feasted on our finished product with tea. The whole experience is about three hours. It was a great afternoon!
Dinner Break-We were told that a meal at Relais de l’Entrecôte was an absolute must and luckily for us there was a location in Saint-Germain, a walkable distance from our class. (BTW-much to the displeasure of some family members, everything is a walkable distance to me 🙂 ). The restaurant does not take reservations, but rather you wait on line to get in for their elaborate menu of salad, steak and fries, NOTHING ELSE! We were pretty sated from our teatime at Le Foodist, so the 45 minute wait on the mildish night wasn’t terrible. When we sat, we joined all of the other diners and thoroughly enjoyed our three items. The french fries here were my favorite. Note that there are a few other locations, one in Montparnasse and one on Rue Marbeuf in the 8th arrondissement.
Up On The Hill-We were off to Montmartre the next morning, but first with a stop at Ladurée, right around the corner from our hotel. The array of macarons here definitely looked a lot more professional than our prior day’s creations but that is why they fetch the big bucks (a ridiculous amount of bucks IMO for our few macarons). Also along the way, we stopped at the flagship location (on Boulevard Haussmann) of the Galeries Lafayette, an upscale French department store chain. We made this stop because I wanted a look at the giant modern Christmas tree in the middle of the store. As we were admiring the colorful balloon made tree, we were treated to a most unexpected surprise. (How did I not know about this in advance? ) Every 30 minutes, dozens of balloons start dancing from the ceiling with festive music in the background. Check out my Instagram, thepointsmom_, I videoed the show. It was amazing to witness this spectacle first hand.
When we finally got to Montmartre and headed to the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, so did everyone else. As with the Arc, when we got to the church we were greeted by hundred and hundreds of tourists and couldn’t even fathom waiting on the enormous line to get in. Snap Snap, we got some great shots and left. We headed back down from the church on Rue de Steinkerque. This street was a touristy, tee-shop haven, but had some stand out shops like Maison Georges Larnicol where we were awed by the immense chocolate sculpture of Notre Dame and La Cure Gourmande where they give you complimentary samples of full sized cookies du jour (not pieces). We had another outpost of La Cure Gourmande by our hotel and stopped in every time we passed by. No stop to Montmartre would be complete without a peek at Place du Tertre where numerous painters and portraitists exhibit their work and sell their paintings. This is the place I remember most from my two prior visits to Paris. It is a cool stop!
Long Food Break-Our afternoon activity was a food tour in Saint-Germain-des-Prés with Flavors Of Paris. Our knowledgable guide, Lisa, led us to shops, bakeries and a market where we sampled various Parisian sweets and treats. The first stop on the tour was Maison Eric Kayser bakery. Um, how did I not know about this bakery with locations in NYC?! Here, we munched on warm crusty olive bread and each had a piece of the shop’s famous Galette des Rois, aka King Cake. Many bakeries in France and throughout Paris make this round almond pastry cake that people share. A fève (originally a bean, but now tends to be a plastic trinket) is baked inside the cake. Whoever bites into the cake and finds the fève is crowned king or queen for the day. Rob was the one who found the fève in his slice and he was handed his crown for the day (or for the rest of the tour).
Next on the tour was the olive oil shop (and other goodies), Première Pression Provence. Here we enjoyed dipping even more bread into infused olive oils that are produced in the Provence region of France. We also sampled different jams, mustards and pâtés (I know it’s a delicacy, but none of us really liked the pâtés) and went home with some jars of perles de balsamique (balsamic vinegar pearls made using molecular gastronomy). Our third stop was an alluring chocolate and pastry shop called Un Dimanche a Paris. Here we indulged in super rich hot chocolate (almost too rich). We paired our hot chocolate with some beautifully prepared macarons of course! The kitchen is open and you can watch the staff making these most perfect desserts. Our final stop was the market, Le Marche St. Germain des Pres which is an indoor food market with vendors selling bread, meats, seafood, produce and cheeses. As we browsed the market, the cheese purveyor set up a table with a large platter of local cheeses and cured meats and yup, more bread that we paired with red wine from the wine shop within the market. It was a relaxing way to end the tour. Note, we did not need a dinner reservation for this night.
A Good Read-After saying goodbye to Lisa, we headed to the nearby Shakespeare and Company bookstore. This famous bookstore is along the Seine on the Left Bank. It is a small and charming shop with bursting bookcases, hidden nooks and narrow and steep staircases. On the third floor my kids discovered an unusual object once known as a typewriter. They had fun carefully testing out the keys, but were happier later speedily texting away on their phones.
Prettiest Place In Paris-On my two prior visits to Paris, I had never visited the Marais District. Luckily, I added it to the itinerary this time! We started our next day with a walk to Place des Vosges, one of the oldest and most picturesque (IMO) squares in Paris. Inside the square is a beautiful park, and along the outskirts of the square are shops, galleries and cafes. I loved it here even on the rainy, grey morning we visited. I can only imagine how lively and scenic it is on a day with nicer weather.
From the square we continued our walk along the charming streets in the Marais. We popped our heads into some unique shops like L’Eclair de genie showcasing some of the most decorative and interesting eclairs I have ever seen, and Princess Crepe, a Japanese-style creperie in Paris??
Lunch Break-We leisurely made our way to the Rue des Rosiers. This lively street is the main and most popular street in the district and is the epicentre of the Parisian Jewish community. It was here that we went to the infamous L’As du Falafel, recommended to us by so many. We hit the line (always a line!) about noon and waited about 20 minutes for a table. Once inside the bustling restaurant, we feasted on falafel sandwiches, schwarma and fries. Don’t miss this! Note, Miznon, another falafel joint (around the corner) came highly recommended as well. There is an original location in Tel Aviv.
Ice Cream Stop-As a post lunch dessert we hit the grande dame of sorbets, Bertillon, on the Île Saint-Louis. We sampled cones of different flavors like peach, lemon, raspberry, strawberry and mango. We all agreed, it was some of the creamiest, most flavorful sorbet we had ever tasted.
Deep Underground-Not for the claustrophobic, our eerie afternoon activity was a trip under the city to the Catacombs of Paris. The Catacombs are former stone quarries that now contain the remains of millions of Parisians. The site became a burial ground in the late 1700s because graveyards were being closed due to overcrowding and because they posed a health risk to the residents. Not long after, the disarray of the millions of skulls and bones were stacked and patterned within the labyrinth of winding tunnels so the site could become a visitable tourist attraction. One that we would come to visit in 2017! Prior to this, I had obviously seen real bones in museums, but never had I been this close to so many skulls and femurs. Although you are not supposed to touch the displays, it was hard not to take a quick finger tap just to see what they really felt like (smooth).
I wouldn’t recommend the Catacombs if you don’t like being underground. Also know that there are dizzying and long spiral staircases on the descent and the climb back up. Despite this, it is a very popular attraction and the lines are long as they can only let a limited amount of people underground at one time. We had purchased advance tickets, but still were faced with an hour wait on the ticket holders line when we got there. To make matters worse, it was raining, windy and cold for what seemed like a lot longer than 60 minutes. The five of us huddled under two flimsy umbrellas which basically gave out from the wind. However, we all found the skeletal exhibit so fascinating that I think the incessant wait and insufferable conditions were worth it!
Dinner Break-We headed a wee bit out of the city center that night for a meal at Rôtisserie d’Argent. Along the way, we took some shots in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral. The cathedral, even in the early evening, had an enormous line to enter. We were happy to move on after our photo shoot. As the name of the restaurant suggests, there is a rotisserie oven (in plain view) and the restaurant’s specialties are rotisserie duck (Daniel got) and chicken (I got). They also had the other classic bistro dishes like steaks, fish and of course fries! The restaurant was recommended by a friend who has an apartment on the top floor of the building that the restaurant is housed in. (She wasn’t in town). The building is right on the Seine with the back of Notre Dame being visible from the front. The view from her flat must be incredible!
Let Them Eat Cake-On our last day in Paris, we booked a private afternoon tour of Versailles, the grand, luxurious palace where King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette resided before their demise during the French Revolution. As with our private Louvre tour, we were able to skip the entry lines and had a personal guide within the palace. We visited the infamous Hall of Mirrors and the lavish, private State Apartments of the King. Unfortunately the Queen’s Estate was closed for renovation, a fact I wish I would have known before I booked. Originally I intended that we would skip Versailles and save if for a warm weather trip where we would have access to the 230 acres of Gardens (you can do fat tire bike tours through the gardens). But, on a whim, I booked it with the hotel concierge when were there. Although I am glad we toured the palace, our guide spoke English but very fast with a heavy French accent. It was definitely difficult to understand him at times. Also, I feel like the concierge should have given us a heads up about the Queen’s apartments being closed so we could have made a more informed decision before laying out some big bucks for this private tour. The tour company we used was Euroscope. If you plan on an excursion to Versailles, I would do a little more research on a guide and tour company and on parts of the palace that my be off limits.
Don’t Skip Breakfast-Before visiting the palace, we had breakfast at the popular and highly recommended Angelina, right around the corner from our hotel. This was our most expensive meal in Paris even though it was for breakfast. We dined on croissants with yummy jam, pastries, fruit and various egg dishes all accompanied by Angelina’s infamous, decadent hot chocolate which was so rich that it was like drinking a melted chocolate bar. The ambiance was charming and elegant and the staff so attentive. Note, we made a reservation. If you don’t have a res, there could be long lines to get in.
Dinner Break-Our last meal in Paris was back in the Marais at Breizh Cafe where we feasted on delicious crepes and galettes. It was a nice change from all of the bistros we had gone to all of the prior nights. It’s a small place, so I would also recommend making a reservation here.
Our accommodations– We stayed at the Renaissance Paris Vendome Hotel which was a nice, sort of boutique style hotel (for free on Marriott Points!). Like I mentioned above, our rooms were small, but suitable for our short stay to really just sleep The best part about the hotel was the location, it was on the right bank and quite central to most of the sights and attractions we visited.
I am sure I am not done with Paris. I will be back again, maybe with the family, or maybe not. I still haven’t been to Paris in the spring time so I will make sure that is a priority for next time. For now though…