Below you’ll find a few of my favourite addresses in the lower half of the Marais district.
Yesterday was one of those perfect winter days…cold, sunny and dry…and I had half a day off work. So at 12:30 pm I walked away from the skyscrapered skyline of La Défense business district, jumped on the Metro and headed straight to the Marais, getting off at Saint Paul metro station.
My intention was to spend a relaxing hour or two in the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, one of my favourite centers for photographic art, but a long line snaked around the building. “What are people lining up for?” I asked a man.
“The Bettina Rheims exhibition.” he replied. As much as I would have loved to view the exhibition, I didn’t want to stand in line, so I left with the plan to return another day. Inspired by Diane Arbus and Helmut Newton, Rheims is a French photographer known for her provocative portraits of famous women.
Next on my To Do list was lunch. But where? Spoiled for choice, I stood in a patch of sunlight and contemplated my options. Mexican at La Perla? A full French meal at Le Coude Fou bistro? A plate of salmon – gravlax, tartare, Scottish smoked and sashimi – at Autour du Saumon? I decided on street food so I could stay outdoors and enjoy the sunshine. Walking up the rue Vieille du Temple on my way to Chez Marianne for a take-out falafel sandwich, a shop sign on my right caught my eye. Pozzetto. I knew that name. It was the Italian place that sold the divine hot chocolate and gelati on the rue du Roi du Sicile. But this was a new and sleek Pozzetto located at 16, rue Vieille du Temple. Pushing open the door and stepping inside, I was greeted by one of my most favourite sounds – the steam and hiss of a real espresso machine.
“Buon giorno!” said a smiling man from behind the counter. “Buon giorno!” I replied. I could feel myself being pulled in to the sounds and smells of my favourite country, Italy. Operation seduction, as the French say. They serve food in this shop whereas the other shop serves only ice creams and hot chocolate. I perused the menu and decided on a cold-cut sandwich. “The mortadella is good,” suggested the man behind the counter.
I decided on bresaola which he served on a plate with a small bread roll called a rosetta. And because it was cold outside, I ordered a cup of cioccolato caldo, irresistible not-too-sweet hot chocolate that’s so thick it’s almost like pudding. As I ate, I spied a plate of Italian pastries sitting on the counter. I recognized one of them from my visit to Naples last year. Pointing to it, I asked him what it was called. Sfogliatelle, he replied, sing-songing the word. Sfo-lya-tell-eh. It’s a flaky clam-shaped shell filled with a custardy-mixture of ricotta, semolina, candied citrus and cinnamon. I’ll have one, I said.
On my way out, I purchased a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, direct from Parma, and ordered a double espresso to go. For everything I paid 23 euros.
The street running parallel to the rue Vieille du Temple is the rue du Bourg Tibourg. This is where Mariage Frères is located (as well as the authentic French bisto, Le Coude Fou, that I recommend.) Serious tea lovers, upon arrival or departing, should genuflect in reverence because this is truly a Parisian tea temple. Even if you don’t like tea, step across the threshold and just gaze around you. Wooden walls have deep shelves filled with large black canisters. Inside those metal canisters are hundreds of different types of tea leaves. A lot of smelling goes on here. Inquire about a particular tea and the salesperson will take down a canister, remove the lid, and hold the canister towards you. Stick your head inside and deeply inhale the magnificent fragrance.
My current favourite is Marco Polo, a fruity and flowery black tea that I find very refreshing, especially around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Here’s how they describe it – Fragrances of Chinese and Tibetan flowers lend it a unique taste. Its extraordinary bouquet makes Marco Polo the most legendary of flavoured teas.
They also sell tea pots, tea cups, mugs, canisters, gingerbread and other items. There’s also a small in-house restaurant that’s always crowded (and expensive.)
Back on the rue Vieille du Temple at the corner of rue des Francs Bourgeois is Fragonard Parfumerie. The perfect place for inexpensive gifts (hand and body creams, perfumes and eaux de toilette, candles, soaps and shower gels, etc.) I always pick up several transparent glycerine soaps with a floral scent that cost only 5 euros apiece. They make perfect gifts, stocking stuffers, and I take one with me when travelling.
Mariana, my Brazilian work colleague, told me about Natura Brasil cosmetics and hair and skin products. Responsible for the environmental impact of their activities, Natura Brasil is now recognised as the second most committed business to sustainable development in the world. They have two boutiques in Paris. I went to the one located at 35 rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie and bought shampoo and conditioner enriched with murumuru butter, known for its restorative and nourishing benefits. Native from Amazonia, the murumuru palm tree has a rich pulp that that contains extraordinary regenerating properties for hair. I also bought a tube of non-greasy hand cream containing maracujá (passion fruit) oïl rich in Omega 6 and a bottle of toner containing horse chestnut extract and Vitamin E. All of their products have a fresh, fruity fragrance and I love their eco-friendly packaging. However, the products are not 100% natural and chemical-free. I’ll be doing a post in the near future on natural skin products such as Weleda, Dr. Hauschka, REN and other names.
My last stop was at a small boutique that sells fabrics, jewellery, rugs and clothes from India. The prices are the lowest I’ve ever seen. I purchased a huge scarf in hand-printed batik cotton for only 20 euros (whose colours remind me of Delft porcelain) and an ankle-length skirt in Indian cotton (49 euros) that you can twist and throw in a suitcase. The boutique is called Bada Bunta, the Frenchman who owns it is adorable, and the address is 18 rue de Jouy. We chatted for a long time. He’s passionate about India, he learned Hindi and travels to India twice a year on buying trips.
I hadn’t planned on doing any shopping at all…but, once a shopper always a shopper, I guess. In exactly 3 weeks I’ll be in New York City doing more of the same.
http://www.mep-fr.org/ Maison Européenne de la Photographie
How lovely. A few years ago we rented a small flat in the Marais and those streets are so familiar! And Mariage Freres for some smoky tea, crepes at that Breton place with a huge list of ciders, pastries, pastries, pastries…Lucky you, to be wandering there now.
Thanks for your comment, Theresa. I’m going to make some of that Mariage Frères tea right now then sit down to finish the rest of this post. As for those delicious pastries? Kilos, kilos, kilos….
I love the Marais. Thanks for taking us along on on your half-day. Looking forward to the rest. 🙂
Hi Lynette. As I wrote to Theresa above, I’m going to make some tea and finish the post right now.
You always seem to have a good time, even when you’re on your own. Enjoying your blog.
Thanks Maxwell. It’s true that I enjoy my own company. And when out and about I also enjoy chatting with people.
You should be writing for the big newspapers, Juliet. This is just as interesting, not to mention well-written and helpful, as any travel piece I’ve read in mainstream.
That’s a lovely compliment. Thanks, Jane!