the hidden passages of Paris

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 135

When I first moved to this city, I lived in the 9th arrondissement and worked in the Paris bureau of the Reuters news agency. Imagine my delight when I discovered that the hidden passage located near my apartment snaked through the city and led directly to my place of work. Fresh from North America, I was utterly charmed by the historical aspect of these late 18th-century and mid 19th-century conduits. I imagined myself in an Emile Zola novel. In fact, Zola wrote about the passages in his novel, Nana. Here’s a brief excerpt (published in 1880!)

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 106

“One December evening Count Muffat was strolling in the Passage des Panoramas. The evening was very mild, and owing to a passing shower, the passage had become crowded with people. There was a perfect mob of them, and they thronged slowly and laboriously between the shops on either side. A perfect stream of brilliancy emanated from white globes, red lanterns, blue transparencies, lines of gas jets, gigantic watches and fans, outlined in flame and burning in the open. And the displays in the shops, the gold ornaments of the jeweler’s, the glass ornaments of the confectioner’s, the light-colored silks of the modiste’s, seemed to shine in the crude light of the reflectors behind the plate-glass windows.”

Here is the Passage des Panoramas today:

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 105Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 112

Each passage has its own character; some a bit shabby and run-down, others well-tended. Here’s the Passage Verdeau, near rue Cadet in the 9th arrondissement, that was my starting point when I walked to work all those years ago.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 136Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 130

There used to be a restaurant-deli in the Passage Verdeau called Le Stube which sold divine German pastries (strudels, poppyseed cake, Sachertorte, etc.), pastrami and Black Forest ham sandwiches on rye, hot dishes of sauerkraut, bratwurst, etc. I once had a delicious potato and herring salad followed by warm cherry strudel and a double espresso there. They used to sell those irresistible Niederegger marzipan chocolate-covered loaves that I love. Sadly, Le Stube is no longer there.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 127

Here’s the next connecting passage. It’s Sunday, so this bookseller’s shop is closed. For several years, twice a day, I walked this route, dawdling in the shops on the way home, never tiring of its appeal.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 120Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 116

Exit the Passage Jouffroy, cross the boulevard Montmartre, and into the next stretch of passage. For anyone wanting to come here, the nearest metro station is Grands Boulevards.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 107Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 103

Further south, on the other side of the Bourse (the stock exchange) is another, independent passage called the Galerie Vivienne. This is the most elegant and well-tended of the glass-roofed shopping arcades. At Christmas-time it’s all lit up with fairy lights. Notice the gorgeous mosaic tiled flooring.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 092Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 099Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 077Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 098

This is a great shopping area. Inside this passage and outside on the rue des Petits Champs heading towards the Place des Victoires are dozens of small clothing boutiques. There’s a shop inside the Galerie Vivienne called Nathalie Garçon which sells original one-off pieces. Directly across from it is another shop that sells exquisite scarves.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 086

Further up is a second-hand clothing shop called La Marelle where I’ve bought and sold many shoes, handbags, clothes and accessories over the years. You can pick up a gorgeous pair of Prada shoes, a Fendi handbag or items of clothing with Miu Miu, Hermès, YSL labels and other luxury brand names, depending on what’s in stock.

This lovely-looking restaurant (below) is overpriced and a bit precious.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 094

Instead, I recommend the Bistrot Vivienne at number 4 rue des Petits-Champs, just at the entrance of the Galerie Vivienne. It’s much more down to earth and serves delicious, hearty meals and good carafes of wine. Remember the movie, Something’s Gotta Give, with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton? The Parisian brasserie where they and Keanu Reeves ate at is Le Grand Colbert, located just around the corner at number 2 rue Vivienne.

If you’re a wine lover, you must visit LEGRAND wine merchants. From their website: A wine cellar, gourmet grocery store, a bistro, a tasting bar — visit Legrand’s many ideal spaces in which to share our passion for wine. You can have a meal there, drink a fabulous glass or bottle of wine, and buy some sweets afterward (and a few bottles of wine, bien sûr!)

Before you click on this in-depth link below of these shops, I just wanted to add that there’s a lesser known passage, very chic, that I haven’t been to yet, but intend to explore. It’s tucked away in a backstreet near the Louvre, and it’s called the Galerie Véro-Dodat. It’s a hidden gem, I hear, with a good French restaurant inside called the Restaurant Véro Dodat. (P.S. There’s a Christian Louboutin boutique inside this gallery, so it must be très chic indeed.)

 Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 088

Around Town – Shopping, food and sightseeing itinerary, 2nd arrondissement.

Come with me and discover some of the fashion, food and shopping hotspots in Paris: some well-known, others less so; some central, others off-the-grid. These are places that I (and other Parisians) visit regularly.

Our first destination is the Place des Victoires, territory of the fashionista and far from the crush of the 8th arrondissement. Compared with the oh-so-crowded Marais district, Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the big department stores on the boulevard Haussmann, this understated yet fashionable neighbourhood is far more spacious and quieter on Saturday afternoons. Wedged between the opera house, the Grands boulevards and the Palais Royal, with the Stock Exchange smack dab in the middle, the 2nd arrondissement is perfectly positioned in the central core of the city.

Paris, 2nd arr March 30, 2014 032

The best way to get to the circular Place des Victoires is to take the metro to Palais-Royal then walk through the Palais Royal gardens. When you come out of the gardens at the north end, turn right onto the rue des Petits Champs. As you walk along the narrow sidewalk, you’ll see the elegant 19th-century shopping arcade, the Galerie Vivienne on your left. Why not have lunch at the reasonably-priced Bistrot Vivienne? Or, even better and if the weather is nice, stop for lunch in the actual garden of the Palais Royal where there are a few reasonably-priced restaurants under the arcades. The Palais Royal garden is my most favourite spot in Paris. So much so that I have dedicated a blog post to it (the link, entitled Secret Garden, is at the bottom of this post).

Paris, 2nd arr March 30, 2014 069

Here’s the inside of the gallery which, in essence, is an early 19th century shopping mall.

Paris, 2nd arr March 30, 2014 065Paris, 2nd arr March 30, 2014 077

A note for wine buffs: don’t miss Legrand wine merchants (photo below), a delicious Paris institution. When I’m feeling flush, I come here to buy a bottle of plummy Chinon. Legrand has selections not only from prestigious vineyards, but from small and independent vineyards as well.  

Make your way to the front to the original shop and you’ll find chocolates, gourmet food items and old-fashioned candies on sale. Ask for négus which are stored in a big glass jar; these are my favourite (crackly on the outside, soft caramel inside). Still made in the Burgundy town of Nevers, négus are dark brown bonbons created in 1900 in honour of the official visit of Menelik II, the Emperor of Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia). Imagine that!  Everything has a story.

Paris, 2nd arr March 30, 2014 066

Walk further along and on your left you’ll come to a second-hand designer clothes shop called La Marelle. Depending on their stock at the moment, you can pick up some real gems. As well as designer clothes, they also sell handbags, shoes, belts and some jewelry.

Paris, 2nd arr March 30, 2014 074

I fell in love with these shoes but they were a size too small!

Paris, 2nd arr March 30, 2014 063

People seemed to be enjoying this café, so I went in for a fuel stop. I stood at the bar and ordered an espresso.

Paris, 2nd arr March 30, 2014 058Paris, 2nd arr March 30, 2014 059

It was awful.  And it cost me 1 euro 40.  Here’s the barman making it for me.  I should have said to him – Monsieur, votre café est dégueulasse! – but on that particular day I was feeling mellow and let it pass.  The majority of Parisian cafés serve pretty foul coffee which explains the coffee revolution that took place a few years ago.  Today there are a number of quality coffee bars dotted around the city, most of them run by Australians and Americans.

Paris, 2nd arr March 30, 2014 060