By guest blogger, Anna Brones, whose appreciation for strong coffee and love of stripes has won our respect as an authority on the City of Lights.
It was cold and windy, the first day of fall with enough nip in the air to warrant a scarf and make you wonder if you should have grabbed your gloves. Yellow leaves were scattered on the ground as we walked around the back side of Sacré-Coeur, my preferred side of Montmartre, as it’s far less explored by tourists.
We had reservations at Le Grand 8, one of those restaurants right next to a tourist hotspot that manages to keep an amazing menu at a reasonable price, and is frequented by locals. With its bright red facade on a cobblestone street, it feels quintessentially Parisian.
We sat in the back corner of the restaurant. At 7:45pm it was dusk. The rooftops glowed under the beautiful pinkish light that Paris is known for and the lights of all the windows made the skyline glitter. Early in terms of the Parisian dinner schedule, we had the restaurant to ourselves, the waitress happy to talk about the wine she had tasted the weekend before and that we should definitely try.
In her black sweater layered over a striped shirt with short cropped hair, she possessed the simple elegance for which Parisian women are renowned. She made her way to the corner table of the restaurant where round loaves of dark bread sat next to wicker baskets. She sliced a loaf and the sounds of sawing through a thick crust filled the quiet restaurant. As night descended and the restaurant filled with people, there was a warmth to the room that only comes from this time of year.
Fall is one of my favorite seasons – but in Paris it’s magical.
“Magical?” you say, “isn’t every season in Paris magical?”
Certainly it’s hard to visit Paris at any time of the year and not be charmed. Even in the thickest of snow storms a walk along the Seine is a beautiful thing. But in fall, all of the good things coalesce into nothing less than perfection. The hordes summer tourists have dissipated, along with the hot days, though it’s no less sunny. And there’s a lot of talk of vendanges, the fall wine harvest. This is the season of sweaters, scarves and mornings fueled by cafe au lait. Pedal around town on a chilly yet sunny day, and it’s hard to want to be anywhere else.
Hopefully you need no more convincing to visit Paris this fall. When you arrive, here are some of my favorite ways and places to take advantage of the season.
With the 2007 installation of the bikeshare program Vélib, Paris has made a name for itself as a bike capital. The bikeshare system is used by tourists and locals alike, and it makes for a completely different experience of the city; take the underground metro to get from points A to B and you miss everything in between, but bike from point A to point B and you’ll make all kinds of discoveries along the way. One thing is for sure: biking in Paris is not for the faint of heart. It’s a constant balance of dodging taxis, scooters, pedestrians and even roller bladers. But if you’re confident on two wheels, keep your eyes open and pay attention to the road, there’s no better way to get around. There are several devoted bike paths around town that you can plan your day around, and this year Vélib actually published its own Paris city guide (in English and French), intended for the person looking to get around Paris by bike. It has suggested bike routes by neighborhood, complete with recommended local bars, restaurants and cafes as well as historical tidbits.
Produce: Marché Biologique Raspail
The first organic market in Paris, this one features delicious, seasonal produce as well as several vendors that serve up the best in organic street food. On Sunday mornings locals from the 6th arrondissement gather to do their shopping for the week, and even if you don’t need to do your groceries, just walking through this market is worth a visit. Check out O’Regal Muffins, run by a lovely woman named Valerie who serves her own home baked English muffins, made with locally sourced ingredients of course, along with organic coffee.
If you’re in the mood for something savory, try the onion potato galettes near the north entrance of the market. They’re served fresh off the griddle, sprinkled with salt and will immediately warm your hands. Located between streets Cherche Midi and Rennes, 75006.
Picnic: Jardins du Luxembourg
If the sun is shining and you’re well bundled, head to Jardins du Luxembourg after your Sunday morning market run to Marché Biologique Raspail. With the legendary green armchairs, you can sit here for hours. The park is much less crowded than during the spring and summer, and with the leaves changing to a gorgeous shade of yellow, it’s a classic Parisian place to spent an autumn afternoon.
Breakfast: Soul Kitchen
For a long and quiet breakfast, head to Soul Kitchen, on the backside of Montmartre. They’re devoted to organic, vegetarian, locally sourced ingredients. The breakfast will run you 10 Euros, a steal in this city, and will get you fresh squeezed juice, coffee or tea (don’t worry, the coffee is locally roasted on the Left Bank at Coutume) and a choice of everything from fresh baked scones to a baguette slathered with butter and cheese. My favorite option is the homemade granola served with fromage blanc. The quiet and cozy atmosphere will have you holing up in a corner and staying awhile. Bring your book or just people watch through the big windows in the warm comfort of the cafe. Soul Kitchen, 33 Rue Lamarck, 750018
Coffee: La Caféothèque
Paris isn’t known for its coffee selection, so it’s good to have a few addresses where you can get a strong cup of locally roasted goodness. La Caféothèque is one of those places. While there has been a recent influx of coffee shops inspired by an importation of Australian and American coffee culture (think craft roast and well trained baristas), La Caféothèque is one of Paris’ original spots that roasts and sells their own beans. You can buy bulk beans or just sit down in the cozy space and drink an espresso or even a French press. Located close to Hôtel de Ville and right on the Seine, it’s a prime location for anyone exploring the center of town. La Caféothèque, 52, rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville 75004
Drinking wine in France can be overwhelming. Which region should you be drinking from? How do you know which winery to buy from? If you want to pick a place where you really can’t go wrong, head into Garde-Robe, a cave à vins, that specializes in natural wines from France and beyond. All of their offerings are stacked up on the wall, as if it were a wine bookshelf, with the prices carefully written in white on each bottle. The servers are always warm and friendly and if you’re unsure of which wine to choose they are more than happy to help guide you. Pair your bottle with a planche of artisan cheeses. Garde-Robe, 41 Rue de l’Arbre Sec, 75001
Beer: La Fine Mousse
Craft beer in Paris? Some will tell you that’s an anomaly, but if you want to taste some of the best that French microbrews have to offer, La Fine Mousse in the 11th arrondissement will not disappoint. They have 20 beers on tap, and a selection of over 150 bottles. When you’ve spent your day walking through the hip neighborhoods of Canal Saint Martin and Oberkampf, this is where you want to end up. La Fine Mousse, 6 Avenue Jean Aicard, 75011
Want more great advice on how to eat and live well? Anna Brones is a writer based in Paris and the author of The Culinary Cyclist: A Cookbook and Companion for the Good Life. Get yourself a copy as soon as you return from your trip to France.