Paris is many things, but one of the best is that it is a fantastic strolling city. There are patisseries to admire, tunnels to discover, and galleries to meander through. Philip Ruskin gives us a walking tour of his area.
PARIS — When my family relocated from New York City to Royal Paris, where I was born, we landed in the historic 1st arrondissement, four streets from the Louvre. Finding a go-to boulangerie is one of the first orders of business for every transplant worth his or her salt. (In France, of course…)
Because Paris is one of the best travel destinations, a city of endless riches, my regular walk to buy bread quickly became more than just a stroll. It turned into a treasure hunt, winding through lanes and arcades, through stores, monuments, art installations, cafes, and galleries, and into a hidden gem of a park. Amazing baguettes, hot flaky pain au chocolat, and baked wonders at Le Moulin de la Vierge boulangerie are my reward at the end of this time-bending journey.
Let’s take that walk.
I walk north along rue de Richelieu from my residence. I walk by the enormous monument of Molière, France’s most famous playwright and founder of the adjacent Comédie-Française, at the intersection where rue de Molière intersects. I slip into Domaine National du Palais Royal by a little side gate on street du Montpensier, and onto the charming, boomerang-shaped rue de Beaujolais, past the enormous 18th-century Théâtre du Palais-Royal.
Designated a National Monument, the former royal palace and its gardens have borne witness to some of France’s most important historic moments, inspired countless artists, and continue to house one of the most beautiful garden parks in Paris.
This 30,677-square-foot oasis is framed by sumptuous apartments constructed atop columned arcades packed with outdoor cafes, stylish boutiques, art galleries, and eccentric businesses. It was designed by André Le Nôtre (who also designed the gardens of Versailles). Shopping the arcades is a time-hopping adventure, with everything from hard-to-find antique military medals and a striking enormous necklace to vintage orange ’60s jumpsuits with matching patent-leather go-go boots and beautiful Mondrian-inspired gloves.
Are you familiar with your surroundings? They’ve appeared in a slew of fashion shoots and films, including Mission Impossible: Fallout. The Palais Royal’s southern courtyards feature spectacular modern art pieces that appear to span four centuries in a matter of seconds. Posing for selfies atop the Colonnes de Buren, 32,000 square feet of symmetrical rows of striped columns ascending to different heights, is too tempting for most people to resist. We discover a contemplative space in the neighboring Cour d’Orleans courtyard, overshadowed by the anachronistic La Fontaine des Spheres, a fountain by artist Pol Bury with giant steel spheres hovering above the water. This is where the Argentine Tango meet-up takes place.
I cut over the garden’s graveled walk to continue my bread-buying errand, where Camille Desmoulins gave the famous first call to arms that launched the French Revolution on July 12, 1789. (You’re thinking of Le Grand Véfour, one of the city’s oldest and most charming eateries.) Regulars like Napolean and Josephine (whose chairs still grace the dining room), Victor Hugo, Balzac, Julia Child, Jean Cocteau, and Colette were among the boldfaced personalities from the arts, letters, and politics who have been drawn here for more than 230 years. (Learn more about its background.) If you’re looking for a literary find, the sign at 36 rue de Montpensier acknowledges that the last two once lived here.
I emerge from the palace’s covered walkway onto rue du Beaujolais and go down rue des Petit-Champs, passing through the Passage des Deux-Pavillons lane. Marc Chinchole, a rising star chocolatier, has a surprisingly wide choice of unique tastes in bars and bonbons at this modest bean-to-bar store. Chef Olivier Rollinger’s chocolates with spices are unique and can’t be found anyplace else.
I take another step back in time as I wind my way across the street via Galerie Vivienne, one of the neighborhood’s many ancient shopping arcades, where trendy clothing and vintage literature coexist. I quicken my pace and enter Place des Petites Père, crossing the picturesque square dominated by its namesake church to reach my objective, Le Moulin de la Vierge bakery, and cafe. In this jewel box of a boulangerie, the tile mosaics rival the beauty of the breadbaskets along the wall. The heat lights overhead make the café tables a fantastic spot to sit and have a cup of coffee and a pastry at any time of year, though it’s best to arrive early before they sell out of the pastries.
What Stores to Visit
128 Gallerie de Valois, Jardin du Palais Royal; +33-1-42-60-75-88
Elegant gloves that are truly works of art are presented in a gallery-like setting. My favorites are those that are influenced by Piet Mondrian’s vibrant geometric paintings.
8 Gallerie Montpensier, Palais Royal; +33-1-42-96-26-90
Every form of historic, military, and honorary French medal can be found in this curio cabinet of a shop. Collectors, costume designers, and the newly knighted all flock here to find their treasures.
92 rue Montmartre; +33-1-43-54-37-27
A block down rue du Mail from Le Moulin de la Vierge is one of Paris’ best cookbook shops. The staff is quite friendly, and the books are organized by cuisine and cookery category. Another literary detour: look for the “Franz List lived here” inscription at 13 rue de Mail.
Where to Eat
30 rue de Montpensier, +33-1-42-97-49-59
In the back of this studio, Chef Catherine Allain Katell creates gorgeous geometric pastries for her Muscade tea salon a few doors down. I enjoy buying pastries and eating them on a park bench.
30 Rue de Montpensier; +33-1-42 61 85 99 (no website)
Attractive tagine dishes and desserts are available at a reasonable price. Locals and employees from the Ministry of Culture, which is situated in one of the palace buildings, frequent it. Sit outside at one of the garden-side tables when the weather permits. Sit at the elevated table facing the gardens during the cooler months for excellent people-watching.
3 Rue de Petit Champs; +33-1-9-81-36-22-78
On a historically significant street, a modern jewel box of a chocolate shop. All of Marc Chinchole’s chocolates are made on the premises, from bean to bar.
Le Comptoire et Cave Legrand
1 rue de la Banque; +33-1-42-60-07-12
The indoor galleries side of the Belle Epoque wood and mirror-paneled épicerie, beautifully packed with great delicacies and wines, now features a fantastic wine bar. (An insider’s tip: try the fig confiture.) (Believe me when I say this.)
51 Gallerie de Montpensier; +33-1-40-15-62-31
Classic and modern delights, frozen coffees, and teas are all worth the wait. In the Jardin du Palais-Royal, go for the self-serve tables.
Le Grand Vefour
17 rue de Beaujolais; +33-1-42-96-56-27
In the vast restaurant frequented by kings and celebrities for two and a half centuries, Michelin-starred chef Guy Martin provides dazzlingly prepared meals with a contemporary sensibility.