The biggest allure of a visit to France for me is her array of neighbourhood markets. And Paris is undoubtedly a mecca for market enthusiasts, boasting more than 80 of them, some covered and permanent, and most temporary roving markets – called marchés volants – sprouting up a few days a week.
Our Sunday morning starts with a short metro ride to Cité – the island from where the first Celtic settlement grew into Roman Lutetia. And later, very much later, into the metropolis as we know it today.
The earliest recorded markets were located here, with income from taxes on produce, shared proportionately by the King and Bishop of the time. In 1322 legislation was passed specifying their working hours. And by the 14th century these specialist markets became an intrinsic part of French society, as deduced by the shopping list provided in Le Menagier de Paris, ‘a good wife’s guide‘ written by a 60 year old man for his 14 year old bride!!
Just above the Cité station is the Marché aux fleurs, that is said to have continuously existed for 200 years! On Sundays this transforms into a bird market – Marché aux Oiseaux – whose frantic, shrieking little birds in cages are more tragic than pleasing. So we hurry on to another market in the Bastille area.
Steps away from the Colonne de Juillet, the Marché Bastille, doesn’t disappoint. Stretching several blocks into boulevard Richard Lenoir, almost up to the Bréguet Sabin stop, this market is quintessentially French. Bursting with colour and convivial chatter. Filled with effortlessly elegant people. And their dogs! And stalls laden with delicious, honest, heartwarming food.
We regret the early hour. Too early for lunch anyway. But it is the perfect time to catch a glimpse of local life. The interactions of regulars with their favourite vendors and the smiling, chatty vendors themselves. (Incidentally, we are yet to met a snooty Parisian. )
Next neighbourhood stop: OberKampf. For coffee and millefeuille at Jacques Genin. If you haven’t tasted Genin’s millefeuille, (apologies for demolishing half of it before I remembered my camera.) you need to get on that flight to Paris NOW.
And for his melt in the mouth caramels. Divine doesn’t begin to describe them. Be warned though. That coffee doesn’t come cheap. Take-out might be a good idea if you are conserving euros, but getting to use the swank toilet kind of evens it out for me.
A short stroll down rue Charlot and we are on rue de Bretagne at the nondescript entrance to Marché couvert des Enfants Rouges, named after an orphanage whose little inmates once wore red uniforms. Reputed to be the oldest surviving market in Paris, this is a smaller, covered market open six days a week, with space for sit down meals.
Our Moroccan chicken and couscous is made more enjoyable by the lively local Sunday brunch crowd, but we can’t seem to get those poulet roti’s and potatoes out of our heads. This day should ideally have been planned in reverse. But we had been worried about missing out on people watching at the Bastille market if we went too late.
With dessert and lunch out of the way, we walk past the lovely little Square du Temple to the Musée des Arts et Métiers. A delightful treasure trove of the earliest scientific instruments, mechanics, transport and computation objects. Even an original model of the Statue of Liberty by Auguste Bartholdi! And yet another replica of Foucault’s Pendulum (Just can’t seem to figure out where the original is!)
Next on to the whimsical metro stop of the same name just outside the entrance….
….and off at the next for a panoramic view of the city from atop the Beaubourg Museum, also known as the Centre Georges Pompidou.
The Picassos, Kadinskys, Matisses do not disappoint either.
Then back again on the metro to our hotel near Saint Paul for much needed rest and freshening up, before an enchanting concert inside this Gothic chapel, surrounded by stunning, iridescent stained glass.
We didn’t do too badly did we?