Paris is many great things and top among them: It's an epic walking city. Patisseries to admire, passages to explore, galleries to stroll. Philip Ruskin takes us on a tour around his neighborhood.
PARIS — When my family moved from NYC to Paris, the town where I was born, we settled four blocks from the Louvre in the historical 1st arrondissement. One of the first orders of business for any transplant worth their sel is to find what will become their go-to boulangerie. (When in France…)
Because Paris is a city of riches that keeps giving and giving, my daily routine to buy bread quickly turned into more than a mere walk. It became a treasure hunt, weaving in and out of alleys and arcades, past shops, monuments, art installations, cafes, and galleries, and through a hidden gem of a garden. My reward at the end of this time-bending trek are amazing baguettes, hot flaky pain au chocolat, and baked marvels at Le Moulin de la Vierge boulangerie.
Let’s take that walk.
From my apartment, I head north on rue de Richelieu. At the corner where it transects rue de Molière, I pass under the imposing statue of Molière, France’s most famous playwright and founding member of the nearby Comédie-Française. I duck into Passage Beaujolais, a short-cut alley, onto the picturesque, boomerang-shaped rue de Beaujolais, past the grand 18th-century Théâtre du Palais-Royal, and slip into Domaine National du Palais Royal through a small side gate on rue du Montpensier.
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.
With a magnificent fountain at the center, this 30,677-square-foot oasis designed by André Le Nôtre (who also created gardens of Versailles) is framed by palatial apartments built atop columned arcades filled with outdoor cafes, fashionable boutiques, art galleries, and eclectic shops. From hard-to-find antique military medals and striking oversized necklace to vintage orange ‘60s jumpsuits with matching patent-leather go-go boots and fine Mondrian-inspired gloves, shopping the arcades is time-hopping experience.
Recognize the surroundings? You’ve seen them in countless fashion shoots and films like Mission Impossible: Fallout, to name but one. The southern courtyards at Palais Royal house striking modern art installations that seem to bridge four centuries in as many seconds. Posing for selfies atop the Colonnes de Buren, symmetrical rows of striped columns rising to different heights and spread over 32,000 square feet, is too tempting for most to resist. In the adjacent Cour d’Orleans courtyard, we find a contemplative nook dominated by the anachronistic La Fontaine des Spheres, a fountain with oversized steel spheres hovering above the water by artist Pol Bury. The Argentine Tango meet-up gathers here.
Continuing on my bread buying mission, I cut across the garden’s graveled walk, where, on July 12, 1789, Camille Desmoulins gave the famous first call to arms that sparked the French Revolution. (You’re imagining the Le Grand Véfour, one of the city’s oldest and loveliest restaurants. Among the boldfaced names from the arts, letters, and politics who have been drawn here for more than 230 years were regulars like Napolean and Josephine (whose chairs still grace the dining room), Victor Hugo, Balzac, Julia Child, Jean Cocteau, and Colette. (Read more about its history.) If you’re on a literary hunt, just around the corner at 36 rue de Montpensier is the sign acknowledging that the last two once lived here.
I re-emerge from the palace’s covered walkway onto rue du Beaujolais and cut through the Passage des Deux-Pavillons alley to rue des Petit-Champs, where I occasionally pop into the decidedly contemporary L’Instant Cacao for a box of artisanal chocolates. This tiny bean-to-bar shop features a surprisingly wide range of innovative flavors in bars and bonbons from rising star chocolatier Marc Chinchole. His chocolates with spices from chef Olivier Rollinger are stand-outs and can’t be found anywhere else.
Directly across the street I step back in time again, winding through Galerie Vivienne, another of the neighborhood’s many historic shopping arcades, where modern fashions and antique books can be found side by side. Picking up the pace, I step out onto Place des Petites Père and cross the charming square dominated by its namesake church to reach my destination, Le Moulin de la Vierge bakery and cafe. The tile mosaics rival in beauty the baskets of breads along the wall in this jewel box of a boulangerie. The heat lamps overhead make the café tables a great place to sit and sip a café and savor a pastry any time of year, though it’s important to arrive early, before they sell out of the pistachio financiers.
Where to Shop
128 Gallerie de Valois, Jardin du Palais Royal; +33-1-42-60-75-88
The gallery-like presentation does justice to elegant gloves that are true works of art. My favorites are those inspired the colorful geometric art of Piet Mondrian.
8 Gallerie Montpensier, Palais Royal; +33-1-42-96-26-90
This curio cabinet of a shop has every type of historic, military, and honorific French medal. Collectors, costume designers, and the recently knighted come here to find what they’re looking for.
92 rue Montmartre; +33-1-43-54-37-27
One of the best cookbook stores in Paris is a block down rue du Mail from Le Moulin de la Vierge. Books here are organized by cuisine and cooking category, and the staff is extremely helpful. Another literary break: Look up at 13 rue de Mail for the “Franz List lived here” plaque.
Where to Eat
30 rue de Montpensier, +33-1-42-97-49-59
Chef Catherine Allain Katell makes stunning geometric pastries in the back of this atelier, which supplies her Muscade tea salon several doors down. I like to buy pastries and devour them on a bench in the gardens.
30 Rue de Montpensier; +33-1-42 61 85 99 (no website)
Outstanding tagine dishes and desserts at very reasonable prices. Popular with locals and staff from the Ministry of Culture, which is housed in one of the palace buildings. When weather permits, sit outdoors at one of the garden-side tables. In cooler months, sit at the elevated table facing the gardens for great people-watching.
3 Rue de Petit Champs; +33-1-9-81-36-22-78
A contemporary jewel box of a chocolate shop on a street steeped in history. Chocolatier Marc Chinchole makes all his chocolates bean-to-bar on premise.
Le Comptoire et Cave Legrand
1 rue de la Banque; +33-1-42-60-07-12
The Belle Epoque wood and mirror-paneled épicerie neatly stacked with fine goodies and wines now has a terrific wine bar on the indoor gallerie side. (Pro tip: The fig confiture. Trust me on this.)
51 Gallerie de Montpensier; +33-1-40-15-62-31
Classic and contemporary treats, ice coffees, and teas worth the wait in line. Go for the self-serve tables in the Jardin du Palais-Royal.
Le Grand Vefour
17 rue de Beaujolais; +33-1-42-96-56-27
Michelin-starred chef Guy Martin serves dazzlingly plated dishes with a contemporary sensibility in the grand restaurant frequented by royalty and celebs for two and a half centuries.