A few years ago, after losing two friends to cancer, I vowed I would never again bemoan a birthday. Growing older is a gift! Birthdays should be celebrated! (Piñatas and goodie bags optional.)
And so, in this spirit I am happy to announce that I celebrated this year’s milestone (and new crop of gray hairs) in my favorite city and home away from home: Paris, France. A whirlwind trip of 72 hours, it was still enough time to visit good friends, hit the flea markets, eat a lot of unpasteurized cheese, and give thanks for turning one year older.
Here are some of the highlights from the trip, in case you have a birthday coming up as well.
My birthday éclair au chocolat from Stohrer, the oldest patisserie in Paris (est. 1730). Kate Moss once declared, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” She clearly never had a chocolate éclair from Stohrer. Inside this slender tube of pâte à choux was the most intensely chocolatey pastry cream I’ve ever tasted. (Confession: I also had a birthday pain au chocolat here, which was still warm and melty and worth every single calorie.)
- 51, rue Montorgueil, 75002 Paris
- Open 7 days a week, from 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
After walking past this fromagerie near the Marché aux Enfants Rouges (a covered open-air market), I couldn’t help but stop to pick up a few cheeses to sample. They even carried thinly sliced Poilâne aux noix (walnut bread). A boulangerie with fresh baguettes was just a few doors down.
Fromagerie Jouannault père & fille
- 39 Rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris
- Open Tuesday – Saturday, 8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., and then 3:30 – 7:45 p.m.; Sundays 8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Little Breizh is a small, homey crêperie on the Left Bank. Despite being listed as one of the top Paris restaurants on TripAdvisor.com, there were still a couple of French people dining here. Crisp, lacey buckwheat crêpes with any fillings you like. Mine had bacon, raclette cheese, mushrooms and crème fraiche. So good my friend Kelly ordered it as her dessert crêpe! (Gena and I went more mainstream with chocolate and salted caramel sauces and vanilla ice cream.)
Little Breizh Crêperie
- 11, rue Gregoire de Tours, 75006 Paris
Marché aux puces de St-Ouen (Clignancourt)
For me, no trip to Paris would be complete without an excursion to this massive flea market just north of the city. I’m determined to bring home France, one suitcase at a time. (Though this time I brought back some large abstract tableaux from the ‘70s, which had to be checked as oversized baggage.) Here are some shots from the puces, as well as some of the treasures I’ve found during past visits:
In the Marché Jules Vallès
One of a pair of red Sèvres vases
Old wine or cider bottles
Small signed oil on board
Terra cotta chèvre/cheese mould
Nested ironstone mixing bowls
Top Secret Flea Market Tips
There are web sites, books and even apps on the Paris flea markets, so I won’t rehash all the details here. I will, however, share some of my best-kept secrets for making a trip to the puces much more enjoyable:
- Take the metro to Garibaldi (line 13), not Porte de Clignancourt (line 4). (Thanks to Kelly for this tip.) This will bypass all the unsavory and aggressive vendors lining the route from the Pte de Clignancourt exit to the heart of the antiques markets. After exiting the metro, take rue Kléber to rue Edgar Quinet to rue Rosiers. Take a right on rue Rosiers and keep walking until you see this Boulangerie/Patisserie:
- Stop to get a snack. I recommend the croissant aux amandes (almond croissant) or anything that looks like it has pastry cream and chocolate chips. (This “Chinois” is one example.)
- The best bathrooms can be found in the Marché Paul Bert. (This is the photogenic market most often seen in magazines.) There’s also a café and cash machine at the rue Paul Bert entrance of the market.
- Take rue Paul Bert to rue Jules Vallès to find my favorite section of the flea market – the Marché Jules Vallès. Here’s where you’re more likely to find affordable, interesting bric-a-brac that can fit in your suitcase. Don’t be afraid to dig through boxes and strike up conversations with the vendors. (Unless they’re in the middle of lunch; best not to disturb the pot au feu.)
Wine Tasting at the Bon Marché
A lot of guide books list the Bon Marché (La Grande Epicerie de Paris) as a must-see for food lovers, but they neglect to mention the free wine tastings on weekend afternoons. This rosé champagne was one of the wines being sampled – lucky us!