I have been living here long enough that I think I can play favorites. This post I have to boast about my favorite neighborhood in Paris: le Marais.
First let me give you a little run down on the history of the neighbourhood. Le Marais has a long and colourful history and is one of the best representations today of a medieval city in Paris. Although popular from the start, the Marais was at the height of its splendour in the 17th century when it was home to many of the aristocrats and nobility. However, loyal nobility always follow their king and so the 18th century brought Versailles and therefore a deserted Marais. It quickly became a slum and a Jewish ghetto, an area highly neglected and unappreciated by the rest of the city. Much damage was caused during WWII when the Nazi targeted this area. In the 19th century, Baron Haussmann started one of the greatest urban reconstruction projects ever seen in the world. However, he too felt the Marais was not worth it to beautify and left it alone. The rest of Paris got its beautiful reconstruction of grand squares and large boulevards, while the Marais was left with little alley ways and ancient buildings. However, as Paris grew into its grandeur, real estate in the Marais started looking more appealing. As eyes started to turn to the neighborhood, many began to see the beauty in the ancient architecture. Finally, decrees were made to preserve this area and prevent demolition. Although it took much time to rid the area of problems caused by years of neglect, the Marais slowly became what it is today. Now a highly fashionable area full of museums, art galleries, chic shops, and delicious restaurants, the Marais is still known as a Jewish area as well as (more recently) a gay area.
Today, le Marais is where all the Parisians flock to on Sunday. It is one of the few areas that still has many of its shops and restaurants open on Sunday in Paris. The streets are filled and it is my favorite places to be as well. As many times as I have been, I still find more streets to explore. The architecture and layout of the neighbourhood is so different from others in Paris. The shops never cease to interest me and the pastry shops always drag me in with curiosity of what wonderful French and Jewish treats will line the cases. It’s home to the city’s best falafel places and a guaranteed spot to find bagels and kosher delis. One of the most popular streets to get a grasp on the Jewish influence, Rue Roisers, is also the middle of the Pletzl (Yiddish for “little place”).
I have to mention a favorite of the Marais among my family (or I fear I will have some angry readers!) is the restaurant Chez Janou. An always packed, always delicious restaurant that never disappoints. They have typical French dishes and a wonderful atmosphere. I always make sure to bring visitors here and I have yet to hear anything less than a rave review.
This Sunday, I decided to spend another day exploring this awesome neighborhood. I meandered down the streets and picked up a pain au chocolat at one of the many patisseries. Although hot, it started to sprinkle a little bit so before it got worst I decided to head over to a museum I have been longing to see in this area, the Musee Carnavalet. I have been talking about going to this place for ages and something else always comes up. This museum caught my interest for a couple of reasons: it is in the Marais and it’s strictly about the history of Paris. It is also awesome because it is free. The museum is entirely in French, (although this does not pose a problem for me I do feel this is probably important to point out,) but they do have a little pamphlet in English with a very brief overview of each room. Unfortunately, because it is August, the museum was gravely understaffed and was unable to keep all the exhibits open. This just means I will have to return but I did get to see quite a bit. This museum is housed in two mansions with incredible architecture. Inside, there are rooms broken up by century detailing Paris through the ages. There was a nice mix of things to illustrate the eras such as artwork, furniture, models, household items, etc. I really enjoyed it, which i guess was a guarantee because it is based around Paris!
When I was finished with the museum, the sun had decided to come out again. I thought it would be nice to head over to the Place des Voges to catch some rays and read. This park is in the middle of these huge mansions that used to house people like Victor Hugo. I cant help but picture what it used to be like all these centuries ago…
I enjoyed a lazy afternoon people watching and reading before I decided to head home. I of course had to stop in a few boutiques and check out the cool second-hand items they had this week. The Marais is a great area to find thrift stores that have really unique items for good prices. Not something to miss on a visit to le Marais 🙂
Although Paris has it all, I don’t think many neighborhoods can stand up against le Marais. Art, food, shopping all in a neighborhood with unmatched history and culture. What more could you want?
All I know is it is never to hard to find out where I will be spending my Sunday afternoon…