There are no big monuments here, no hits like the Eiffel Tower, Louvre or Arc de Triomphe, only crooked streets and old buildings.
Posted by Jennie
Marais (pronounced Mah-ray) is the french word for marsh, as this area used to be a swamp. The neighbourhood is a slice of what Paris looked like before Haussman built Napoleon’s Paris with its huge avenues and gigantic squares.
Today, swamp has become swank. With its many boutiques, restaurants, cafes and art galleries the Marais is now the hub of the city’s LGBT and Jewish community. In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Marius the wealthy revolutionary lives in a hotel particulier or mansion in the Marais, at rue Filles du Calvaire to be exact. In more modern literature, Astrid Leong in Crazy, Rich Asians does her “secret” shopping in the Marais where only people “in the know” shop.
In the book Me Before You, Lou asks Will where she should go should she have the chance. He answers “Paris. I would sit outside a cafe in Le Marais and drink coffee and eat a plate of warm croissants with unsalted butter and strawberry jam. It’s a little district in the center of Paris. It is full of cobbled streets and teetering apartment blocks and gay men and orthodox Jews and women of a certain age who once looked like Brigitte Bardot. It’s the only place to stay.”
So on to my day at Le Marais. Place des Vosges for sure. This is where Victor Hugo lived. Place des Vosges is one of the oldest squares in Paris and also one of the most beautiful. It’s a place to run, walk your dog, play in the sandbox if you have kids or simply lie on the grass or sit on one of the many benches.
Jewish food. I’ve tried Fallafel but didn’t like it very much to be honest. So I’m glad that’s over so there’s no need to feel the need to fall in line at the famous L’As du Falafel on Rue de Rossiers. The lines are insane all hours of the day. But I do like a good pastrami sandwich, and that’s Jewish too. A stone’s throw away from Rue de Rossiers is Schwartz Deli, a great place to go for not only pastrami but hotdogs and burgers with frites and giant pickles on the side. You will leave smelling like burgers, just so you know.
Art. I said there are no big monuments in the Marais, but the Center Pompidou is here, if that’s to be considered in the league of the Eiffel Tower. With its inside out design by famous Architect Renzo Piano, it certainly is unique. The best thing about the Center Pompidou is its manageable size. No museum fatigue here. There’s just enough so that you can enjoy the modern art pieces you like at an easy pace and even go back to them for a second look. There are works by Matisee, Kandinsky, Pollock, Mondrain, Rothko and all the great modernists.
Center Pompidou and the view from the top.
Walk. It’s possibly the best thing to do in this neighbourhood of small streets and small unique boutiques. Chain stores like Lush and big brand stores like Ugg and American Apparel are here too for sure, but it’s a great mix of the familiar and the obscure. Window shopping, browsing, ogling, it’s all good fun. No LV, Chanel or Dior here, again just so you know.
Food. That’s not Jewish. There are just too many choices. I’ll stick to what I’ve tried. Burgers, big and juicy at Marche des Enfant Rouges. Here, there are many food choices all under one roof, Moroccan, Italian, Middle Eastern and even Japanese. Come by when you’re in the mood for something other than French food.
French Food. Again, so many little cafes to choose from. The good thing is, you can hardly make a mistake if you stick to the classics, which to my limited knowledge of French food is Soupe a l’oignon, Escargot, Steak Tartare, Duck Confit, Moules Marinieres and my favourite Steak Frites!
Check out parisautrement.com if you plan to stay in the Marais on your next trip to Paris. They’re a short term apartment rental company specialising in properties located in the neighbourhood.