Lots of tourists don’t go to the Marais in Paris, which is a shame. And, in fact, when I have recommended my favorite hotel in Paris to friends, which is located on Place des Vosges in the Marais, their travel agents have pooh-poohed it as being “too far off the beaten track.”
Well, maybe that’s why I like it. It is more local.
The word Marais, actually means swamp in French. It was one once, back when Paris was pretty much located on the Ile de Cite, the home of Notre Dame. The first folks to settle the Marais, the area just across the river, were the Jewish population and then other folks decided it would be a good idea to move to the outskirts of Paris and it became a “high rent” district during the 18th century.
The king decided to live there. Elegant homes and apartments were built.
Then the King moved to the Lourve, the neighborhood went downhill and so it goes.
Somewhere around the 1970s, creative types discovered the area and many of the old apartments were restored and now….ta da….it is a lively and fun spot to hang out.
What I like about the Marais is that the old architecture still exists which is not true for Ille de Cite, the island in middle of the Seine where you visit Notre- Dame and Sainte Chapelle.
I’ve always wondered about why these two magnificent religious structures are surrounded by modern buildings. Well, up until the 1700s Ile de la Cite was the old and winding town known as Paris, with its churches and a labyrinth of streets, shops and houses.
This was all torn down in the name of urban renewal. Thankfully, the Marais escaped demolition. It is the “old town” of this marvelous European city—a bounty of architecture and design.
I like the youth and energy super-imposed on the historic buildings and winding streets. I love Place des Vosges– truly the most beautiful square in Paris. Once a royal palace, it is now a square where families and lovers and old folks and young folks hang out in the graceful park complete with fountain, sandboxes, benches and trees.
I have truly enjoyed getting to know the Marais, hanging out on Place des Vosges, walking over to concerts at Sainte Chapelle, shopping on Rue des Francs Bourgeois and Rue Vieille du Temple and the side streets. When worn out by that, I like to wander over to Ile Saint-Louis –the other island in the Seine, once a cow pasture—for ice cream.
I love exploring the many tiny little restaurants in the Marais, sidewalk cafes, bakeries and markets but especially I love the wine bar: La Belle Hortense. You can sit at a small bar and drink a glass of wine. You can buy wine and take it back to your apartment. This little spot is also a book store so you can browse the books, and buy one as well. If you are hungry the restaurant across the street will send over a plate of something tasty.
It would be a perfect field trip destination for my book club–but alas–we wouldn’t all fit. There are 14 of us, I think, when all in attendance. This wine bar is too small for that size group. And that’s what makes it and the Marais perfectly charming.