Honoré de Balzac proclaimed, “Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never really be elegant!” I have to admit that when you glide down Haussman’s grand boulevards in this capital of sophistication, you can’t help but know he’s right. Only at Christmastime, does the City of Light turn a little more pedestrian transforming itself into the City of Fairy Lights instead. The grandiose store fronts and restaurants are laden with trees, baubles and enough lights to see from space. Upmarket magasins usually reserved for the haute are packed with the many in search of that perfect Noël gift. This is the Paris that the Cypriot and I descended upon this holiday season.
Our two days in Paris began as we boarded our Air France flight from London, Heathrow to Paris, Charles de Gaulle. Boarding a flight always makes a journey so much more exciting! It went off without a hitch and we were up in the air in no time. The attentive flight attendants were ready with our official French breakfast of a flaky croissant & noisette (the franco-macchiato) which immediately put us in the humeur francaise. Flying across La Manche, I am always amazed that this narrow strip of water can divide such different worlds. Forty-five minutes later, we were stepping off the flight into France.
The staff at the Hotel Indigo, our home for the night, greeted us with a hearty Bon Jour & Bienvenue. On a lovely quiet pedestrian street off the busy Boulevard des Capucines, the Hotel Indigo was in the perfect area for our planned explorations of the day. We intended to make our way up the Rue de Martyrs in the 9th to Montmartre. Charlotte at reception was extremely helpful with offering routes and calling shops to make sure they were open. We dropped off our luggage in our warm and toasty, chic and comfy room, took a swig of the coke we found in the all-inclusive mini-bar and set out to explore SoPi (south of Pigalle).
The 9th arrondissement was always neither here nor there. In between the world-famous Galeries Lafayette and the shady Pigalle, it was a kind of no-go area. Except for the Impressionists who shivered in their under-heated garrets suffering for their art, it was a pretty much unvisited area. Slowly it’s being transformed thanks to the foodie revolution. International home cooks make a pilgrimage to the 9th and as it gets more and more popular, the smaller mom and pop shops are being pushed and the chains are moving in. It’s not all doom and gloom though and still great fun for those peckish tourists who seek it out.
It was a quick walk from the Hotel Indigo to the over-the-top Notre Dame de Lorette Church which heralds the beginning of the Rue Flechier, the street leading up to Rue des Martyrs. It’s home to a few old and a few new design shops: pa design, Dis Bonjour a la Dame, and Divini Kreol. Once you have sated your need for homeware, let the eating begin. There’s an onslaught of takeout places, bakeries, wine shops, patisseries, chocolate shops, homeware places, second-hand stores and restaurants. Even famed chef Rose Carrarini’s Rose Bakery – home to the best of British fare in Paris – proves the Entente Cordiale is in full force even in the 9th.
We turned left on the very pretty Rue des Abbesses. The garrets may no longer be home to Toulouse-Lautrec or Picasso but contemporary graffiti artists have claimed them as their own. The olden days are still visible in the architecture and a few restaurants have remained there since the 19th century, like La Mascotte. We turned up the modern Rue de Caulaincourt as our lunch beckoned.
I love that the set lunch in France is still going strong. Even on a Tuesday it is assumed you will eat two or three courses and, I mean serious courses. Today’s menu du maison included house smoked trout with wasabi cream, duck confit with mashed potatoes and, to top it all off, an individual chocolate tart for dessert. Yes, we ate it all and even accompanied with a glass or two of their house bordeaux. It’s amazing that we didn’t fall into a food coma right there. Thank goodness for the noisette at the end of the meal – its sole purpose is to get you back to work or up the hill to Montmartre, in our case.
We took an easy roundabout promenade to the church unexpectedly coming upon the Maison Tzara, built by modernist architect Adolf Loos for the artist Tristan Tzara, a founder of Dadaism. Loos was very interested in interior design as well but unfortunately only an original balustrade still exists. (I asked the owner of the Fiat as he happened to be getting out of the car when we approached the house.) Turning the corner, Sacré-Coeur could be seen towering above Paris. Tourist shops and struggling artists hawk their wares to suspecting visitors who, after a boozy lunch, are in the mood to consume some more.
It’s hard to think of a time when Sacré-Coeur wasn’t at the top of Montmartre guarding over Paris like an over-protective mother. I know it’s a cliché but as the winter afternoon light began to descend and the fairy lights twinkled in the distance, the view was breath-taking.