Paris in the winter

Paris in the winter

Mon Dieu. It’s been five weeks since I returned from Paris. Five weeks, and I have not kept my promise to share some of my adventures until today. I have the photos. I have the stories. I just have not had a chance to sit down and sort through them. Procrastinating, are we, French Girl? Un peu. Mind you, I shared my travels daily on the French Girl in Seattle Facebook page, you will recall. It does count, doesn’t it? Trying to be cute now, are we, French Girl? Un peu.

Très bien. Time to get back on the horse. Le blog has felt neglected lately, no doubt. The weather is always a good place to start. Spring is here, and in a few weeks, it will not feel right to write about a visit to Paris in the heart of winter. People often ask me: When is the best time to go to Paris? Spring, summer and fall all offer perks. The Holiday season is a special time. Yet, after this visit, I was reminded of a valuable lesson: Paris is a great city year round.

Maison Fournaise. La Seine. Seen from Rueil Malmaison.
Maison Fournaise. La Seine. Seen from Rueil Malmaison.

Look at this photo. This is Paris-in-the-winter as many people describe her: Slate gray skies. Short days. Perpetually rainy weather. Chilly temperatures. Now look closer. Notice the light, the sky, low and soft, the peaceful surroundings. Notice the beautiful reflections in the Seine river. History is still there, all around you. Do you see it now? This is the mythical Maison Fournaise restaurant, and its famed terrace, immortalized by Auguste Renoir and his friends. For several years, as a Paris resident, I was lucky to enjoy this view from my office window.

Do not discount Paris in the winter. Even after she has shed her spectacular Holiday lights, January and February offer many surprises to those who take the time to slow down and look. Of course, you will follow locals’ example and spend more time indoors. After hours of walking, you will welcome the chance to warm up with hot chocolate, or a cup of tea at a local café or tea room.

Le Loir dans la Théière, rue des Rosiers.
Le Loir dans la Théière, rue des Rosiers.

You will visit museums, and exhibits.

Marmottan-Monet museum, 16th arrondissement
Marmottan-Monet museum, 16th arrondissement.

Keep in mind that Paris awaits outside, as beautiful and mesmerizing in the winter as she is in the summer months – minus the crowds.

An empty [heated] café terrace
An empty [heated] café terrace.
An unusually quiet rue des Rosiers (Le Marais.)

It is easy to forget that Paris has great bones when she is wrapped in summer foliage. The temptation, then, in the shadow of the trees, is to look around, more than to look up. In the winter, your eyes focus more easily on the elegant façades, the architectural feats, and the details.

Peeking through the trees in the Haut Marais
Peeking through the trees in the Haut Marais, 3rd arrondissement.
Peeking through the trees. Square du Temple, Haut Marais.
Square du Temple, Haut Marais.
Mouzaïa neighborhood, 19th arrondissement
Mouzaïa neighborhood, 19th arrondissement.

How fun to return to summertime favorites and discover them dressed in their winter attire!

Reflections at Parc de Bercy, 12th arrondissement
Reflections at Parc de Bercy, 12th arrondissement. Bercy3
Parc de Bercy: Maison du Jardinage, Vineyard.
Place des Vosges
Place des Vosges.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

In the summer, Parisians take the sun and heat for granted. In the winter, they live for those precious moments when the clouds part; and the sunlight wraps them up, bringing some warmth, revealing colors and shadows.

Sun and shadows at le Palais Royal, 1st arrondissement
Sun and shadows at le Palais Royal, 1st arrondissement
A bench with a view. Parc des Buttes Chaumont
A bench with a view. Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Sun break. Place de la Bourse, 2nd arrondissement
Sun break. Place de la Bourse, 2nd arrondissement

Then there is the rain, the ubiquitous rain. Like most Parisians, I used to hate it, as I commuted to work. I would overhear tourists rhapsodize about it. I did not get it, but I do now. Paris in the rain glistens. Paris in the winter shines. Forget pollution and filth: The rain magically washes it all away, revealing those great bones, that once immaculate complexion.

Fontaine Wallace. Parc de Belleville. 20th arrondissement.
Fontaine Wallace. Parc de Belleville. 20th arrondissement.
Rainy day. Belleville (19th arrondissement.)
Rainy day. Belleville (20th arrondissement.)

Let’s give credit to Paris: The city makes even the rain feel special (if not downright romantic, according to some.) And so rainy Paris continues to inspire visitors and artists, old and new.

Paris street; Rainy day. (Gustave Caillebotte)
Paris street; Rainy day. (Gustave Caillebotte)

To quote Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux,) in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris: “Actually, Paris is the most beautiful in the rain.” 

A bientôt.


11 Responses to Paris in the winter

  1. Although I have not seen Paris in winter, I have seen “Paris Street; Rainy Day” in Chicago, at the Art Institute. It is huge, easy to admire for a long time.

  2. So long as the wind is not blowing fast and hard along les boulevards, Paris in winter is indeed a study of architecture and fine proportion. Hate rain all you want, a fine pair of sabots Bretange can get you thru all the streets above the puddles.

    • Ah, the dreaded windy and rainy weather on the Boulevards. Brrrr… I can steel feel that! As for les sabots de Bretagne, Anne (I think that is what you meant,) they may be handy, but am not sure they’d be the perfect fashion statement ;-)

  3. I can’t believe it has been already 5 weeks since you came back! Paris definitively has its charms in winter. Gustave Caillebotte is one of my favorite painter. How well he captured the mood on that rainy day.

    • Bonjour Nadège. I learned more about Caillebotte several years ago, as I was researching a story I wrote about la Maison Fournaise in Rueil-Malmaison. I was impressed with the fact that on top of being an accomplished artist, he also shared his family’s wealth with many struggling friends of his, and acted as an art patron. Bonne semaine en Californie !

  4. I love your photos. I haven’t been to Paris in winter, but many times in the summer rain, and the rain does something magical to the city. It’s something about the change of color, the wet streets with puddles, the swish of traffic through the water… The details you notice when you duck out of the rain through a cafe window.. The shadows are different. The rain pouring through the mouths of gargoyles at Notre Dame, the quiet sound of rain on the gardens in the park…

    • Merci Angela. You write about rainy Paris beautifully. I must confess I am not ok with rainy Paris in the summer months. When you endure 9 months of grey skies and blah weather, as most Parisians (and Seattleites) do, you should be able to count on dry, sunny summers!

  5. Wonderful photos of Paris. Winter just gives Paris that quaint charm that makes you want to walk through its streets endlessly. Agree with Angela, shadows seem to be different in winter, probably because of the way the sun is being sheltered behind snow clouds. Thanks for sharing your photos!

  6. You are such a wonderful ambassador to Paris, and yes, it is beautiful any time of year. I have very fond memories of being there at Christmas time 2003. There was snow on Christmas Eve, so special. We went to Notre Dame for Christmas Eve mass, amazing and unforgettable. I think I need to watch Midnight in Paris again, smile.

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