So traditional, yet so modern. So predictable, yet so surprising: How does Paris do it?
Every year, once I have returned to favorite neighborhoods, I need not look far to discover something new to get enthusiastic about. Last summer, I loved my stroll in SoPi (South Pigalle,) and wrote a story about the newly gentrified area around la rue des Martyrs.
In February, I decided to explore a neighborhood Parisian friends have been raving about: le Haut Marais, (the Upper Marais.) It covers most of the 3rd arrondissement, and is defined as the area located between the Picasso museum and Place de la République. Back in the mid-1990s, around the time I moved from Paris to Seattle, the neighborhood was nothing special. The traditional part of le Marais, (rue des Rosiers, place des Vosges, rue des Francs-Bourgeois,) was the popular place where I spent my days as a college student, or met friends on the weekends. Far from glamorous, Le Haut Marais seemed out of the way, small streets lined with former private residences, les hôtels particuliers, that had been converted into workshops and small factories. Times change. Today, le Haut Marais is a coveted section of Paris with soaring real estate prices. Celebrities live there and can be spotted on rue Charlot, or rue de Bretagne, two of the main arteries. Art galleries and art dealers line up peaceful streets. Parisians and international visitors flock to trendy boutiques like Merci, the fashion and decor concept store.
For those of us who don’t enjoy department stores, le Haut Marais is a boutique-centric shopping Mecca, where big designer names rub elbows with independent retailers.
At lunch time, you will not go starving either. Small bistros and ethnic restaurants abound. Breizh Café has built a steady following among locals and international visitors alike as *the* place to enjoy galettes (savory buckwheat crêpes) and crêpes in Paris. On a cold Tuesday in February, around 1:30pm, the restaurant announced a 30-minute wait, and several guests were lining up outside, some with travel bags at their feet.
Another neighborhood classic address is Café Charlot, a bistro with a 1920s feel, popular with the “in-crowd.” The star dish? The house cheeseburger! My guest and I settled for a delicious magret de canard, served with pommes sarladaises, peaches, and berry sauce. For dessert? A café-gourmand (three miniature desserts served with a shot of espresso.)
The good news: You do not need to splurge on a sit-down meal while visiting le Haut Marais. The French capital’s oldest food market, le Marché des Enfants Rouges (built 1610,) was revamped in 2000. This is not your traditional Parisian market: Les Enfants Rouges has more delis than produce stands. But what great vendors they are: For a few Euros, you can be transported to Greece, Italy, Lebanon or Morocco. You can take your meal home or have a picnic on site. I did not hesitate too long before I started lining up outside the Moroccan vendor’s booth. I chatted with the owner who offered me a glass of hot mint tea, the perfect antidote to a cold winter day.
Le Haut Marais offers more than [good] shopping and eating. In the heart of winter, the neighborhood appears quiet and authentic. Local shop keepers greet each other on the sidewalk in the morning. Passers-by hurry on their way to work. The occasional bicycle warns pedestrians to stay out of the way with a commanding “Ding, ding!” Nearby, at the Square du Temple, Parisian children chase pigeons while their mothers (or nannies?) chat on a bench. Just another day in le Haut Marais.