Paris Picnics (Travel Tips Series)

Paris Picnics (Travel Tips Series)

Paris is expensive!” “Did you know many restaurants in Paris serve frozen, reheated food?” Ah, Paris. So many Michelin-starred restaurants, so little cash. So many neighborhood bistros. So little time. What to do? Here is French Girl in Seattle’s guide to successful Paris picnics.

Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (Edouard Monet)
Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (Edouard Monet)

Picnics may seem like the easiest, most affordable way of sustaining oneself while enjoying the French capital. How relaxing: No need to decipher a lengthy menu in French while the efficient but standoffish waiter stands behind your chair. No need to wait for the next course to make its way – slowly – to your table. No need to beg for the elusive addition (check.) And what a great way to slow down, smell the roses, and enjoy those iconic parks and gardens!

Not so fast. Like many other things in French life, Paris picnics can be… complicated.

Tip #1: Not all Parisian lawns are created equal. When Monet painted the monumental “Luncheon in the grass,” pictured above, he and his friends did not have to worry about signs such as these…

PelouseInterdite
Pelouse Interdite. Keep off the grass.
Pelouse au Repos
Pelouse au repos. The lawn is resting for a while.

Many visitors are shocked to find out that in many Parisian parks and gardens, it is simply not allowed to step on the grass, let alone sit or picnic there. Parents of young children in particular, just shake their heads. Occasionally, the city of Paris decides to be magnanimous.

Pelouse ouverte
Pelouse ouverte. Lawn open to the public.

The small strip of grass they have just “opened” immediately turns into this.

Jardins du Luxembourg (Photo: www.argoul.com)
Jardins du Luxembourg (Photo: www.argoul.com)

 

Rebels might be tempted to ignore no-go signs and start a picnic in the grass, à la Monet. Rebels will do so at their own risk. As they prepare to bite into that jambon-beurre sandwich they have been dreaming about, they may be surprised to see the local gardien de jardin (guard,) or municipal police officer stride towards them and shoo them away with a stern look on his face and a dismissive, “Allez, ouste!” Check out these photos of a scene captured in the Luxembourg gardens.

Serge Gainsbourg, a true rebel.
Serge Gainsbourg, a true rebel.

Tip #2: Use Parisian benches and chairs. They are there for a reason.

Benches
Bords de Seine, Rueil Malmaison
Benches2
Near the Champs-Elysées
GreenChairs
Palais Royal

When in Paris… This is how many Parisians picnic, especially in the winter when the ground may be cold and wet.

Picnics on benches
Déjeuner sur un banc. Luncheon on a bench. Parc des Buttes Chaumont

Grass is still popular with many visitors.

piquenique

Tip #3: Choose a good spot. For lists of the best locations for Paris picnics, look here and here.

The Seine river banks rank high on my personal list. On a hot day, I am not averse to picnics inside, as long as I have a room with a view…

PiqueNiqueIleStLouis
Tip of Ile St Louis

Picnicinside

Tip #4: Find picnic supplies. Raid outdoor markets. Visit specialty shops. Your best options are: le Traiteur (deli,) the local Charcuterie (another type of deli,) especially if they offer rôtisserie chicken, la boulangerie (for a fresh baguette, or sandwiches,) la fromagerie (the cheese shop.)

Charcutier
Great place for cold cuts, saucisson and pâté.
Fruits Marché
Selection of easy-to-eat produce offered “barquette style” (in small containers.)
Fromager
The good stuff

If you want to save time, the local supermarket has it all. Reliable chains to look for in downtown Paris include:

Carrefour city

Monop

Victuailles
Saucisson sec (dry sausage) + foie gras = Hand me the baguette!

Tip #5: Discreetly, thou shalt drink. The city of Paris is trying to curb binge drinking in public places, especially among young people. Several neighborhoods in the city have enforced restrictions, and prohibit public alcohol consumption between 4:00pm-7:00am (the police tends to be more vigilant after 10:00pm.) You will be lucky if you manage to drink alcohol on the Champ de Mars, by the Eiffel Tower, for example. My advice: Bring a bottle of wine; choose a quiet picnic spot; and enjoy discreetly, especially during peak tourist season. The police typically do not disturb peaceful gatherings. This detailed article does a great job at answering some questions. As always, things are… complicated.

VinMonoprix
Tempting selection chez Monoprix

Tip #6: Indulge in a Paris picnic with style.

Several companies have started offering customizable picnic packages to visitors, and they deliver! They aren’t cheap, but if the thought of visiting French specialty shops and ordering food is daunting, they might be perfect for you.

Picnics Paris, by Chef Justin Kent.

Paris Picnic.

A bientôt !

Au bord de la Marne (by the Marne river.) Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1938
Au bord de la Marne (by the Marne river.) Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1938

 

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15 Responses to Paris Picnics (Travel Tips Series)

  1. I’ve done this before. Went to a Monoprix and got some seasoned “carottes rapees” and something else.
    In the US, when my girlfriends and I are not working, we very often meet at Whole Foods or Erewhon and get our own food. It is fast, we get as much as we want and no tips to leave. Of course, a fast food restaurant would be cheaper but we don’t go to them. I have never been to McDonald or Subway in France but is it possible to order a sandwich to go?

    • Picnics are the way to go, as long as you can sit comfortably AND the weather cooperates (admittedly easier to achieve in your neck of the woods than mine, Nadège.) I have no idea if you can buy McDo to go in Paris. I steer clear of the Golden Arches if I can. Why would you pick up food for a picnic there if you can find saucisson sec, rosé wine, and some fresh fruit next door? 😉

      • I have never been to a McDonald in France but for tourists, they might feel more comfortable eating what they are used to and it might be cheaper too. From what I hear, a lot of americans complain that they cannot find good food in France. It always surprised me and I never asked if it was because eating in restaurants was too expensive. Like you, I think that picnicking is the way to go. If I can have a good salad, a bowl of soup and a piece of bread, I am a happy camper.
        I have sent american friends (the ones with money) to eat at “L’Arpege”. Great food, but very expensive.

  2. I once saw a grounds keeper turn on the sprinkler to clear a group of Paris office workers off the grass. There seems to be ample chairs everywhere so it is easy for me to respect the local custom of simply looking at the grass.

  3. Je trouve le blog magnifique, les commentaires ça va à peu près, avec l’aide de Jocelyne on comprend, mais le choix des illustrations est vraiment “top” aussi bien pour les tableaux, que pour les photos ou les dessins!! Un seul mot continuez pour notre plaisir…

  4. Thanks for the post and the pics! Six more weeks and I’ll be purchasing baguettes and my beloved Abbaye Citeaux and enjoying a lunch outside on the grass with Bonaparte!

  5. Salut Véro, Dan and I are back from our petit séjour à Paris, and we had such glorious weather that we could easily have spread our blankets on the pelouse (autorisée bien sûr). However, whether sitting on a park bench, a blanket or on a chair in café, you can eat like royalty wherever you are in Paris. Dan’s already missing the fromage he indulged in every night.

    We need to catch up very soon.

    bisous, M-T

  6. another really helpful article. I love the way you put it all together-I prefer meals like picnics to meals out-there is always SO MUCH to do and see that sitting for hours in a restaurant seems a waste-not that it is not an adventure in and of itself -and sitting people watching on a terrace, well that is just time well spent…I just relish the walks-the sights-the doing-so picnics are a true favorite of mine. AS ALWAYS thank you for sharing all the great ideas.

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