Le Marais :
Un village au bord de la Seine
Sidney Morning Herald. The Age. Jane Peach reports.
The pre-revolutionary Marais quarter is a microcosm of the treasures
that make Paris, well, Paris.
Sunday afternoon in the Marais. I'm sipping jasmine tea at Mariage
Freres, an elegant salon de the where Parisian chic meets colonial
ambience. Waiters in cool, white linen waft by with steaming pots,
tarts and plump, golden madeleines.
Amid a cloud of tea dust, the boutique next door is thronged with
customers sniffing deeply into cavernous black caddies. Vendeurs scoop
exotic flavours into stylish packets. Up the creaky stairs is the
quirky Musee du The.
The Mariage family, France's oldest importers of tea, have lured tea
lovers with their heady brews on a quiet back street in Paris since
1854. The choice is startling, with around 500 varieties from 22
countries. "Which is your favourite?" I ask the waiter. "Ca depend," he
pouts, tweaking his white bow tie, "On the hour, the season, the mood "
Like Mariage Freres, the historic Marais quarter on Paris' Right Bank
offers an exhilarating bouquet of aromas and flavours. Laced with
enough tang and zest to make it irresistible, the neighbourhood - just
minutes from the Pompidou Centre and across the river from Notre-Dame
Cathedral - has something for every time and taste.
Life, art and culture pour from the Marais' overflowing cup
in a rich stream that splashes the cobbled streets with colour. The
area is swamped with boutiques, lively bars, bistros and galleries.
et blending into modern life are the
remnants of a vivid past that
transport the senses. Follow the ancient street signs engraved in
stone. Explore mediaeval alleyways. Push open doors leading to romantic
courtyards. Add a fairytale dusting of lavish "hotels particuliers"
(private town mansions) with gilded gates and graceful gardens, and the
is the best of Paris distilled into a strong, seductive brew that will
leave you thirsty for more.
The area claims most of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, bordering Les
Halles and extending to Place de la Bastille. Lying just outside the
original 1180 city wall, the district began as marshland (Marais
meaning marsh), scattered with kitchen gardens. Gradually growing in
popularity, the area reached its peak in the 17th century when Henry IV
built Place des Vosges, and it became "a la mode" with country gentry
desiring a hotel particulier in Paris.
But then came the Revolution - the aristocrats lost their beautiful
mansions, along with their heads, and the Marais fell into ruin. By
the Industrial Revolution, artisans and the working class moved in,
mansions were partitioned into workshops and many were destroyed.
Only in the past 20 years has the Marais been back on the boil, thanks
to a preservation order. While a clutch of mansions remain privately
owned, many have been estored to their original grandeur and converted
into small, intriguing museums that offer a refreshing alternative to
long lines at Le Louvre. Today, the ancient village is perhaps the best
example of pre-revolutionary Paris where the savvy traveller with
rationed time can effortlessly combine culture with commerce, while
drinking in the essence of the city.
This inspiring neighbourhood draws a creative crowd and an eclectic
bunch of young professionals who dally on the cafe terraces and live in
the small, crooked apartments above.
It is also home to gay Paris. By the nature of its residents, the Marais is not an early riser.
Weekend mornings are particularly quiet, with no more activity than
a reluctant trek to the boulangerie or visit to the nearest cafe for a
petit noir. But by Saturday afternoon, footpaths throb as locals emerge
to meet friends for a drink, slip into a museum or two and scan their
favourite stores. Sunday, too, the streets are alive, the Marais being
one of the few quarters open for Sunday trading.
Comprising a rich ethnic mix, this unique pocket also houses the
remains of the old Jewish quarter, wrapped tightly in the Marais' core.
Jews first settled here in the 1300s, with a large influx from eastern
and central Europe around the turn of the 20th century. Sephardic Jews
from North Africa moved in more recently.
The community's main thoroughfare is the lively rue des Rosiers, a
jumble of kosher butchers, Jewish bakeries, fascinating groceries and
bookshops. Orthodox Jews yarn on the street and slip into Hamman St
Paul for a steam bath. Crooked stairways lead up to hidden synagogues.
Along the length of the narrow street, falafels dripping with hummus
are constructed at lightning speed and poked through takeaway windows
to waiting hands.
Stop at Sacha Finkelsztajn's for a dreamy square of cheesecake or slice
of strudel. Pass by Jo Goldenberg's legendary delicatessen. Peer into
restaurants and you'll see plates laden with Middle Eastern delicacies
and menus offering corned-beef and chopped liver. Come for Sunday lunch
to really soak up the atmosphere.
Squeezed between the kosher butchers are a handful of original fashion
boutiques, making rue des Rosiers as much a fashion zone as home to the
Jewish community. Among the boutiques is "Martin Grant" - Paris' first
Australian couture outlet.
Stray on to the rue des Francs-Bourgeois and you'll tumble into a world
far removed from freshly baked bagels. Footpaths buzz with
locals juggling shopping bags. It is one of the major streets slicing
through the area and is crammed with chic boutiques and stylish home
decoration and gift stores. Goblets and candlesticks sit among
bouquets of flowers at Les 2 Mille Feuilles. Collectors pour over old
postcards, flick through vintage posters and antique French photographs
at A l'Image du Grenier sur l'Eau. Don't miss 2 Mille & 1 Nuits,
with Moroccan and Arabian treasures, and Villa Marais doused with
flair. While you could spend all day shopping on rue des
be sure to explore the swag of skinny side streets for tiny
boutiques and dusty curiosity shops.
A good spot to plonk down your packages and enjoy a casual lunch is
Camille. This authentic bistro with friendly waiters offers regional
wines by the pichet, a traditional plat du jour and classic dishes like
salade de chevre chaud and magret de canard. Try the creme brulee for
dessert or a bowl of Berthillon, the most celebrated icecream in Paris.
Just around the corner is the intimate Musee Cognacq-Jay. Enjoyed in
the space of an hour, a visit can be compared to sneaking around an
aristocratic French home in the 18th century.
History buffs with time to spare can lose themselves in the
maze of exquisitely decorated rooms at the Carnavalet. Built as a
private mansion in 1545, it now houses the Museum of the City of Paris.
Among its astonishing collection of treasures are a reproduction of
bedroom and the original Fouquet jewellery shop.
East of the bustle is Place des Vosges, the oldest public square in
Paris and the jewel of the Marais. Once the site of society weddings
and public duels, the central garden is today a tranquil setting of
chirping birds and trickling fountains. Children play under cool,
trees, boules clink and locals laze on benches reading Le Monde and
Beneath its band of breezy arcades, wares overflow from upmarket
restaurants, boutiques, antique shops and art galleries. Classical
music drifts from string quartets. Victor Hugo lived in the largest
townhouse on la place, from where he wrote a good part of Les
Miserables. La Maison de Victor Hugo is open to the public and features
reconstructions of his rooms, books and drawings.
Through a doorway on the south-west corner, slip into the garden of
Hotel de Sully. This sumptuous mansion, complete with whimsical statues
of the four seasons, was built for a notorious gambler who later lost
it in the single roll of a dice. Inside, there are regular photo
On the northern side of la place, is the deluxe hotel Pavillon de la
Reine - festooned with ivy. The romantic 17th-century rooms with
wood-burning fires offer 21st-century guests the perfect Paris
pied-a-terre where "gentils chiens ont acceptes" (nice dogs are
accepted). For more luxury in a romantic setting, reserve a table for
dinner at the discreetly hidden three-star restaurant, l'Ambroisie.
The Marais also offers a profusion of more affordable bistros for
dinner. At Georget, resembling a rustic country kitchen, diners
can watch their cote de boeuf taken to by a cleaver and thrown on to
the wood-fire griddle while potatoes sizzle on the stove. Away from the
crowds, the tiny, informal La Fontaine Gourmande serves hefty portions
of seasonal homemade fare.
Another (more formal) gem, Le Dome Du Marais, is hidden in a quiet
courtyard. Formerly the auction room for the pawnbrokers during the
1920s, the recently restored octagonal restaurant, crowned with a
glass-domed ceiling, is a good address for a classic French diner.
The maze of streets surrounding Place des Vosges is full of
pleasant surprises. Step into Warene Creations, strewn with gorgeous
hats, and Argenterie, twinkling from floor to ceiling with antique
Much has been rescued from old hotels and cruise ships.
Shaded by leafy trees, the sleepy Place du Marche St Catherine with its
timeworn grey cobbles and nest of cafes is ideal for a petite pause and
quiet aperitif. But if you still have a thirst, head to the base of rue
Veille du Temple, sprinkled with lively cafes and bars. On balmy
evenings, terraces are packed with an arty crowd. The hip Cafe du
Tresor's menu reassures customers that staff are dressed by Agnes b,
while across the cobbles, La Belle Hortense, a winebar/bookshop with
jazz, has occasional poetry readings and art exhibitions. Motos jam the
narrow footpath outside Au Petit Fer a Cheval, the quintessential
A stone's throw away, sitting precariously on the busy crossroad of the
rue des Francs-Bourgeois, is Hotel Herouet, a renaissance-style
fortress with an overhanging gothic turret where Bridget Bardot lived
in the 1960s. Further up rue Veille du Temple, there's a handful of
small, interesting art galleries and, nearby, one of the Marais'
grandest hotels particuliers, where the flamboyant French writer,
Balzac, went to school. Hotel Sale (salty mansion), so named because it
was built for a salt-tax collector, now houses the remarkable Musee
National Picasso, a successful fusion of modern art in a gracious
17th-century mansion. There are also works by Renoir, Matisse and
If the Marais' bewitching blend leaves you craving just one
more sip, head south toward the Seine. There's French wine by the glass
at the charming wine bar Le Rouge Gorge on rue St Paul, pretty rue des
Barres and a jumble of bric-a-brac shops in the courtyards of Village
St-Paul. Or explore the developing northern fringe filled with edgy
bars, craft workshops, inventive fashion designers, innovative
- and a special brew all of its own.
Metro: St Paul or Hotel de Ville, line 1 Bus: 96, 75 & 29. The 29
bus offers an excellent sightseeing route. Hop on at Opera Garnier and
off again at Opera de Paris Bastille, riding past the Pompidou Centre
and through the heart of the Marais.
Mariage Freres, 30-32 rue du Bourg-Tibourg, tel: 01 4272 2811. Tea
salon: daily noon-7pm. Boutique & Musee du The: daily
10.30am-7.30pm. (May vary in August).
Camille, 24 rue des Francs-Bourgeois, tel: 01 4272 2050, daily
Georget, 64 rue Vielle-du-Temple, tel: 01 4278 5589, Monday-Friday
12-2pm, 7.30-10pm. Saturday 7.30-10pm. (No credit cards).
La Fontaine Gourmande, 11 rue Charlot, tel: 01 4278 7240,
Tuesday-Friday 12-2.30pm, 7.30-10.30pm. Saturday 7-10.30pm.
Le Dome du Marais, 53 bis rue des Francs-Bourgeois, tel: 01
4274 5417, Tuesday-Saturday 12-2.30pm, 7.30-11pm.
(closed some public holidays)
Musee Cognacq-Jay, Hotel de Donon, 8 rue Elzvir, tel: 01 4027 0721,
Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5.40pm (last admission 4.30pm).
Musee Carnavalet, 23, rue de Sevigne, tel: 01 4272 2113. Tuesday-Sunday
La Maison de Victor Hugo, 6 Place des Vosges, tel: 01 4272 1016,
Hotel de Sully, 62 rue St Antoine, tel: 01 4461 2000, Monday-Thursday
9am-noon, 2-6pm; Friday 9am-noon, 2-5pm.
Musee National Picasso, Hotel Sale, 5 rue de Thorigny, tel:
01 4271 2521, Wednesday-Monday 9.30am-6.30pm from April to September
and 9.30am-5.30pm October to March.
Martin Grant, 32 rue des Rosiers, Tuesday- Saturday 1-7pm.
Les 2 Mille Feuilles, 59 rue Francs Bourgeois, Tuesday-Saturday
A l'Image du Grenier sur l'Eau, 45 rue des Francs Bourgeois,
Monday-Saturday 10.30am- 7pm; Sunday 2-7pm.
Villa Marais, 40 rue Francs Bourgeois, tel: 01 4278 4240.
2 Mille & 1 Nuits, 13 rue des Francs-Bourgeois, daily 11am-7.30pm.