I’ve always been a bit intimidated by Paris. There, I said it.
It’s a city that I just didn’t know where to start with. It’s busy being iconically beautiful, full of Parisienne people being all effortlessly chic, speaking a language that slipped through my fingers after my school years. Or perhaps I was put off by my previous two visits. The first with an ex boyfriend (uneventful but probably best relegated to the past) and then another in 2007 for the Rugby World Cup final, with my now husband.
I had dreamed of him swooping down to one knee by the Eiffel Tour, or asking me to marry him as we wandered hand in hand amidst blossom lined boulevards. (There were a number of problems with this imagined scene, not least of all – blossom? In November? Who was I kidding.) Suffice to say the trip panned out very differently. Rugby and romance are not a match.
So it’s fair to say that Paris and I had a lackluster past that I’d made no effort to correct. Then, a few months ago I received an email inviting me to visit. For 3 days. To eat my way around the city in the name of ‘work’.
I don’t do a lot (any) travel without the family and I had a bit of a wobble, wondering if I could remember how to be a lone traveler again. Of course, I do plenty of day to day stuff without little ones in tow, but there was something surprisingly daunting about exploring a foreign city alone. It’s funny how being a Mum and a wife and a boring grown up can make you forget how to be you isn’t it?
Anyway, after giving myself a talking to and some childcare juggling, I said yes. And so, last week, I found myself in Paris in the spring. 48 Hours of utterly delicious treats planned by the wonderfully helpful Paris tourist board – Paris Je Taime.
I was actually part of a group of bloggers and journalists, invited to the city to celebrate the thriving foodie scene. After my slightly delayed flight, I met up with my little group at first bistro of the trip – Le Refectorie. A tiny bar, hidden at the side of an indoor market. We perched on high stools and ate lunch as we made our excitable introductions.
The food was such a happy welcome to Paris, simple but perfectly formed. A warm welcome and delicious wine. I could’ve stayed all day. We ate local cured meats, then duck breasts and a half baked chocolate cake.
After lunch we were whisked off to the Paris Haussman L’Atelier Des Sens cookery school for an afternoon to learn the secrets of choux pastry. Taught by the charming Chef Mark, who had moved to Paris from the USA forty years ago and never left, we learned to prepare, pipe, cook and fill delicious choux buns and eclairs.
It was so enjoyable to spend an afternoon just cooking purely for the pleasure of doing so. In the midst of family life, busy breakfast and quick midweek meals, it’s easy to forget how much I love baking for the fun of it. It’s inspired me to make more time when I’m back home to bake a bit more out of my comfort zone.
After checking into The Hotel Trinitie Haussmann where we would be staying and a short rest, we were off out for dinner. Thirty minute power nap and a couple of chapters of my book in a peaceful hotel room? What absolutely bliss.
Pre dinner cocktails were served upstairs at Le 153, a fantastic little bar. Comfy sofas and a short but perfect drinks list. Only four cocktails but each made to absolute perfection. The bar was welcoming but elegant. (I didn’t feel out of place in my jeans and boots – Mum win!)
Dinner that evening was served at Pharamond, a beautiful and utterly French bistro. The food was good, but not out of this world, however, the private dining rooms upstairs are a sight to see. It’s worth a visit just to enjoy a meal in these little sanctuaries of old school glamour.
The next day we attended a ceremony at the Paris City Hall – 100 of the top bistro chefs in the city were being awarded for their excellence. It was quite something to watch the great and good of Paris celebrate in this stunning setting. The ceremony was followed by a “buffet” (this was not like any buffet I’ve ever experienced. No sausage rolls in sight). The food was prepared by the awarded chefs and was absolutely stunning. A real highlight of our visit.
There is a list of all of the restaurants awarded, including an interactive map here: Bistronomie. This would be such a fantastic resource if you’re planning a foodie visit to the city and don’t know where to begin.
That afternoon we enjoyed a food tour organised by Bubble Globe. We explored a little corner of the 17th arrondissement with our charming chef guide. Stopping at various shops and stores for tasters of some of the best produce in the city. Experiencing the insider info on what to find and where is such a fantastic way to get to know the food of a new city.
Our final dinner together was served at Anicia, a small, contemporary bistro, which uses carefully sourced ingredients to create some super creative and utterly delicious modern food.
It was fantastic evening, full of laughter with new friends, amazing wine and some really surprising and fresh dishes.
After dinner, we sloped off for a (fairly) early night as the next morning we were off on our final adventure.
At 4am the following morning, bleary eyed, we made our way to the Rungis Wholesale Markets. This market is the largest wholesale market of it’s kind in the whole world.
In the 1960s, it was decided that the wholesale food market in Paris needed to move out of the city centre and expand. Rungis was built about 30 minutes away. It is like no other market I’ve ever seen. The scale of it is hard to comprehend. 13,000 people work there every day. It’s like a mini city with road networks, hotels, banks and restaurants.
We took a tour through some of the main halls of the market, separated by what they sell; the fish hall, offal hall, beef hall, vegetable and flowers.
I found it fascinating to see the huge range of produce ready to jet off around the world to the buyers, a world away from the supermarket shelves. Honestly? Some of the tour was not for the squeamish. The meat halls are quite a sight, but if I’m going to eat meat, I do feel that I shouldn’t shy away from seeing it in all it’s states.
My favourite was, without doubt, the vegetable hall. The most delicious looking produce in every colour, all looking fresh and calling at me to take them home. Look at those avocados for goodness sake.
In slight awe from our morning at Rungis, we made our way back to the city centre. The lovely Elizabeth and I decided to use our last hours in Paris to squeeze in some exploring. We wandered up to Sacré-Cœur, battling through the tourists, to catch a sneaky look back at the city that had given us such a wonderful few days. (If you’re a foodie, please have a peek at Elizabeth’s blog, honestly, it is absolutely stunning and I WANT TO EAT IT ALL.)
There was time for a quick lunch (French fries seemed appropriate after all of the rich and exciting food we had been eating) before heading home.
On the way home, I couldn’t believe that I’d even considered not going on the trip. Being a Mum and juggling work and life, you can so easily forget what makes you ‘tick’ and your own passions outside of the family. These 3 days reminded me SO HARD of how much I adore food and exploring and writing about it. I’ve come home full of ideas (and wine).
As for Paris and I? The trip has shown me how accessible it can be when you have some excellent advice on where to start. I’d really recommend that Bistro map I mentioned if you’re planning a visit. It takes the guesswork out of where to start in the culinary capital of the world.
Disclosure: I was very kindly invited on this trip courtesy of the Paris Tourism Office.