While in Paris, I had been hearing a lot about Le Marais so when we had a free afternoon, my daughter and I took the subway to check it out. After being in touristy and crowded tourist areas like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysee, Le Marais was a breath of fresh air. It felt and looked like a different world. Even with the many people there, it did not feel crowded. The rhythm of time and energy felt different, slower but still dynamic and vibrant. It was the perfect neighborhood to stay in for a few days to experience the Parisian way of life. A genuine French neighbourhood where many locals lived and worked and it was easily accessible via the subway for visitors like me. Though I was a tourist, I stopped feeling like one. Instead I felt at home there. My home away from home. Unfortunately, the accommodations were too expensive for my taste.
We came out of the subway in Saint Paul station to the cobblestoned neighbourhood of Le Marais where we saw mothers pushing their kids in strollers at the park. And in the midst of it all, we also found visitors gently making themselves at home in the cafes and restaurants, people watching as they waited for their food and coffee to be served.
Le Marais is a chic and trendy old charm -neighborhood embracing what is modern and cutting edge. It is a bustling place with a thriving Jewish community and heritage, with many gourmet restaurants, boulangeries, trendy shops, boutiques, art galleries and quirky street art. In the evenings, there is a fast-growing LGBT community and popular night life hangouts.
But Le Marais wasn’t always the chic, trendy neighborhood that it is today. Le Marais literally means “the swamp or marsh”. It is said that during the olden days, this swampy area was donated by emperor Charles the Bald to a religious community, the St. Opportune Abbey. The swamp was drained during the 10th century, and it became a fertile area to grow many kinds of vegetables.
(This is Place des Vosges. In the 17th century, it had a different name (Place Royal) but it was renamed in 1800 by Napoleon to Place des Vosges to honor the Vosges department for paying the first taxes in France. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful squares in the world.)
Nowadays however, the Place des Vosges overlooks and encloses a nice central park located in the Marais district. It is the scene where locals and visitors alike come together by the fountain to sun themselves, read a book, take a short nap or meet with friends to have a few drinks and a picnic.
Regal looking on his royal stead, King Louis XIII’s equestrian statue surveys the entirety of the Place des Vosges on this beautiful summer day…
…while I found a bench all to myself in a shaded area to enjoy the wonderful afternoon unfold right before my eyes, while I lazily watched the sun-worshippers bake and develop their tan color in this historic site; and this little boy busy building his dreams of castles and moats in the sand pit of time.
After a rejuvenating visit in the park, we proceeded to stroll along the cozy streets where chic and trendy shops abound. Then suddenly, we saw this quirky polka dot design Stan Smith shoes in the window display of one of the shoe boutiques in the Marais. This design just came out in July so even if it wasn’t in our plans, we decided to go shopping.
After all the walking we did that afternoon, we got tired and hungry so we decided to have an early dinner at a cafe and had these delicious food.
(Duck with Potatoes and Salad)
(Beef wt Pureed Sweet Potato & Salad. The beef is underneath all that yummy potato.)
And of course, a meal is never complete without dessert and coffee so we found this gorgeous boulangerie (Miss Manon bakery) where the desserts were to die for.
(Almond tart with brewed coffee.)
(Almond tart with pistachio.)
With window shopping , shopping requirements as well as appetites satisfied, we started towards the metro (subway) entrance to head back to our hotel for the evening. I couldn’t resist but linger a few more minutes on a bench at the island in between the streets of Le Marais and watch Life pass me by. I don’t know why, but it was difficult saying goodbye to that place. One thing I know, I will be back one day as there were still many things to see and experience that I couldn’t fit in one afternoon.
That’s the kind of place Le Marais is. I shall be back.