“‘Ave you been to zee Eiffel Tow-er yet?” the shop assistant behind the pastry counter asked me, while wrapping up the rather large collection of toffees and pralines I’d assembled - I’d just told her that it was my first time in Paris. “Nope,” I replied, “I only have a few days in the city and there are quite a few other places I’d rather visit”. She looked utterly horrified - although to her credit she tried very hard to hide it. Well, I’m sorry that I’d rather eat my bodyweight in macarons, eclairs, croissants and baguettes than waste an entire day looking at a metal structure (which I’ll remind you, CAN’T be eaten!). Luckily, after clarifying that I was on my very own pastry and chocolate tour of Paris, her face lit up and she hurriedly scribbled down her list of favourite pastry shops in Paris. It was, I’d later find out, the best advice I’d ever received!
But let me back up a bit: fellow South Africans, I don’t need to tell you what our poor old rand is worth against the Euro for you to know that traveling to Paris can be pricey. But, that doesn't mean you can't experience the city! I managed to clean France out of it’s pastry, on a budget, and here’s how I did it:
|The view from the tiny little apartment we rented in Le Marais|
An apartment is not nearly as expensive as a hotel and makes you feel like you’re living like a true Parisian. I stayed in Le Marais (in the 3rd arrondissement) which is a vibey, young area within walking distance of some really good pastry shops and restaurants. From Le Marais, it’s a short train or bus ride to every pastry shop you need to visit.
#2: Avoid eating out in restaurants
Be warned: dining out in Paris is NOT as affordable as it is here in South Africa. A simple 1 course bistro meal for 2 and bottle of cheap wine will easily set you back €100 (do the math - if you dare!). Eat in and you’ll save heaps of cash (or be able to spend more on chocolate and buttery delicious flaky things). Having a kitchenette meant that for a week we happily lived off the gorgeous baguettes, cheese, pate’s and were able to cook simple meals from the beautiful produce we found at the markets. If you must eat out, tuck into the much more affordable street food! [Speaking of street food - check out the interview WebJet did with me on my favourite street food of all time here.
#3: Order and drink your coffee at the bar - always!
You WILL be charged for sitting down and enjoying the view - don’t say I didn’t warn you! Same goes for pastries. Don’t be tempted to sit down in the pastry shop and enjoy the atmosphere - they will charge you for the air you are breathing and the fact they have to wash your plate. Instead, take your pastry to go and enjoy it on the streets of Paris!
#4: Pack your stretchy pants, people - you’re going to need them!
The best way to experience the Paris pastry/chocolate scene is to walk everywhere - that way you’re far more likely to stumble upon hidden gems and obviously there’s also the added benefit of walking off all that butter you’re consuming! While I went to Paris with a few places I wanted to visit plotted on a Google map, we ended up walking FOR DAYS! When you add up all the ‘it’s just a 5 minute walk away’s and you’re visiting 8 shops a day..? The kilometers are too much to comprehend. But hey, I’ve always said the only time I exercise is if cake is waiting for me at the finishing line, and look at that - I stuck to my word!
So you want to hear about THE BEST thing I ate on my trip?! Of course you do!
(Just promise not to hate me for it!)
What the heck are Merveilleux, you ask? They are light-as-air meringues sandwiched together with more light-as-air flavoured whipped cream and then 'cos that's not enough the entire thing is covered in more cream and rolled in chocolate shavings or crushed up meringue. Side note: I NEVER queue for food - but this? This was worth queuing for. These are no ordinary meringues, people! It tastes like you're biting into a ridiculously delicious cloud that evaporates onto your tongue leaving nothing but happiness behind - and you can quote me on that!
24 Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 75004 Paris, France
TIP Grab a box of the mini mixed flavours - Spiced biscuit, Coffee, Dark Chocolate, Cherry and Almond-Hazelnut - then stroll over to the Seine, grab a seat along the banks of the river and waft into a delirious creamy coma.
|Marveilleux are best enjoyed on the banks of the Seine!|
Here’s a list of all the other incredible things that contributed to me no longer fitting into my jeans:
Now let’s just get this straight, even the baguettes at corner shops in Paris are amazing - none of that airy poofy tasteless 'bread' we get here. So this baguette? It was so good butter would ruin it! Tip: when there’s a sign like this outside a bakery (Translation: Best Baguette in Paris 2015)? You know it’s good!
VISIT Huré (Winner of the Best Baguette in Paris 2015)
18 Rue Rambuteau, 75003 Paris, France
With it's trademark chocolate swirls (how do they even DO that?!), perfect flakes and oozy chocolate praline filling it's no surprise it won Best Croissant in Paris last year!
VISIT Laurent Duchene
238 Rue de la Convention, 75015 Paris, France
Marshmallows are big in Paris and by far the most delicious one I had was a Salted Butter Caramel Marshmallow from Pain de Sucre - butter IN a marshmallow?! I can't even.
VISIT Pain de Sucre
14 Rue Rambuteau, 75003 Paris, France
Oh dear, this might start a civil war! I had two amazing macarons during my trip. The first was from the famous Pierre Hermé (aka the god of Macarons) who was arguably the first pastry chef to create the fussy, difficult-to-recreate perfect macaron as we know it today. I had a white truffle (as in the funghi) macaron that blew my face off. It was AMA-ZING! *sigh*
VISIT Pierre Hermé Paris
18 Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie, 75004 Paris, France
The second macaron came at the suggestion of the Meert pastry assistant - remember the one who I so deeply offended with my Eiffel Tower comment?! - she claimed that Pâtisserie Viennoise is the place to go to taste what the macaron was before it became the refined, multi-coloured, multi-flavoured pastry it is today. And she was right! The two macarons couldn't be more different; the one heavy, nutty and substantial - the other light and airy. But try them both and you can decide which is your favourite. For the sake of peace I'll keep my opinion to myself ;)
VISIT Pâtisserie Viennoise
8 Rue de l'École de Médecine, 75006 Paris, France
TIP Order an espresso with your macaron (they're big!) to cut the sweetness.
Best Authentic Patisserie
While the shop assistant at Meert was horrified I had no love for the Eiffel Tower, the list she gave me of pastry shops to visit was the cherry on top of stumbling upon this quaint, picturesque boutique. Meert is a 250 year old shop specializing in pastries, chocolates, sweets, caramels and it's famous gaufre (thin buttery waffles sandwiched together with various fillings). I felt like I'd walked into an old French movie and when she tied my package of sweet goodies with an old-fashioned ribbon I thought I would die!
VISIT Meert Paris Saint-Germain des Prés
3 Rue Jacques Callot, 75006 Paris, France
While we boast 3 bean-to-bar chocolate makers here in Cape Town, Paris has just one - famed Parisian chef Alain Ducasse now makes his own chocolate and my word is it good! After selling a kidney, I left with a dark 75% bar with a chopped pistachio filling that altered my life figuratively and literally (mostly because I'm still living off salticrax to pay it off!)
VISIT Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse
40 Rue de la Roquette, 75011 Paris, France
Remember those pick 'n mixes we had in supermarkets? This is one dedicated solely to the most delicious handmade chocolate bon-bons of your LIFE! And while you pile kilos of chocolate into bags, you can marvel at the intricate chocolate sculptures that adorn the shop.
VISIT Maison Georges Larnicol
132 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris, France
And if you still have a kidney to spare:
201 Rue Saint Honoré, 75001 Paris, France
Maison Pierre Marcolini
89 Rue de Seine, 75006 Paris, France
108 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris, France
Eclairs have been the new macaron in Paris for a few years now (the trend should hit South Africa any day now) so they are everywhere! My favourite was actually the eclair's less trendy cousin, the choux. Odette Paris is the place to go for the best version - buy a few then pick a park bench in the Square René Viviani nearby and gaze at Notre Dome in the distance.
VISIT Odette Paris
77 Rue Galande, 75005 Paris, France
My other favourite is L’Eclair de Genie who have managed to turn an oblong pastry eclair into a tiny edible work of art. The flavours are punchy and the glazes totally lickable! After selling my remaining kidney, I managed to buy two and when the shop assistant told us to "Wait 15 minutes before you eat them", we thought he said 'Walk for 15 km before you eat them" (French accents!) and so we marched an absurdly far distance before stumbling upon - I mean we didn't MEAN to, it just kind of... happened! And that's how we ended up sitting on the grass, devouring the delicious eclairs, under the... Eiffel Tower.
VISIT L’Eclair de Genie
32 Rue Notre Dame des Victoires, 75002 Paris, France
Ready to jump on a plane and eat your way through Paris already?! Head over to https://www.webjet.co.za/ to book cheap flights, accommodation and car hire!
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