Published in The Upsider
One of the chief reasons to visit Paris is its cuisine. But how best to experience it, along with all the City of Light’s other charms – architecture, fashion and unique ambience – if time is limited? By booking in for Paris by Mouth, that’s how.
The local company runs a small, authentic food tour led by chefs, sommeliers or food journalists in Saint-Germain-des-Près, home to the nation’s most celebrated pastry chefs and chocolate makers and one of Paris’s ritziest arrondissements.
Brimming with historic literary cafes, chic boutiques and bistros, some say Saint-Germain is the most ‘Parisian’ precinct. The tour visits the quartier’s famous speciality shops and legendary covered market, sampling products as you go, culminating with a wine and cheese pairing. Suffice to say, when it comes to Paris food, you’ll experience some of the most special.
Afterwards take a stroll or flâneur, as the French say, through this ritzy arrondissement through its graceful streets and gardens, past famous monuments, pausing en route at a classy bar or two.
Appropriately enough, Paris by Mouth starts its Saint-Germain tour in a bakery, but despite the croissants and pain au chocolate this isn’t your classic French boulangerie. Poilâne Bakery don’t make baguettes. Instead, they make a miche loaf, a flavoursome crusty sourdough that can be bought by the slice (and some say is even better on the fourth day toasted).
The miche has a loyal local following and nearly every restaurant in Saint-Germain serves it, as well as a cult following outside France. The bread is FedExed to international restaurants and Poilâne counts Robert di Nero and Stephen Spielberg among its customers.
Next stop is one of France’s master macaron makers, Pierre Hermé. His shop sells 2,000 of these photogenic delicacies a day and it’s strange to think these shimmering beauties were once called priest’s belly buttons. He can spend up to a year perfecting new flavours, which include Rose, Lychee & Raspberry or Chocolate, Yuzu & Gingerbread.
Pierre Hermé is also a pâtissier and the wonderful window display usually draws a small crowd. He has been awarded one of the highest accolades in France, that of MOF (Meilleurs Ouvriers de France), a highly prized title awarded to master artisans.
Around the corner is another MOF, chocolate artist and Parisian identity, Patrick Roger. Inside the store is an eccentric paean to all things chocolate, with ever-changing oversized chocolate sculptures of endangered animals. However, don’t be fooled by the whimsical art. Their quality control is meticulous, they own their own apiaries and almond farms and the chocolates – think flavours like liquorice and peach – are exquisite.
The tour wends its way through charming side streets to the Saint-Germain covered market, a feast for the senses with its cheese, fruit, vegetable and charcuterie stands. The cheese vendor explains how to select the best fromage (pro tip: spring is the best time to eat chèvre as the goats are back outdoors eating herbs and grass which infuses the flavour).
Then it’s time to taste the cheese and charcuterie, accompanied by wine, of course, in an atmospheric wine cellar.
But a final treat awaits at Henri Le Roux for salted butter caramels infused with flavours like cherry and cardamom.
Having filled your belly with fine French fare, Saint-Germain is a postcard perfect place to wander the grand boulevards and narrow winding streets.
As one of Paris’s quintessential French precincts, Saint-Germain is the Paris of big and small delights. Locals linger on sidewalk brasseries sipping their favourite boisson and watching the world go by, often shrouded by a plume of smoke.
It is a rite of passage to have a coffee at Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots, Brasserie Lipp, once the haunt of French literary legends Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir as well as Hemingway and America’s favourite foodie, Julia Child.
Nearby, haute couture shopfronts of Karl Lagerfeld, Dior and other big names ooze effortless luxury. Dotted throughout the arrondissement are local French brands – Station JAGVI, a new contemporary French/Swedish menswear concept store is a fun find as is hip retro brand Paul & Joe.
Towering over the grand boulevards and labyrinthine lanes is Saint Sulpice. As Paris’s second oldest church, it was featured in the Da Vinci Code book and its Baroque façade and chestnut-trimmed square are striking.
To counterbalance the heady hustle and bustle of Paris street life, head to Luxembourg Gardens and Palace. This is slightly smaller than the Tuileries but without the tourist hordes. Created by French queen Marie de Medici in 1612, today it has something for everyone with its rose gardens, pony rides, cute ice cream stalls and sumptuous Medici Fountain.
Flanking the gardens is the hip Latin Quarter which is scattered with eclectic bookshops and boho bars and the lofty Panthéon. However, Paris is often best enjoyed from the pavement so why not join the stylish locals at a café for a little champagne and people-watching?