Secrets of Paris 
featured in:
 

 


About Secrets of Paris

American-born travel journalist and guidebook author Heather Stimmler-Hall created the Secrets of Paris in 1999 to share the hidden side of the City of Light. Discover what you've been missing:

* Custom Travel Content 
* Free Paris Resource Guide
* Calendar of interesting Paris events
* Private Secrets of Paris Tours
* Monthly Secrets of Paris newsletter
* Secrets of Paris Videos

Read more about the Secrets of Paris here


Calendar of Paris Events

July 20 - August 16/23
Paris Plages: sand, beach trees, volley balls and bikinis -- on the Seine! Along the Right Bank quays and Hôtel de Ville until August 16th, at the Bassin de la Villette until August 23rd. This year's edition of the Paris Plages will feature many fun activities. Free entry, 9am-midnight. The 2015 schedule will be up here on opening day.

July 22-August 23
The annual Open-Air Cinema Festival takes place Wed-Sun nights at the Parc de la Villette's Triangle Prairie (M° Porte de Pantin), starting at sunset (around 10pm), free entry (deck chair rentals from 7:30pm). This year's haunting and spooky and horrific theme is "Home Cinema" (all films can be downloaded to watch at home from the website), including: Last Days, Beetlejuice, shutter Island, The Shining, Moulin Rouge, the Ghost Writer, and many French and international films (all in VO with French subtitles). 

Through August 23
The 30th annual Fête des Tuileries funfair with carnival rides at Tuileries Gardens starts today, free entry, rides with individual tickets. Plenty of food stands, too!

Click here to see the full calendar of events...

Secrets of Paris gives 10% of all tour fees
to the French food bank, Les Restos du Coeur

Friday
Jun192015

Green Hotels and Charitable Booking Site 

If you’re environmentally-minded, there are only a few options for certified “green” hotels in Paris, but they’re good ones. Right at Trocadéro (just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower) is the Hotel Eiffel Trocadéro (€200-€300/night) and its sister hotel Le Gavarni (€160-€260). If you like the idea of escaping to a private hotel garden after a day in the busy city, and don’t mind being in a quiet-but-chic residential area, try the Regent’s Garden Hotel (€170-€250). For those on a really tight budget, the Solar Hotel (€89 flat rate all inclusive) is a great eco-friendly option right off a bustling market street near the Catacombes and Montparnasse Cemetery (they also have free bike rentals). Please don't forget what you save in price you make up for in space! 

Clockwise from top left: Eiffel Trocadéro, Gavarni, Regent's Garden, and Solar Hotel

For those who like the wide selection offered by sites like Booking.com, try BookDifferent.com, a site that uses the Booking.com database but donates 50% of its commission to one of the 126 participating charities (you get to choose). It let’s you sort hotels by carbon footprint or whether it’s eco-certified, and tells you exactly how much of your stay will be donated to the charity. Of course, it may make more sense to just book direct with the hotels (the hotels give preferential treatment for those who do), and donate the saved money direct to one of your favorite charities. But if you want the “path of least resistance” option then go ahead and reserve with BookDifferent.com

Thursday
Jun182015

Pétanque (or Boules) in Paris

Whether you call it pétanque or boules, the traditional French game with the shiny silvery balls has made a comeback. It used to be the only people you'd see playing in were old men in berets sipping pastis. Now everyone plays, particularly Parisian hipsters (les BoBo's) who don't have to worry about breaking a sweat. 

In the mood to try your hand? You can learn the rules of pétanque here, and find a great list of places to play here, but what about les boules? You can either buy inexpensive sets of balls at sporting goods store like Decathlon or from pro shops like Obut. You'll probably see another game with little wooden pins, almost like bowling. That Jeu de Quilles, a Finnish game that has become more popular around Paris, possibly because the equipment is lighter and less expensive, and little kids can play. Not sure where they rate on the cool-o-meter, though. Stick with boules unless you're devoid of hipster aspirations or immune to subtle Parisian mocking. 

Casual pétanque games in the Arènes de Lutèce, for all ages (click here to see a cheeky angle to this pic). 

If you're just passing through and don't need the extra kilos in your suitcase you can also rent them from Paris Ma Belle for just €10/person for the day, and they even deliver and pick-up the balls when you're done. Another option if you don't want to have to do anything yourself is to hire Paris Localers to take a Pétanque Tour including an apéritif and a match on the Place Dauphine. 

Note that many people say you can play in the dedicated pétanque courts in Luxembourg Gardens, but they are usually reserved (and obsessively raked like a zen garden) for the local pétanque club. So feel free to play elsewhere in the park, there is plenty of space, but don't play in the reserved areas unless you get permission. 

Serious pétanque player in the immaculate Jardin du Luxembourg.

 

Tuesday
Jun162015

Ticks in Paris

New signs have appeared in all of the parks and gardens of Paris warning visitors of ticks, or tiques. Paris isn't known for having ticks, but they have been found in its larger green spaces like the Bois de Vincennes and in the surrounding natural parks where Parisians go for their Sunday hikes, bike rides and picnics. As Lyme disease is a real risk with any tick bite, be sure to do a close inspection after any extended trips to the park with your family or pets, and if you do find one go to your nearest pharmacy to have it correctly removed (they sell the little tongs specially adapted for tick removal). If you see a round, red spot that might be a tick bite (it will look like a "target"), see your doctor. Lyme disease can be prevented if treated with antibiotics immediately. There is no reason to avoid going to the parks, but awareness is essential, so spread the word.  

Monday
Jun152015

How to Get Real Iced Tea in France

There's nothing like a refreshing glass of iced tea when the temperatures start rising. But if it's your first time in France, beware that the "iced tea" on the menu probably isn't what you think it is.

First, if it's a French menu and the beverage is listed as Ice Tea, it's probably Lipton or Nestea brand "Ice Tea" in a can or bottle. Industrial iced tea might not bother you (it can't be worse than carbonated soft drinks, right?)

But if you don't look closely at the label before taking a swig, you may be unpleasantly surprised to find that its peach flavored. No, you didn't ask for peach, and the menu didn't say peach. But in France pêche is the default flavor of iced tea. In the US -- unless maybe you're from the South -- it's usually lemon. And they have lemon (and raspberry and mango) flaor in France, but that's not necessarily what you'll get in a café. 

So how do you get actual iced tea? Look for "Thé glacé maison" and ask the server if it's from a bottle or made fresh. Then ask if it's nature (unflavored), citron (lemon) or pêche (peach), if you have a preference.

I've had real iced tea at Ladurée and Carette (pictured on the left), both which are tearooms, and both times they were unflavored and unsweetened. In this case they bring the sugar for you to sweeten it yourself. If you've never made your own iced tea, you might be a bit humbled to discover just how much sugar you have to put in there to get it to taste "normal". I just drink it without sugar, a perfect accompaniment to the rich chocolate pastries I can't resist!

Thursday
Jun112015

Vintage Toy Boats in Luxembourg Gardens

Most visitors strolling Luxembourg Gardens have seen kids pushing adorable little sailboats around the Grand Bassin duck pond, but perhaps you didn't know this is a tradition that's almost 90 years old. 

In 1927 Clément Paudeau, who had a passion for hand-made wooden boats (with the fabric sails hand-sewn by his wife), had the idea of renting them to children in Luxembourg Gardens for two sous. They became an instant hit. 

The tradition of the P'tits Voiliers continues today with the exact same antique boats from Padeau's era, repainted and given new sails, but otherwise unchanged. Each day when the weather is cooperative you'll find the little stand next to the Grand Bassin (opposite the Palais de Luxembourg) offering the sailboats for rent: €3.50 for 30 minutes (and, incredibly, it's all done on the honor system, no ID needed). 

Kids can choose boats with different national flags, or even a pirate flag, each unique so they can find theirs in the pond once they're sailing amongst the other boats. There are no batteries, no remote controls; each kid is given a long stick that, when his or her boat reaches the edge of the pond, is used to turn it around and give it a push to send the boat sailing back across the water. It keeps the children occupied chasing them around the pond while the parents lounge on the famous Luxembourg chairs

You can also bring your own boat if you don't want to risk waiting in line for an available one. The antique boats are never for sale (everyone has tried to buy them), but you can purchase the same style at many excellent toy shops in Paris such as NemiNemo (1 rue de Cassette, 6th, near the gardens), or Pain d'Epices in the Passage Jouffroy (Grands Boulevards, 9th). You can find more addresses in France and the US here

Note that on Sundays between 10am and 3pm the members of the Club Nautique du Luco (the Luxembourg Nautical Club) bring all of their sailboats, motor boats (only silent ones, no loud speed boats), and even submarines to the pond, so it can be a bit crowded, but fun to watch. 

There are many other kid-friendly activities in Luxembourg Gardens, including pony rides, marionettes, and one of the best playgrounds in Paris. You can read all about it at Haven in Paris blog

Wednesday
Jun102015

Gluten-Free Bread in Paris (that doesn't suck) 

Photo courtesy Eric Kayser Bakery

My cousins came to visit me this week in Paris for their first time, and although they were very excited to eat as much French food as possible, two of them have Celiac, a very serious condition that means they can't have any gluten at all. Not even a little (some people who are gluten intolerant in the US actually have no problem with French breads here in Paris, perhaps from the different baking ingredients, I don't know). 

So we tried as many different gluten-free products as we could find during their short blitz through town, without particularly going out of our way to find it. Here are our experiences:

- Canal Bio (46bis Quai de la Loire, Bassin de la Villette, 19th): we were on the Canal St-Martin and strolled up to the Bassin de la Villette (north of Stalingrad metro) looking for a shop selling beer and wine so we could picnic. This organic food shop has a few different packaged bread products (ie not bakery fresh). The bread was dry, tasteless, and hard as a rock the next morning, less than 12 hours after we opened it. Also of note, their organic brie tasted like nothing. Just flavorless goo. On the plus side, their gluten-free beer (one brand) was actually pretty good, and they sell raw chocolates by RRRAW, which are always awesome! 

- NoGlu Epicerie (16 Passage des Panoramas, 2nd): we were visiting the Covered Passages after lunch and were looking forward to some gluten-free pastries from the epicerie (across the passage from the restaurant), but as we walked up at 3pm they were closing. Huh? Even in France that's odd. I can understand the restaurant closing between lunch and dinner, but a food shop that is only open noon-3pm is pretty useless. We didn't make an effort to go back the next day (also, I must admit, the last time I tried a muffin and cookie from there I found them dry and rather flavorless, so although I pass by regularly, I've never bothered going back inside). 

- Carrefour's Organic/Gluten-Free Section: We also popped into Carrefour Supermarket at the Italie 2 mall near me because it's open until 10pm, and their gluten-free selection is as bland and uninviting as you'd expect from a huge chain supermarket (and we were rather put off by the lack of any other brands besides Carrefour's own; industrial organic food being only a smidgen less bad than industrial food) and the obvious mold in the packaged prosciutto (which hadn't expired yet). 

Eric Kayser Boulangerie (Bercy Village, 12th, but there are 20 locations in Paris): we popped in here before heading into Bercy Park to smell the roses, and they had a whole section for breads "Libre de Gluten", freshly baked, individually wrapped and kept on a shelf separate from the other products. We got the Pain Gonesse Semi-Complet, and it was amazing! Really. I was amazed it was so tasty, moist, and filling. I would happily get this instead of their regular bread even though I have no problem with gluten. An earlier blog by Gluten-Free JetSet all about the Eric Kayser range mentions the breads are only half cooked, but that must have changed because it was definitely read to eat. 

There are many other gluten-free places in Paris now. I have been to Chambelland and Thank You, My Deer, thought both were okay, but not worth a trip across town (they're not exactly near anything tourists would see).

Here are a few other articles about gluten-free eating in Paris by other journalists and bloggers:

- "Gluten-Free Lunch in Paris" by Gluten-Free Jet Set

- "Gluten-free Eating and DIning in Paris" by David Lebovitz (with links)

- "Gluten-Free in Paris" by Gluten Free Mom

- "Gluten Free Paris" by the Adventuresome Kitchen

- And if you can understand French, Gluten Free in Paris is a local website updated regularly.