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
* Travel Writing Workshops
* Calendar of interesting Paris events 
* Monthly Secrets of Paris newsletter
* Secrets of Paris Tours & Travel Planning

Read more about the Secrets of Paris here

 

 

 


Calendar of Paris Events

Through February 27
The 100% Packaging-Free Organic Pop-Up store by BioCoop, originally just slated to run through COP21, has been such a success that it's not extended through the end of February.  There are over 250 itiems available in bulk, including produce, fresh bread, dairy (butter, yogurt and cheese), fresh ground coffee, nut butters, and other items, 20% from local sources. If you don't bring your own reusable glass jars and other containers you can buy them at the shop. At 14 rue du Châteu d'Eau, 10th, open 10am-8pm Mon-Sat. 

December 1 - January 31
Skate on the Eiffel Tower! This year the ice skating rink on the first level of the Eiffel Tower is back, free for those who already have a ticket for the Tower, open daily 10:30am-10:30pm. Skip the line by taking the stairs, it will help you warm up, too! Skates size 25-47 (EU), sleds and scooters for kids, gloves are required. This year's theme is COP21, so expect to see an eco-friendly decor.

Through February 28
Bartabas' Zingaro shows combine equestrian theatre, dance, world music, poetry and many other disciplines. After having pounded the ground of his Théâtre Equestre Zingaro for more than a quarter of a century, Bartabas is now tackling the skies with his new show "They shoot angels, don't they? (elegies)". Get your tickets €42-50 at FNAC

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

Sunday
Dec062015

An Explanation of the French Regional Elections

Today is the first of the two rounds of French regional elections. For those of you unfamiliar with the unique way French regional elections work, and what this election represents, here is a quick rundown:

  • There are 13 regions in France comprising 101 departments. Paris is the department within the Ile-de-France region.
  • Each region has a body of elected councilors, the number depending on population of the region, elected approximately every five years.
  • Regional councils are responsible for local affairs, including economic development, transportation, public education, sustainable development and planning, urban zoning and land management, and support of small and medium-sized businesses. They also share responsibility for tourism, culture and sports with internal departments that make up each region.
  • There are 1757 seats to fill.
  • Generally people vote by party, but the different political parties in France can also form coalitions to present their candidates in one “list” (ie, Socialists can merge with Green Party).
  • There are 177 electoral lists/parties, with a total of 21,456 candidates total in France. The Ile-de-France region has about a dozen lists/parties for voters to choose from.
  • There are two rounds of voting, December 6th and December 13th.
  • If one list/party receives more than 50% of the vote in either round then they automatically get 25% of the available seats, with the rest of the seats distributed proportionately to any list/party receiving at least 5% of the vote. 
  • This means that even if one party wins 90% of the votes, they still only control 25% of the seats, with the remaining 75% being controlled by other parties of less than 25% each).
  • If no list/party reaches 50%, any of them having won 10% will be included in a second round of voting, and seats are allocated in the same way as the first round.
  • Lists/parties that won at least 5-10% of the votes in the first round can merge and form a new list/party in the second round (creating a different choice for voters).

While regional councils have no national powers, the elections are gaining a lot of press because of three reasons:

  1. It’s the first election since France’s 22 regions merged into just 13 regions in 2014
  2. It’s the first election since the shootings in France, and the press predicts this will favor the anti-immigrant, right-wing Front National party.
  3. Political pundits like to imagine these elections will have some effect on the presidential and senate elections in 2017.

How Voting Works in France

  • Any French citizen can register at their local town hall (or through a proxy) for a Carte Electoral which lists the voting station in your neighborhood.
  • About two weeks before elections, voters get a voting packet from the Ministry of the Interior in the mail (where each party gets two equal-sized pages with their campaign promises and list of candidates). I have never received any other mailings for elections (I suspect it’s regulated, but I haven’t looked that up). I have seen some people handing out flyers at my local market.
  • Each voting station (in town halls, schools, other municipal buildings) has metal billboards set up a few weeks before the elections where each party gets one panel for posters (for equal “face time”).
  • France, like most European Union countries, do not allow political ads on any broadcast medium (TV, radio, newspapers), in order to level the playing field, although the major parties tend to get all of the press attention.
  • Elections are always on Sundays, when most (but not all) French do not work. The hours are 8am-6pm, but some regions can move this to 7pm or 8pm in large cities like Paris. All voting is done at 8pm (France is all in one time zone except for the overseas territories and departments like Martinique and French Guyana).
  • Voters show up at their voting station with a Carte Electoral and photo ID (France issues free national identity cards to all citizens).
  • Everything is done manually, not with computers or electronic devices. Each voter takes an empty envelope and one ballot for each party/list into a little booth, placing the chosen ballot into the envelope and discarding the rest into the recycle bin. There are at least two voting witnesses who check voter ID against the registered list, watch as you drop your envelope into the clear box (or urne, as they call it), then you sign next to your name on the list and they stamp your card.

Personally, the whole thing usually takes me five minutes. This is my seventh election and I’ve never seen a line (sometimes there’s one or two people in front of me), nor heard of problems with lines or any kind of waiting in France. All Parisians are within a short walk to their voter station. This is probably not the case in the countryside, but, again, I’ve never heard that access to a voting station is an issue in France, so they seem to have it under control. 

More articles on France's regional elections in English:

 

Wednesday
Dec022015

Holiday Solidarity and Volunteer Opportunities in Paris

If you’re in Paris during the holidays, far from your family, no reason to feel sorry for yourself. Take advantage of your lack of “family obligations” and help out those in need in your adopted community. If there are any I have missed please let me know!

There are a few charitable associations who need extra help over the holidays. And of course, if you don’t have the time, your tax-deductible donations are always welcome, and I also list holiday markets benefitting local charities so you can shop for gifts while helping these charities: 

1. Secours Populaire

Le Secours Populaire needs help at their gift-wrapping stations at FNAC Italie 11 (13th) and FNAC St-Lazare (9th), where volunteers wrap gifts in return for donations. There is a chart to fill out with your availability by the day and hour, for wrapping at least two hours daily 10am-8pm, through December 31st.

The Secours Populaire will be collecting new toys from December 8-10 for “Operation 3000 jouets = 3000 sourires”, at 11 collection kiosks around Paris (including one at 12 Place de la Bastille from 5-8pm on Tues and Thurs, and 2-5pm on Fri). 

2. Les Petits Frères des Pauvres

Les Petits Frères des Pauvres needs volunteers for the 24th and 25th December to accompany the elderly to and from a community Christmas dinner and also to help prepare and serve the holiday meals and deliver Christmas packages. There are two contact links on this page, one for North Paris and one for South Paris.

3. The Salvation Army

The Armée du Salut needs volunteers to help with the holiday dinner celebrations on the 24th and 31st, as well as gift wrapping, gift delivery and other holiday preparations.

4. UNICEF

UNICEF is urgently looking for volunteers to help sell their holiday cards at stands around Paris and the rest of France. You can register on their website or attend the next volunteer info session in Paris December 10th at 2:30pm (info on the website).

You can also help UNICEF by simply purchasing their holiday gifts, calendars and cards at their Boutique Solidaire, online and in two Paris locations: 7 rue St-Lazare, 9th, M° Notre-Dame-de-Lorette; and 15 rue de Rémusat, 16th, M° Mirabeau  

5. Restos du Coeur

The Restos du Coeur are food distribution centers that need long-term volunteers and donations.

6. La Banque Alimentaire

La Banque Alimentaire is also a food bank that needs long-term volunteers and donations.

7. Les Apprentis d'Auteuil

The Apprentis d’Auteuil help at-risk youth, always in need of volunteers for long-term projects.

You can also visit their excellent Marché de Noël, Les Féeries D’Auteuil fair and flea market December 5th-13th, or their charity thrift store Auteuil Bonnes Affaires open daily. 

8. Society for the Protection of Animals

Established in 1845, the Société de Protection des Animaux (SPA) just celebrated its 170th anniversary on December 2nd. They always needs donations, but they also need volunteers to help out at their shelters throughout France (the one in Paris is at 39 boulevard Berthier, 17th, where they are looking for full-time volunteers to manage the adoption office). Even if you just have time to come and walk, pet and give attention to the dogs and cats, it's much appreciated. And of course, if you're looking to adopt a pet, think of those which are abandoned or rescued from illegal puppy mills (which usually end up being sold at pet shops).  Another site for pet adoption in France is Second Chance.

You can support the SPA by shopping for holiday gifts in their online Boutique Solidaire.

9. Oxfam

Oxfam needs volunteers for their two shops in Paris, in the 11th and 14th, apply online or in the shop.

You can also shop at the Oxfam bookstores in France at 61 rue Daguerre, 14th and 8 rue St-Amboise, 11th. They collect and sell books, CDs, and DVDs in French and English. There will be a special holiday sale on December 16th and 17th, see the Facebook page for more info. 

10. Red Cross

The Croix Rouge not only regularly recruits volunteers and staff in France and abroad (“Je M’Engage”), they also offer regular training weekends in First Aid/CPR (Formation aux premiers secours) throughout France.

11. Emmaüs

Emmaüs Paris always needs volunteers for help at their charity shops around Paris and the suburbs.

Shop at or donate items to the Emmaüs Thrift stores in and around Paris. There is a special Exceptional Opening on December 13th at 105 rue de Clignancourt, 10am-1pm. 

For other volunteer opportunities searchable by theme, location, or skill, check out these excellent websites:

www.jemengage.paris.fr

http://www.benenova.fr (check the Calendar for seasonal needs)

www.Jeveuxaider.com

www.espacebenevolat.org (scroll down this page to see the holiday volunteer opportunities in Paris)

www.francebenevolat.org (click here for holiday volunteer opportunities in Paris)

For specific information on helping the refugees in France read this article:
Winter is Coming: How Parisians are Helping the Refugees (and so can you!)

For those who speak no French
Your best bet for finding volunteer opportunities without speaking French is probably to contact Serve the City Paris, the American Church or the American Cathedral (specifically, they do an annual Love in a Box project). Looking ahead in January and February, the SOS Helpline in English is looking for volunteers. “Interested fluent-English speakers are invited to come along to ONE information session on EITHER 21 January, 27 January, or 3rd February to meet us and find out more about the organization.” Visit the website for more details. There are no other English-language groups in Paris that I know of who do regular aid work. If anyone knows of any, let me know!

Soup Kitchens in Paris
Here is the Mairie de Paris’ list of food distribution points in Paris for those in need, with hours and addresses.

Tuesday
Dec012015

A Parisian Yarn Shop & Tea Room 

I don’t knit, or crochet, but I have a lot of friends who do (which means I have a lot of awesome hand-made accessories). So I thought I’d pick up some “Made in France” yarn for friends back in the US.

I don’t need to go far, one of my favorite tearooms in Paris is also a haven for knitters (and all you “fiber arts” people). L’OisiveThé sits atop the Butte aux Cailles hilltop (10 rue de la Butte aux Cailles, 13th), its colorful façade easy to spot. They serve coffees, teas, hot chocolate, all kinds of pastries and cakes, and vegetarian lunch and brunch.

From OisiveThé Facebook Page

The cozy tearoom’s walls were overflowing with yarns, so they recently opened a boutique down the street called La Bienaimée (27 rue Paulin Méry, 13th) just for yarn and fiber arts accessories. They import hand-dyed and exceptional yarns from the US and the UK, and also sell French-made yarns and their own hand-dyed yarns which have amazing colors. They speak perfect English, so don't hesitate to ask if you have questions. 

From La Bien Aimée

Other Yarn and Sewing Shops

The other shop I regularly visit with tour clients who sew, knit or crochet is La Mercerie Parisienne (8 rue des France Bourgeoise, 3rd), in the back of a courtyard in the Marais. They have yarn, buttons, ribbons, patterns, fabrics, and felt. Another popular place for sewing and knitting items is La Droguerie, at Les Halles on 9 rue du Jour, 1st.  

One of my friends crocheted this Day of the Dead skull (with cute flowers) for me. :-)

Tuesday
Nov172015

Paris Will Survive

Never forget the official Paris motto since the Middle Ages , 'fluctuat nec mergitur', which means, "Though beaten by the waves, she never sinks."

Thursday
Nov052015

Best Artisanal Pastry Shops in Paris

 
"artisanal (adjective): Food made fresh daily, by hand, in small batches that requires skills from a maker/master with a combination of science and art derived from experience" (from Artisanal Defined)
 
There are many "Top Ten" style lists of Paris pastry shops, but there are also several hundred to choose from (there are over 350 selected by author and pastry chef David Lebovitz in the Paris Pastry Guide). Although mosts lists are completely subjective, this one only includes pastry shops that fit the following strict criteria for inclusion:
  • "Only in Paris": These pastry shops can only be found in Paris, with a maximum of three locations within the city. No international chains allowed, no matter how good their pastries might taste! 
  • "Artisanal Pastries": Because it's not regulated, anyone can slap the word "Artisanal" on their products. But these shops make their pastries fresh on-site each day by hand by professional pastry chefs. No industrial production in factories or freezing allowed!
  • "Quality Ingredients": High-end pastries don't just look pretty, they're made with the highest quality of carefully sourced, seasonal ingredients. These not only means they taste superior to pastries made with processed or artificial ingredients and preservatives found in average pâtisseries, it also justifies a higher price tag.   
  • "A Certain Je ne Sais Quoi": Being able to faithfully produce the classics is important, but the best pastry chefs also know how to wow us with daring flavor combinations, surprising textures and creative flair that turns each pastry into a work of art almost too beautiful to eat! (almost)
After thoroughly researching about two dozen contenders, the following baker's dozen of 13 pastry shops made the cut. All things being equal between them in terms of standards, ranking them within this list would depend on personal tastes and preferences, so I've simply ordered them alphabetically:
 
Pastry chef Arnaud Larher has two contemporary pastry shops on the west end of Montmartre and one in St-Germain. He's known for his macarons as well as his award-winning chocolates.
 
- 53 rue Caulaincourt, 18th (closed Sun afternoon and Monday)
- 57 rue Damrémont, 18th (closed Sun afternoo, Monday, and Tuesday)
- 93 rue de Seine, 6th (closed Tuesday morning and Monday)
 

Pastry chef Fabrice Le Bourdat's little boutique near the Marché Aligre has won awards for his madeleines. A musician neighbor made this tribute video to Blé Sucré (and the ungodly working hours of artisanal pastry chefs everywhere).
 
- 7 rue Antoine Vollon, 12th (closed Monday)

 
Pastry chef Carl Marletti has an elegant little boutique at the bottom of the Marché Mouffetard. He's known for his millefeuilles and prize-winning strawberry fraisier
 
- 51 rue Censier, 5th (closed Sunday afternoon and Monday)
 

Pastry chef for the Plaza Athénée palace hotel, Christophe Michalak has a pastry school and shop in the 10th and another boutique in the Marais. He's known for his contemporary pastry creations and his rock star personality (his face, rather than his pastries, graces the covers of his many books).
 
- 60 rue du Faubourg Poissonière, 10th (closed mornings, Sunday, Monday)
- 16 rue de la Verrerie, 4th (closed Monday and Tuesday)
 

Pastry chef Gérard Mulot's first boutique opened in St-Germain in 1975. There's now a separate tearoom nearby, and a second boutique in the charming Butte aux Cailles district. His macarons are my personal favorite.  
 
- 76 rue de Seine, 6th (closed Wednesday)
- 12 rue des Quatre Vents, 6th (tearoom; closed Sunday and Monday)
- 93 rue de la Glacière, 13th (closed Monday)
 

Pastry chef Claire Damon teamed up with bread maker David Granger to open two luxurious, almost theatrical boutiques on the Left Bank. She's famous for her saffron-infused Kashmir pastry. 
 
- 63 boulevard Pasteur, 15th (closed Tuesday)
- 89 rue du Bac, 7th (closed Tuesday)
 

Pastry chef Ludovic Chaussard's pretty little pastry shop across from Jean-François Piège's famous Thoumieux restaurant is known for its best-selling chou-chou (a cream puff within a cream puff), but the lemon tart is also delicious.
 
- 58 rue St-Dominique, 7th (open daily)
 
 
Pastry chef Jacques Genin is actually more famous for his caramels and chocolates, but his lemon tart and millefeuille -- currently only served in the North Marais tearoom or by special order -- have diehard fans. 
 
- 133 rue de Turenne, 3rd (tearoom, closed Monday)
- 27 rue de Varenne, 7th (closed Sunday and Monday)
 

Pastry chef duo Nathalie Robert and Didier Mathray have two boutiques (the smaller one has deli food) side-by-side on a market street just behind the Pompidou Centre. They're famous for their Rosemary pastry made with rhubarb, raspberry, and a rosemary-infused cookie base. 

- 14 rue de Rambuteau, 3rd (closed Tuesday and Wednesday)
 

Pastry chef Sébastien Dégardin and his wife Sandrine took over this pretty-as-a-postcard Art Deco pastry shop with the historically listed interior in 2013, just around the corner from the Panthéon and Luxembourg Gardens. Try their Passiflore, made with coconut, passion fruit and mango.
 
- 200 rue St-Jaques, 5th (closed Monday and Tuesday) 
 

Pastry chef Sébastien Guadard has an old-fashioned Parisian boutique in South Pigalle and a tearoom overlooking the Tuileries Gardens by the Louvre. Focused on the classics, he makes one of the best Mont Blanc pastries in Paris. 
 
- 22 rue des Martyrs, 9th (closed Monday)
- 1 rue des Pyramides, 1st (tearoom, closed Monday)
 

 12. Stohrer
Pastry chef Jeffrey Cagnes maintains the ancient traditions of the oldest pastry shop in Paris. Dating back to 1730 (the listed decor is from 1830), this is the boutique where Louis XV's pastry chef Nicolas Stohrer created the famous Baba au Rhum, a rum-soaked brioche with whipped cream adored by Louis's father-in-law, King Stanislas of Poland.

- 51 rue Montorgueil, 2nd (open daily)
 

Pastry chef Nicolas Bacheyre is quietly making magic at one of the most underrated pastry shops in Paris. Located in a hidden 18th-century passage near Odéon, Un Dimanche à Paris is a chocolate concept store created by Pierre Cluizel (son of the famous chocolate-maker Michel Cluizel) and Sylvie Valette, with an open kitchen, tearoom, restaurant and cooking school. This is my favorite shop on the list, not just because the pastries are delicate in their design and daring in their flavor combinations (this month's special is a pear, coffee, and green anise tartelette), but also because each pastry's main ingredients are helpfully listed in French and English (some are even gluten free). I love to pop in for a shot of their wonderfully creamy, lightly spiced hot chocolate for just €2.20 (you can also enjoy a whole pot of it in their tearoom). 

- 4 cours du Commerce St-André, 6th (open daily)
 

That's a Wrap!

It’s possible I've missed a shop, but before you leave any indignant comments below, note that many of the usual suspects didn’t make the list, including Angelina, Ladurée, Pierre Hermé, LeNôtre, Pâtisserie des Rêves, Jean-Paul Hévin and Hugo & Victor, because they didn’t meet the four criteria clearly outlined above. The reasoning behind my choice of criteria can be found in the article I wrote for Medium: “Why Ladurée’s macarons are so hard to swallow, and other problems with globalization”
Thursday
Oct222015

A New Wine Experience at Les Caves du Louvre

You'd think 18th-century wine cellars once used by Louis XV's sommelier would be interesting enough to impress people, but I've never known Olivier Magny and Nicolas Paradis to do things half-assed. These young Frenchmen behind the popular wine bar and wine-tasting school O-Château have spent the past 18 months transforming the cellars of the Hôtel de Trudon into a beautiful, high-tech interactive wine experience for the whole family, Les Caves du Louvre.

Click to read more ...