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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

Through October 3
Don't miss one of the most magical events of the summer, the Candlelit Evenings at the Château Vaux-le-Vicomte, just an hour south of Paris by RER and shuttle. Visit the family-owned palace and gardens that inspired Versailles by candlelight, including dinner in the gardens (or bring your own picnic or book a table for a gourmet meal starting at €59) and a fireworks finale. Every Saturday evening, entry €19.50. 

Through October 18
The 32nd annual funfair carnival, the Fête à Neu Neu, opens on August 30th in the Bois de Boulogne (Porte de la Muette, 16th, M° Rue de la Pompe). Open 4pm-midnight Mon, Tues, & Thurs; 2pm-midnight Wed & Fri; and noon to midnight Sat-Sun. Free entry, ATM, Vélib station, food tents and rides (tickets purchased onsite).  

September 11-13
The annual Fête de l'Humanité is three days of live music (65 acts including headliners Manu Chao, Texas, and Juliette Gréco), debates (because the French love a good debate), arts and cinema expositions, a bal populaire, a book fair, and activities for kids. The main sponsor/organizer is the daily newspaper L'Humanité, whose motto is "Envie de Changer Le Monde" (The desire to change the world), so you can imagine it's quite a leftie leaning festival where politics, social justice and liberty are the main stars. This year it takes place in La Corneuve (northeast suburbs), and three-day passes are just €32 (€35 at the door; camping and parking also possible). 

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

Entries in Eating & Drinking (88)

Wednesday
Aug192015

Calm Down, There's No Baguette Crisis in Paris

In what could probably be a regular segment called "Busting the Click-Bait Misinformation", yet another "news" story circulating in the English-speaking press about Paris needs correcting.

France fears baguette crisis as bakers allowed to take holidays (Daily Telegraph, UK)

What a pain! Parisians are facing a baguette crisis after change to French law gives bakers the summer off (Daily Mail, UK)

Paris faces 'baguette crisis' as government axes archaic law banning mass exodus of bakers (Evening Standard, UK)

SACRE BLEU! Parisians fear baguette shortage as bakers go on vacation (NY Daily News, US)

Exaggeration and fear-mongering apparently get clicks (duh, no breaking news there). As usual, they all seem to have rehashed the exact same story (typical when reporters no longer do original research), all quoting some mysterious guy, Anthony Stephinson as the expert on the subject of Parisian bakeries (he happens to be a British desiger living in Paris). No actual stats or bothering to do even the most basic research to get the facts straight.

These are the facts:

- Yes, France had a law dating back to the end of the French Revolution that would assure access to bread by requiring bakeries to alternate their summer closing times (so only half would ever be closed at any given time), and to post the address of the nearest open bakery when they were closed. Pharmacies are subject to a similar law.

- For years many French bakeries who were losing money by staying open when too many of their clients were on vacation simply closed anyway and paid the fines. 

- In 2014 the French government decided to do away with the archaic law, thus removing the bureaucratic nonsense of having to enforce it, and allowing the bakers the freedom to decide for themselves what would best serve their clients and their bottom line.

Editorial aside: This is what should be getting headlines! 

Instead of the English-language press focusing on the newsworthy fact that France has modernized and streamlined their laws to give French boulangers the right to make their own business decisions, they look for the negative angle. And when there isn't one, they just make it up.

- Not only did half of the bakeries in Paris stay open anyway (particularly in any areas where there are tourists or a majority of the locals who stay and work all summer), the danger is that they still have too many unsold baguettes, not a shortage.

The French press had a lot of fun discrediting the badly-researched articles:

- Plenty of bread in Paris: French media deny reports of 'baguette crisis' (RFI English Version)

- Don't panic, there is no 'baguette crisis' in Paris! (Du Bon Pain)

- Tous les Boulangers du quartier fermes au mois d'Août, c'est normal (BFM TV, in French

- Non, Paris n'est pas menacée par une pénurie estivale de pain (Le Figaro, in French)

Cet été, les boulangers parisiens partent en vacances quand ils veulent (Le Parisien, in French)

- The France-based British tabloid The Local also "reported" on the supposed crisis with a whopping one reader quoted as proof of the "crisis", but had to "amend" their article due to all of the mocking by none other than Buzzfeed, who actually did their own research (I can't believe I'm saying anything nice about Buzzfeed) to demonstrate the sheer stupidity of this non-crisis. 

In my neighborhood at the edge of the Latin Quarter and the Butte aux Cailles, three of the four bakeries within a block have remained open all of August (two closed for a week or two in July). Within three blocks there are four more bakeries, two which are closed for two or three weeks this month. All of them are excellent, although of course I have my preferences and don't always like walking the extra block. 

Call it a First-World Problem, but don't call it a "crisis". 

Wednesday
Aug122015

Escape the Heat in Hidden Paris Courtyards

Everyone loves a good hiding place, especially when it means escaping the crowded, noisy, hot Parisian streets in the middle of a summer heat-wave to enjoy a cool drink in the shade. Here are two favorites in the heart of St-Germain-des-Prés

Café Da Rosa at Coiffirst

Da Rosa has opened a small café in the courtyard of the Coiffirst Hair Salon at 44 rue du Four (6th arr., Metro Mabillon). You just stroll through the salon (which is gorgeous itself with the large windows and chandeliers), and step outside into a calm little oasis of green in the brick-lined courtyard garden. There are little cakes, coffee, teas, focaccia, and other sweets for a lovely afternoon tea (items also available to go). Open Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm. If you're more in the mood for wine, Da Rosa also has a hedged-in terrace nearby at 62 Rue de Seine (just across from GROM, which is on Da Rosa's menu so you don't have to stand in the line).  

Bar Ephémère by L'Eté de Saint-Germain 

Just for a few weeks, the historic Palais Abbatial of the St-Germain-des-Prés church, usually only open to the parish priests, is hosting an ephemeral bar in their large garden courtyard. Open daily 9:30am-10pm through August 23rd with pastries from Hugo & Victor, cheese and charcuterie platters, coffee, tea, wine, beer, live music and even a pétanque court.  L'Eté de Saint Germain at the Palais Abbatial de St-Germain-des-Prés (3 rue de l'Abbaye (6th arr., Metro Mabillon). All of the proceeds go to help fund the renovations of the church. 

Wednesday
Jul082015

Interview with a French Dining Expert

Alec Lobrano's latest book, Hungry for France (author photo by Steven Rothfeld).

The contributing editor of Saveur magazine reveals how he continues to love Paris, the Parisians, and French cuisine after almost 30 years in the City of Light.

Click to read more ...

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!

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.

Monday
Jun082015

Heather's Paris Picnic Recommendations

After a few false starts (sunny and warm in April, then rather chilly and wet in May), picnic season has finally come into full bloom in Paris. Here are a few of my own recommendations for having the most successful picnic.

1. Enjoy the abundance! Most blogs encouraging visitors to picnic always say the same thing: get a bottle of wine, some cheese and a fresh baguette. I'm not saying you can't do this (and if you're on a tight budget that may be all you can afford), but you’ll find there’s so much more to enjoy if you follow your nose to the local open-air food markets.  You’ll not only find bread, cheese and wine, but also fresh fruit and salad fixings, foie gras and paté, nuts and olives, roasted chickens (you can just get a few thighs or drumsticks) and potatoes, seafood salad, dried sausages, yogurts and jams, Lebanese hummus and breads, and hot dishes of all kinds: choucroute with ham and cabbage, pasta, curried rice, beef stew, Polish sausage sandwiches and potato latkes, quiches and meat pies! My favorites for the best selection of prepared foods are the Marché Auguste Blanqui on Friday and Sunday mornings, the Marché des Enfants Rouges (every morning but Monday, try and avoid the weekends after 11am because of crowds), the Marché Bastille Thursday and Sunday, the Marché Président Wilson Wednesday and Saturday, and the covered Marché Beauvau in the Marche d'Aligre (any morning but Monday). For those into making baguette sandwiches, you can find mayo and mustard in toothpaste-style tubes in most Parisian supermarkets, but honestly it’s easier to get one already made fresh at any bakery.

2. Pack ziplock bags of supplies. Plastic forks and spoons, paper plates and napkins, a real knife (like a Laguiole pocket knife), a bottle opener, and plastic cups are essentials. Cutting boards are also handy! These supplies can all be inexpensively purchased at any Parisian supermarket like Franprix or Monoprix, but if you want the best quality and stylish materials at the lowest prices check out kitchen supply stores that sell to the general public (plus 20% VAT), such as Le Comptoire de la Table near the Marché d'Aligre (I got a dozen very cool plastic Champagne flutes for €3 here), or La Bovida near Rue Montorgueil. Extra bags for leftovers and/or trash are also handy.

All of the essentials, these guys are pros (napkin rings are the lady's touch, merci Jeanette!)

3. If you can't find ice (try Allo Glacons or Picard), just buy a few bags of cheap frozen peas or potatoes at the grocery store to keep wine and foods cool. Many grocery stores sell insulated bags if you need to keep things cool for longer on the hottest days. Worst case scenario: buy drinks that are already cold at a supermarket or bakery, and look for an actual wine shop (there are always a few near each market) which has some chilled wine and bubbly. When you don’t have a way to keep food cold, avoid any foods that might go bad if left at room temperature too long.

4. Bring something to sit on, if not a blanket then at least a magazine or newspaper. Parisian benches often have pigeon droppings on them, grass can be damp, and the cobbled quays of the Seine aren’t very soft on the derrière. Bonus points for cushions.

Stylish Parisians like Laurent not only bring cushions, they can also wear shorts without looking like tourists!

5. Don't be late! The more scenic the location, the earlier you’ll have to get there to secure a spot. The quays of the Seine, the Islands, and the Canal St Martin are usually packed by 8pm. Any grassy spot in a park that doesn’t close at night (ie Carroussel du Louvre, the Jardins du Trocadéro) can be nice, but beware of little critters that come out after dark looking for food scraps. Having candles and/or flashlight handy will help once the sun goes down (not until at least 10pm in June and as late as 11pm in July). 

Paris Plage along the Seine in late July.

6. Les Toilettes. You’ll want to find a spot far enough from any public toilets (or corners that are used as public toilets…follow your nose) to avoid smelling them, but close enough for when you’ll inevitably need it yourself. Cafés are not usually so happy about picknickers using their facilities, so don’t count on it. Paris Plage (in season) and Les Berges have public restrooms (and water fountains!).

7. Drink responsibly. Technically speaking, there are a few confusing container laws, and you’re not supposed to have glass in Parisian parks, so if you have wine or beer bottles, keep them discreetly hidden away (high-end boxed wine is handy in this case). The police on patrol usually just ask you to finish or put away your alcohol unless you seem to be rowdy (I have never been fined for drinking in public, nor know anyone who has in Paris).

Pretty wine cups don't have to be expensive, these are all under €3.

8. Bring a few bottles of water for drinking and rinsing hands (and questionably clean fruit). If you want to be super classy you’ll have linen napkins (linen tea towels are sold in any French kitchen shop).

9. Make your life easier: cocktail tomatoes instead of ones you have to slice; ask the baker to slice your bread loaf for you (“tranché”); don’t buy hard cheeses if you only have cheap plastic knives; don’t buy runny cheeses if you don’t plan on eating it right away; get everything already prepared (sandwiches, pasta salads, fruit salads, desserts) at any delicatessen (“traiteur”).

10. Make friends with the locals: share your bottle opener; share your wine; clean up after yourselves; don’t feed the ducks or the pigeons (I saw a woman in the Place des Vosges feed one lone pigeon and then a whole flock descended on her à la Hitchcock...just don’t do it).

Bonus tip: if you live in Paris, invest in a set of pétanque/boules balls and learn the basics. It’s popular now for all ages, not just old French guys (great locations 

What are your own favorite picnic tips and recommendations?