Secrets of Paris 
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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

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

Entries in Paris (274)

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.

Tuesday
Jun092015

Water Flowing in the Gutters of Paris

Visitors to Paris, especially those from parts of the world where droughts are common like the Southwestern United States, are often shocked and concerned to see water gushing down the gutters of Paris when it hasn't been raining. 

Don't worry, it's not drinking water. In fact, it's quite environmentally friendly!

Back in the late 19th century, when Emperor Napoléon III's city planner Baron Haussmann was completely renovating the streets of Paris, he integrated two public water systems into the underground pipes and sewers: one was treated, potable drinking water that flows through our taps, the other untreated, non-potable water from the Canal St-Martin and the Seine that is used to clean the streets. 

Unique to France, it's an ingenious system that has been working for well over a century. A sanitation worker in a fluorescent green suit uses a tool to turn on the water, directing the stream down the street with a rolled up piece of carpet if needed, then follows the stream with a plastic broom sweeping in debris from the sidewalks and between car tires until he reaches the sewer grate.

Anything too big to go into the grate is scooped up into a trash bin and carted away. The same untreated water is used by the little green vehicles with the pressure sprayers cleaning the larger sidewalks and squares, especially after the open-air markets close or a festival, parade, or protest march passes through. 

You can read an in-depth article about the history of this system (and many other uniquely Parisian oddities) in the excellent Parisian Fields blog by Norman Ball, a retired university professor, and Philippa Campsie, a Canadian writer. 

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? 

Sunday
Jun072015

Shopping for Luxury Fabrics in Paris 

Many Parisians shop for everyday fabrics at the Marché St Pierre in Montmartre, but if you're looking for high-end French fabrics while visiting Paris, it's worth stopping into the Malhia Kent showroom in the Viaduc des Arts (19 ave Daumesnil, 12th, M° Bastille). 

Here you'll find a vast colorful shop with over 2000 new fabrics each season (four collections each year), all made in France, as well as yarns, samples/swatches, and a few racks of unique clothing and scarves made with the fabrics. They specialize in tweeds that are made on special looms for lightness and durability, many incorporating glittering threads, lace, ribbons, and even feathers for whimsical and creative fabrics you can use for clothing or home decor.  There are more photos on the Viaduc des Arts page.

I visited with tour clients last week and the friendly shop keepers invited us to take photos, try on the clothes, and touch the fabrics all we wanted, no pressure and no following us around. Honestly, this is not common in high-end French boutiques! 

A few doors down is Le Bonheure des Dames, a store specializing in cross-stitch embroidery kits, haberdashery supplies and everything you need for needlework.