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

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 Paris (284)

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. 

Wednesday
Jun032015

Paris Street Art of the Week

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you'll notice I take a lot of photos of the Parisian street art (and yes, I'm a bit obessesed with the Lo-Fi filter). I live in the 13th, where many internationally renowned street artists have decorated buildings, usually at the invitation of the local Mairie (town hall) or art galleries in the district.

The brown electric boxes which normally go unnoticed (which I assume are for street lights, traffic lights, etc.) make great canvases. So far I've only seen them decorated in the 13th. 

The first four below are by Pimax, who usually does the Marilyn Monroe graffitti around town.

The street artist Moyoshi has a very distinct style, seen in the two boxes below. This series is numbered (here #05 and #07 of 13 total). His work is often in street art galleries, such as Le Lavo//Matic.

This artwork below is part of my neighborhood's artists' network Lézarts de la Bièvre, which is having their Portes Ouvertes June 13-14. Sorry, I'm not sure who the artist is! 

And here are some other interesting street art works I've seen around Paris this week, the first two from a large street mural in the 13th, Rue Boussingault in the 13th.

This one is from the Rue des Recollets in the 10th.

And this below was seen on a funky 1950s (?) building along the Petite Ceinture rail-to-trail path in the 15th.

These painting below of Dali and Serge Gainesbourg are on the facade of a tattoo shop next to the Jardin des Plantes (5th), so they're not technically street art, but they convey the same feel and I like them.

If you're a street art fan, there are several events coming up that you might like:

-  June 5th: wrap-party for the end of the Artiste-Ouvrier exposition at Lavo//Matik, 6-10pm

- June 7th: a street art auction of 93 lots at the Blancs-Manteaux Auction (Marais), from 3pm

- June 13th: 10th annual Murs Ouvertes opening night at at Lavo//Matik, 3-9:30pm

- June 14th: the annual Salon Emmaüs flea market for charity will have street artists on site to decorate any items of your choosing, at Porte de Versailles Expo Hall 9:30am-7pm, €3 entrance

Saturday
May302015

Why You Should Try Wine in a Box

I was on one of my morning runs when I passed a new shop in my neighborhood with cute lavender-colored boxes in the window, so I stopped for a photo. Wine in a box! They looked so cute I went back for an apéro that evening with my friend Lisa to check it out.

Click to read more ...