One of my favorite pleasures when I am in Paris is to take some time off, pick up a good book, and hole up some place where I can be left alone with my old self. If you feel the same, these are three of my fave spots to do just that.
The China House
In America when we think of a social venue where to spend a couple of hours reading and sipping on some hot beverage, the local Starbucks shop comes to mind almost immediately. Starbucks is slowly building a beach head in Europe where Italian coffee dominates the espresso market, leaving very little room for the kind of brew Starbucks sells.
In other words, Starbucks shops do not abound in Paris. But there are many other venues of the sort, and sometimes much better ones. The China House (La Maison de la Chine) belongs to this latter category.
Standing at 76 rue Bonaparte, in the Saint Germain des Pres area, La Maison de la Chine offers tea lovers a perfect haven to taste various teas and nibble at a couple of ‘macarons’ (small cookies with a light cream spread within) and other pastries. The ‘tea house’ is open from 3:00 to 7:00 pm Monday to Saturday. Tasting sessions give you an opportunity to sip on some of the finest Chinese teas: Tieguanyin, Longjing, Yinzhen, and Shuixian. The tea is prepared along the lines of an ancient tradition with special bamboo utensils, clay teapot and water pot, a ‘cup for smelling’ and a ‘cup for sipping’.
Should you also wish to have lunch there, their Shanghaï Cafe opens between 12:30 and 2:30 pm. Their courses are a mix between Chinese and Thai food, with some interesting flavors. The food doesn’t come cheap (there are two options, one for €22, the other for €28) but quality is good.
The Luxembourg Gardens
Definitely one of my favorite areas in my teenage years. The Luxembourg Gardens are the Parisian version of London’s Hyde Park and NYC’s Central Park. It extends across a large section of the city, spreading over parts of several districts. The French Senate House was built along one of its sides.
Monikered ‘le Luco’ by the youth of the 6th district (a well-to-do crowd with its own social codes and exclusive parties), the Luxembourg Gardens are informally divided into sections.
In one of these, children can ride an old wooden-horse merry-go-round, and catch metal rings with short wooden sticks. Further away, there are a few tennis courts, and a puppet theater. The vast expanse of land facing the French Senate House features a water basin where youngsters float model sailboats.
One of the quietest spots of the Gardens borders the Rue d’Assas. It is shaded by old trees around which narrow alleys wrap up. Metal chairs line up the alleys, and it may become hard to find one unoccupied during summer as students love to hang around and study in this area. A perfect place for a quiet afternoon of reading or romantic strolling.
Meet Louis the 13th at Place des Vosges
Ensconced by four rows of 17th century mansions, Place des Vosges is probably best known for its art galleries. Those exhibit artworks of a more modern breed that the galleries which line up the famed Rue de Seine, near Saint-Germain-des-Pres.
To me however, Place de Vosges is mainly remarkable for its peaceful, miniature park. The 39 mansions around the Place shelter it from the traffic rumble coming from the Rue Saint Antoine (Southern side) and the Boulevard Beaumarchais (Eastern side). This sort of a rampart also serves as a wind-cutter during fall and springtime.
Mid-sized trees line up the fence around the symmetrically built park. At its center, a tree-circle in which stands a bronze statue of Louis the 13th who, we learn, died at age 33. Around the central circle, my target: one of four green lawns where I can unfold a spread, lay down, and read.
During summer, there are always a couple of classical and jazz formations playing under the nearby arcades. They play at a pretty good level which gives a nice touch to the local vibe.
Among the restaurants around the Place, I personally like ‘Ma Bourgogne’ at No. 19. They serve hearty meals for €25-35.
But that’s just a few spots
There is no shortage of quiet spots where to kill a couple of delicious hours in Paris. In fact I’ll write about some more in the coming weeks. When you are in Paris, take some time off to enjoy the city vibe differently; don’t just roll with the Parisian hustle-bustle. I’ll see you in a while with more food for thought.