Pâtisseries à Paris

Paris is a city of temptation. With a boulangerie or patisserie on almost every street it’s pretty tricky not to find yourself indulging in croissant aux amandes or chausson aux pommes now and again…

Aside from your everyday bakery, Paris is home to high-end patisseries such as Ladurée and Angelina. These are by no means cheap and I definitely do not visit them often, but for a very occasional treat they offer a selection of beautiful pastries and macarons, and Angelina makes possibly the best hot chocolate I have every tasted!

I would reccommend booking a table if you plan to go to either of these, as they are very popular with tourists and otherwise you could face a long wait, especially at weekends. Their brunch, though expensive would be a great treat on a weekend trip to Paris, and fuel you up for a great day of sightseeing!

 

A Weekend up North

Finding myself with a weekend and no work, I decided I would make the effort to explore a bit of France. I found the website To Be Erasmus in Paris*, and saw they were offering a very reasonably priced weekend in Normandy / Brittany for Erasmus students.

So, bleary eyed at 8am on Saturday morning, I headed to Porte Maillot to meet the group and start the weekend. There was a great mix of all nationalities and with everyone being around the same age it was a great weekend for making friends.

We first headed to Honfleur, where we had some time to explore the little port town and buy some lunch in the market there. It’s a really pretty town, with colourful terraced houses overlooking the port. Next we headed to Deauville, which (possibly due to the torrential rain) wasn’t my favourite place. This is the place to be in the Summer, a kind of St Tropez up North, with its long beach and town filled with expensive boutiques and restaurants. Not somewhere fora budget conscious tourist!

That afternoon we drove on to Saint Malo. We had a little time to wander around the town and look at the shops selling Breton cidre and salted caramel goodies (definitely overindulged that weekend).  That evening we ate at Le Licorne – an amazing crepe restaurant in the historic centre, really good prices and delicious food – also the waiters dress up in white dungarees and striped Breton t shirts which is quite fun. Then it was back to the hotel (we stayed in the Ibis budget hotel a little walk from the historic centre, which I would definitely recommend).

The next day (after a massive breakfast – included in the room price) we walked back to the historic centre, and had a lovely walk around the ramparts. Saint Malo is an old fortified town and the ramparts are still in place enclosing it all. You get a lovely view over the beach and sea, and the weather was perfect. We had a little stop off on the beach, then accidentally found ourselves back at the crepe restaurant for a mid morning snack (the smarties crepe was incredible).

Next it was on to Mont Saint Michel. When you arrive, the car park is a short distance away, you either take a shuttle bus or walk for about 30 minutes, which I would recommend for the great views. Mont Saint Michel was really lovely, it’s very small and is a complete tourist trap with over priced restaurants and tacky tourist shops, but the Abbey at the top is worth a visit and the views are breathtaking.

So all in all, an action packed weekend but definitely some great places to visit. Brittany and Normandy are definitely home to some of the best food in France, and the cider is delicious. Be prepared to eat a lot if you ever find yourself there…!!

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*To Be Erasmus in Paris is aimed at young people living in Paris, and they organise nights out and trips around France and Europe. It’s a realyl great way to explore different places without spending a ridiculous amount of money, and a perfect way to make new friends (which in Paris can sometimes be quite difficult).

 

Day Trip – Amiens

Another early morning for a French excursion! This time to Amiens, we took the train from Gare du Nord to Amiens, which took about 1h45mins and cost about 30€ return, considering everything we visited in Amiens was free (being under 25 and, for now, a member of the EU).

We headed first for the all important coffee and croissant to start the day right, and then to the Tourist information centre to pick up a map and guide. Then, we visited the Amiens Cathedral, which is a UNESCO World Heritage sight, being the biggest Gothic church in France. It actually looks a lot like the Notre Dame in Paris, inside and outside.

Next we walked down to the Somme river, and walked along the banks to the Quartier Saint Leu, the ‘Venice of the North’ as described in the guide. In the summer, you can take a boat trip to the floating gardens which looks like it would be a great visit, however being November, these visits had finished.

We stopped for a lovely lunch, then headed back through the town centre (via a few shops) to the Maison Jules Verne. This is the house that the author (famous for writing Around the World in 80 Days amongst others) lived for much of his life. The house provides an interesting guide describing the life of Jules Verne, and there is lots to look at including all the different book covers, a replica of his ship, and a map of the Around the World in 80 Days voyage.

After that it was time to get back on the train and head home, leaving time for a cup of tea and another pastry of course!

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Day Trip – Château de Chantilly

The Château of Chantilly is fairly easy to get to from central, on either RER line D (45 mins) or the main line train from Gare du Nord (25 mins), then a 20 minute walk to the grounds.

The Château itself is really beautiful, it’s surrounded by a moat and looks like it’s floating – and the still water gives an amazing reflection of the Château. The castle was actually used in the James Bond movie A View to a Kill! 

There are also large gardens there, landscaped by the same man as the Palace of Versailles. We spent most of the day wandering around outside along the Grand Canal, and even found some Kangaroos!

One thing I would do in hindsight is remember to bring a packed lunch…There are two restaurants there, which are pretty exclusive and very expensive. We managed to get a table at one of these, where we had apple pie and Chantilly cream, which although delicious was slightly spoiled by the terrible service we received and extortionate prices…

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Marché aux Puces, Saint Ouen

Whether just looking for something off the beaten track in Paris, or on the hunt for Renaissance style period furniture and vintage clothing, Porte de Clignancourt was a very interesting place to visit.

Getting off at the metro it’s just a short walk, through the modern clothes markets, to the large Marchés aux Puces (flea markets). There are 14 markets here, each specialising in different things such as books, clothes, furniture or even statues. The market is considered the largest antiques market and second hand shop in the world and covers seven hectares. The markets vary from covered to open-air and sell various goods from many different countries and time periods.

We spent the morning strolling through several of these markets, looking at the different stalls selling a variety of things from Renaissance style furniture to vintage records, and there’s even a spaceship (which is actually one of the first ever mobile homes).

 

 

 

The Palace and Gardens of Versailles

Versailles is probably one of the most impressive and beautiful places to visit on your trip to Paris. It’s about 45 minutes on the RER C from central Paris (you have to buy a separate ticket for the train), then a short walk to the Château entrance. If you get there early the queue to get in is much shorter, but I’ve also read it’s worth getting there and exploring the gardens first and the Château in the afternoon as it’s less busy.

Considering how big it is, you only get to see a small section of the Palace, but the rooms are incredible – the ceilings especially are really beautiful so look up! You also get to walk through the famous Hall of Mirrors from which you get a great view over the gardens, and is also a room that has seen many important historical moments such as the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I.

The most impressive part however has to be the extensive gardens. You could spend hours wandering around and still not see everything. We had a picnic by the lake, then hired rowing boats. After that we walked over to the Trianon Palace and Marie Antoinette’s Farm which is really adorable. There is a little train which we ended up taking back to the Château as it was really hot and we’d walked far.

Versailles is such a nice day out of Paris, especially in the Summer as you can take time to relax and explore the beautiful gardens.

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Entrance to the Palace
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Garden view
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Trianon gardens
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Marie Antoinette’s Farm

 

Fontainebleau Château

Having previously visited Versailles, I thought it might be nice to visit somewhere slightly quieter, away from the majority of tourists. To ge tthere you take the RER D from gare de Lyon for 45 minutes, then it is just a short bus ride to the entrance of the Château. This is great for anyone with a Navigo or Paris Visite pass as it is included and you don’t have to pay extra.

Fontainebleau Château is a great visit. It served as a sovereign residence for eight centuries, and each King or Queen has made their own changes and improvements. There is an amazing Renaissance style horseshoe staircase at the entrance to the Château, and inside there is a beautiful Chapel dating back the the Reign of Francis I. The grounds of the Château are also lovely, with lots of courtyards, fountains and lots of trails through the forest (you can get a map of these from the Tourist Information).

Around the Château there are lots of cafés, bistrots and pâtisseries to get your lunch, we had a picnic in the grounds – a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of Paris.

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Entrance to the Chateau
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Lakeside views
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Fontainebleau Gardens
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Versailles-esque interiors
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Napoleon’s throne
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The Grand Canal

 

Disneyland Paris

It happened, I caved in to the lure of Disney and spent the day at Disneyland Paris. Having previously been and hated every moment of my day there, I did not have high hopes, but was pleasantly surprised!

Being a Sunday in late October (and possibly due to half the park being shut for renovation) it wasn’t unbelievably busy which made the day more enjoyable. Queues weren’t ridiculously long meaning we didn’t waste most of the day.

I took a packed lunch so didn’t need to buy any of the overpriced food (which to be quite honest is an absolute joke how much they charge).

Definitely enjoyed my day, and it was so easy to get to on the RER A from central Paris, and despite being above the target age I still had a great day!

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Paris Catacombs

If you’ve been to Paris a few times, or have already seen all the main sights and want to see something a little different then the Catacombs are well worth a visit. The queue was very long, but as we had nothing else to do we decided to wait (it ended up being over 2 horus). They offer a skip the line ticket, but as it’s much more expensive it may be better to arrive in the evening  a couple of hours before they close to miss the line.

The Catacombs are a series of underground tunnels and caverns which have been carved into the limestone, and which now function as an underground cemetery. Before Napoleon III redeveloped the city of Paris, the cemeteries were overflowing and diseases spread easily for this reason they decided to move all the bones underground and out of the way, organising them into piles into a proper mausoleum.

The Catacombs are really interesting, plaques mark dates of when bones were added or from which cemetery they came, and some of the alcoves use the bones to create intricate patterns.

It was a slightly eerie atmosphere, wandering through the cold and damp limestone tunnels lined with bones, but nevertheless an interesting visit.

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Skull artwork?
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Everything in the Catacombs in nicely arranged…
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Plaques tell you from which graveyard the bones were brought from
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So many bones…

Day trip, Rouen

So my original plan was that on Sundays I would visit a new city in France, half way through my stay this so far hasn’t worked out. However, eventually I made plans and bleary eyed at 8am on a Sunday morning made it onto a train to Rouen!

The train journey itself was very smooth, leaving from Gare Saint Lazare and going straight through to Rouen in just under 2 hours. I love the older French trains as they still have compartments and it feels a bit like you’re on the Hogwarts Express!

Arriving in Rouen, you can instantly see the charm of the town, with its pedestrianised cobbled streets, lined with brightly coloured half-timbered buildings, a beautifully intricate astronomical clock (from which you get an amazing panoramic view of the city), and of course the Rouen Cathedral.

This makes it a lovely town to wander around. There are 3 Cathedrals in total, a Fine Arts Museum, a small museum inside the Gros Horloge (large astronomical clock) and you can also visit the Tower where Joan of Arc was held for part of her trial. Something also worth a visit is the Joan of Arc Historial, a museum / cinematic experience which takes you through the life and story of Joan of Arc.

So overall, Sunday may not be the best day to visit as most shops are shut and the town was fairly quiet, however it was a great day out with lots of interesting things to see, and a perfect distance from Paris for a day trip.

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Cathedrale Notre Dame de Rouen
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Rouen Streets
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Rouen Streets
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View from behind the Cathedral
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Beautiful buildings in Rouen
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Inside the Cathedral 
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Gros Horloge
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View from the clocktower
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Musee des Beaux Arts
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Monet’s Painting of Rouen Cathedral
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Gardens behind the Cathedral