So does Paris shine brightly in the midst of winter? Indeed it does, but it is definitely a trip to take with and to see dear friends. Paris in winter can be as cold and damp as London--and one can be less inclined to dress correctly. But the tourist lines are short, reservations are possible at lovely restaurants, nice hotels are within budget and your friends are home!
At the wonderful, impromptu invitation of a friend, I headed across the Atlantic for a weekend that turned into a week in France. For anytime of year, the best guide to the city is Andrew Harper's Paris. Available in an app and an on-line newsletter, Harper's devotion and recommendations open up the city.
The first night we dined at L'Huitrier in the 17th for oysters and grilled fish. A neighborhood spot near the Arc du Triomphe that draws those in the know. Like a good friend, Harper even suggests a wine that proved a perfect pairing.
The next day we climbed the Eiffel Tower! Something I have never done, because the crowds were prohibitive. But, despite the frigid temperatures, my intrepid friend Patti bypassed the elevator line, and we headed to the stairs unimpeded. The climb is manageable--but doesn't burn nearly enough calories. The climb to the second tier definitely tests one's relationship to heights and open spaces. But this is small stuff in comparison to encountering an ice skating rink on the first tier, and a remarkable, unexpected blood red toliette facilities!
I forgot to mention lunch at Cafe du Marche, a popular Parisian cafe in the 7th that is close by the Eiffel. We dined on salmon tartare, rose and salad. Delicieux -- also recommended by Andrew Harper. And post climb, we warmed up with tea and cake at Aux Cerises at 47, Avenue de Suffern. Oddly, we opted for tea more than once on our travels--likely because it is so soothing.
Saturday was a full day in the city. We headed to the 6th and St. Germain de Pres. Without a guide or the internet, we found a wonderful tea shop. We turned into an internal courtyard and found L'Heure Gourmande, a tea salon. Despite our lack of reservations, the hostess accommodated us after a brief wait. A perfectly cooked omelet with herbs and a pot of jasmine green tea was restorative.
We then embarked on a grueling walk in the wind toward Notre Dame and the right bank. On the way we stopped at Shakespeare and Company for books and bags. Determined to shop, Patti found a bag off the Rue du Rivoli and we soldiered on for a final stop at E. Dehillerin, an extraordinary cook shop in the 1st that has been selling every thing you need in the kitchen for two centuries.
I must admit that while Saturday night was to be our big night out, we both were under the weather. So we tucked into bed and watched Bill Murray in St. Vincent.
Sunday was off to the friends in Levallois-Perret for a proper French Sunday roast. I even had my first bone marrow, which was terrific and addictive. We of course had a cheese course and my first galette des rois. The galette des rois is a cake traditionally shared at Epiphany, on 6 January. It celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem.
Composed of a puff pastry cake, with a small charm, the fève, hidden inside, it is usually filled with frangipane, a cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs and sugar. The season of the kings last until Mardi Gras and the beginning of lent.
We then had a post lunch walk nearby at the talk of Paris, the new Louis Vuitton Foundation. A Frank Gehry marvel that houses the private collection of CEO Bernard Arnault and works acquired by the Foundation. We were too late to go in, but we walked in the children's park at the back, and the building is a piece of art unto itself.
Monday I headed to Southwestern France to a small town outside of Limoges called Eymoutiers. There, some British friends have a small piece of paradise. In the summer, they grown their own fruit and vegetables. My friend Kate has started beekeeping and harvesting her own honey! In the winter, the atmosphere is a bit quieter, but the forests and villages are still magic.
Imagine this as a most civilized way to spend a day. Begin with coffee, muesli and red peaches that have been thawed from the summer crop. Indulge in some homemade bread and honey from the hive that is just out in the garden. Make a fire and read, work and putter around the house.
Dinner begins with champagne around 5 pm and nibbles--hard boiled quail eggs, chopped sardines on blinis and grape tomatoes. Dinner, which while cooking has filled the house with most delicious smells, is Roasted Chicken with Clementines & Arak from the marvelous cookbook Jerusalem, Beef Bourginone, or paella. I have talented and generous friends!
We spent one day in the town of Aubusson, which is known for it's tapestries--both modern and ancient. The museum was of course closed--as so much can be in January--but the tourist office offered an enticing peak into the work of the artisans.
Finally, on Thursday I headed back to Paris to catch a flight early Friday back to New York. I was reading two books along the way, which are available on our bookshelves: The Girl on the Train and Viviane Elisabeth Fauville.
But the magic of the trip and the way it unfolded is much like how the best of friendships work -- effortless.
Merci beaucoup mes amies Sue, Barb, Annie, Ellen, Virginie, Kate, Russell and Patti.