Paris remains the loveliest city in the world, but also the most overwhelming.
There is so much to absorb. Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Boulevards, the Champs Elysées, Montparnasse . . . these only begin to number the courses of what Hemingway called "the movable feast". For the traveler with limited time to digest his banquet the result can be a distinctly bloated feeling.
Arc de Triomphe.
How to cope? What helps for me is thinking about Paris as a collection of neighborhoods, and then focusing each visit on one of them. I've found that this apparent reduction turns out to be a gain. I begin to experience Paris the way Parisians do—intimately, lingeringly, whimsically.
Of course such a plan works only if you visit Paris many times. But if you wish to know a great city well that is what you must do. With Paris, it is most likely what you will want to do, hopefully will find a way to do, once you have savored the morsels which these neighborhoods have to offer.
One of my favorite Paris neighborhoods is on the Left Bank of the Seine near the Eiffel Tower, in and around the seventh arrondissement (district) Parisians call simply Le Septième. Ah, but we must not be too literal here! Some of Le Septième is not really in the seventh at all but in the fifteenth arrondissement.
Boat ride on the Seine River.
I once mentioned to a Parisian that the wonderful Grenelle Market was a few blocks west of the seventh, thus in the fifteenth. His reply: “Un dètail Monsieur!” No one goes to the fifteenth for pleasure. Therefore, Grenelle is Le Septième!
To complicate matters further, part of the actual seventh district east of Les Invalides is not to be called Le Septième either. It is Faubourg St. Germain. Who am I to argue with French logic, renowned from the days of Descartes?
An easier way to mark out this neighborhood is to walk from the Eiffel Tower ten minutes in any direction (save across the Seine to the Right Bank, which would invite still more socio-geographical complexity).
First Things First
Le Septième is home to many small hotels, from budget walk-ups to elegant charmers off the Champs de Mar. Be forewarned that rooms, especially in the lower-priced hostelries, tend to be rather cramped.
New Quai Branly Museum.
My splurge recommendation for a few days in Le Septième is the Hilton Paris Eiffel. After all, Paris is "The City of Light". A primary attraction of the Hilton is accommodations that are spacious and airy, with balconies and wondrous views of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine beyond. A few steps from the parkland of Champs de Mar, the Hilton is an ideal place to headquarter a ramble around Le Septième.
Ideally located at the foot of elegant Rue Suffren (18 Avenue de Suffren), Hilton Paris Eiffel offers a perfect venue for the business or leisure traveler.
Al fresco dining at Hilton Paris Eiffel.
A few minutes stroll brings one to such Paris landmarks at the Eiffel Tower, Palais Chaillot, Trocadero, Les Invalides and the sightseeing boats, which ply the Seine night and day.
For the business traveler the hotel offers extraordinary facilities for both conventions and meetings. The main ballroom, Le Salon Orsay, is ideal for large-scale events, accommodating up to 700 people. Le Toit de Paris, with its spectacular views of Paris from the 10th floor, is a great setting for receptions and dinners for as many as 200. Hilton Paris Eiffel offers an additional 15 meeting rooms and a full service Business Center.
The hotel has recently undergone a complete renovation of its 461 rooms and 26 suites. Twenty-nine rooms are located on the Executive Floor, which includes a clubroom with library, complimentary bar, and snacks throughout the day, buffet breakfast, and a Guest Service Manager.
Rooms are commodious, with private balcony and the majority present breathtaking views of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine beyond. Room service is available 24 hours a day. What better spot for that romantic Paris weekend!
An Executive Room at Hilton Paris Eiffel.
The gourmet restaurant at Hilton Paris Eiffel is the renowned Le Pacific Eiffel, which features French and continental cuisine. There is outdoor dining in fine weather, with views of the Tower.
During the morning hours, the restaurant is the venue for a sumptuous buffet breakfast. Speaking of breakfast, the 10th floor Le Toit de Paris offers a Sunday brunch to go with its spectacular vistas of Paris. The Bar Suffren, next to the lobby, is the perfect place for an aperitif. Its outdoor tables offer — you guessed it — still another view of Monsieur Eiffel's ironwork masterpiece.
Fine dining with Eiffel Tower views.
(Editor's note: There are two additional Hilton Hotels in Paris: Hilton Paris Arc de Triomphe at 51-57 Rue de Courcelles, and Hilton Paris Orly Airport at Orly Sud 257.)
More First Things First
Upon arrival in this heart of Paris who could resist the monuments soaring up all around? Into the broad greensward of Champs de Mars (Napoleon's old parade ground) for a clear look at Gustave Eiffel's ironwork masterpiece, well over 100 years old and still the tallest structure in Paris. Beyond it the Trocadero where, in 1940, the newsreel cameras recorded a conquering Adolph Hitler's first gaze up at the Tower.
Eiffel Tower from the
Champs de Mars.
Fortunately we can take an elevator to the top (the equivalent of 81 stories) and bask in the entire splendor of Paris.
Adolph might have made the trip as well if the French hadn't cut the lift cables before his arrival in the city. There is no record of his having walked up. Spitefully, some say, Hitler determined that the Eiffel Tower would be one of the first things blown up as the Germans retreated from Paris in 1944. But that didn't work out either.
Rambling Around the Neighborhood
Of course the Eiffel Tower and the Palais Chaillot/Trocadero complex are among the busiest tourist attractions in Paris. "Hot Paris" — the Latin Quarter, the Champs Elysées, Montparnasse — are minutes away by Metro.
Café La Ribe near Hilton Paris Eiffel.
Famous Café Le Dome on
But what I like about Le Septième is the unhurried rhythms of its parks and side streets. I'm at the center of a great city yet nestled within a village-like atmosphere of family run shops and restaurants, tree-lined avenues, and open air markets.
Ah, the markets! What I must do first, particularly if travel weary, is wander over to Rue Cler for a drink at one of the sidewalk cafés like Café du Marché. A pedestrian zone, Rue Cler is among the most beguiling streets in Paris. Here are dozens of open markets — fruit, vegetables, flowers, cheeses, wines, meat, fish — interspersed with Italian delis and Chinese groceries. My favorite time on Rue Cler is about four in the afternoon. Then come parading by the school children with their backpacks, well turned out matrons pushing baby strollers or just walking the dog. The fruit vendors are calling out their specials and grandmere is tenderly probing the peaches. Heaven!
Another fabulous food market — also a five minute stroll from the Hilton — runs along for blocks under the elevated Metro tracks on Boulevard de Grenelle. Open Wednesdays and Sundays, the stalls are festooned with sausages, chickens (some still alive), and a bewildering variety of breads, cheeses, etc.
Dig the fierce-looking gent stirring a huge cauldron of paella. I catch the fragrance a quarter mile away and by the time I've reached it . . . well, who could bear to pass without ordering up a steaming bowl?
The author (left), tastes
Paella at the Grenelle Market
It goes without saying that we must earn our victuals. In Paris one may accomplish this by visiting museums.
The two most prominent in our little corner of the seventh arrondissement are the marvelous Rodin Museum and, sighted directly on the Seine, the new Quai Branly Museum.
The Rodin — located in a 17th century mansion and gardens at 77 Rue de Varenne contains most of the famous works of the great sculptor, including "The Kiss", "The Thinker", and "The Burghers of Calais".
The recently opened Quai Branly Museum features Paris' largest collection of New World and primitive art. Architect Jean Nouvel has created what a New York Times critic called a "jumble of mismatched structures, set in a lush, rambling garden". Carved out of a 19-acre plot in the shadow of some of Paris' most distinguished Haussmann era (read "imperialist") apartment buildings, the Branly has turned into something the French always enjoy—un succès de scandale.
Some Serious Eating
Restaurant Le Fontaine de Mars.
Restaurant La Gauloise.
La Giberne Restaurant.
Before launching a major expedition into the restaurants of Le Septième, plot a gastronomical game plan with Hilton concierge Cyrille Joubert. After all, if you're going to invest in a fine hotel why not benefit from the knowledge of a charming Parisian who knows every maitre d' in the neighborhood? (Cyrille also spent two years teaching French to school children in Oklahoma, and has lived to tell about it.)
Although ethnic eateries abound in Le Septième on my stay we concentrated on reasonably priced French cuisine. Since I happen to love a good cassoulet (the baked bean and fowl casserole of southwest France) Cyrille sent me off to a traditional brasserie called Thoumieux (79 Rue St. Dominique). The waiter grinned when I ordered the cassoulet. I grinned back while devouring it.
While walking down the quiet Rue St. Dominique towards Thoumieux I spied a lovely outdoor restaurant with a fountain. A goodly crowd seemed to be having a fine time. The next morning when I asked Cyrille about it his eyes lit up. “Ah yes! La Fontaine de Mars, where Napoleon used to water his horse!”
So that very night it was La Fontaine (129 rue St. Dominique), where the classic beefsteak with a bearnaise sauce made me giddy. (And I choose to believe that Napoleon really did drink from the fountain, or that at least his horse did.)
The third night was to be either La Giberne (42 Bis, Av de Suffren), where Cyrille swore I would encounter superb duck and foie gras, or a fish house called Vin et Marée (71 Av de Suffren). Since back-to-back cassoulet and steak bearnaise (with plenty of red wine) were already threatening me with a touch of gout, I opted for the seafood.
Cavalierly, I brushed off Cyrille's suggestion that I reserve a table. Hadn't I walked cold into the bustling Thoumieux and been seated immediately? Cyrille shrugged. “A ‘brasserie’ like Thoumieux perhaps! There one needn't book. But a true ‘restaurant’!”
Such nuances eluded me.
Suffice to say that I received a second shrug, this time from the maitre d' at Vin et Marée. Had I the temerity to enter his establishment at 8 p.m. without a reservation? He merely waived toward the tables full of Frenchmen gobbling their oysters.
Restaurant Vin et Marée.
Braving the specter of gout, I crossed the street to La Giberne. Full. Cyrille had also mentioned La Gauloise, close by on Avenue de la Motte Picquet. Extraordinary interior. I seemed to be walking into an Impressionist painting. Alas, full. "Perhaps monsieur could return in two hours?"
Finally there was the Brasserie Suffren. Brasserie or no—full.
Well, not quite finally. I noticed a scattering of outdoor tables at a casual pizzeria called Luna (19 Rue Desaix). The simple paper menu promised a touch of Italy. The owner, however, spoke a thickly accented French that sounded a bit like Tagalog. No matter. The pizza and salad were delightful. I happily washed it down with diet cola, thus avoiding the gout and a stiff dinner bill at a single stroke.
Anyway, by now it was ten o'clock and the flashing light show on the Eiffel Tower was about to commence.
A Potpourri of Le Septième
A few more attractions within a
short walk of the Hilton Paris Eiffel:
Le Village Suisse (78 Ave. de Suffren) — Built as the Swiss Pavilion for the World's Fair of 1900, Le Village contains some 150 antique stores, art galleries, furniture, and jewelry shops that display some the world's finest treasures; a delight simply to stroll about and chat with some of the proprietors.
Champs de Mars — A great place for a picnic lunch put together from goodies gathered up at the markets on Rue Cler or Boulevard de Grenelle.
Les Invalides — The former hospital for invalid soldiers now contains museums and monuments to French military history. Among the French war heroes buried here is, of course, Napoleon himself.
You can also dine on the Eiffel Tower itself. Altitude 95 on the first floor is relatively inexpensive. The Jules Verne, however, has a Michelin star to go with its lovely vistas of Paris—and prices to match.
Restaurant Pacific Eiffel
at Hilton Paris Eiffel.
Finally, if you feel like staying close to home one evening the Hilton Paris Eiffel offers fine continental cuisine at Le Pacific Eiffel. The Bar Suffren, off the lobby, has outdoor tables with Tower views.
— Feature by Jerry Nemanic, Jetsetters Magazine Las Vegas Correspondent; most photos by Donna Nemanic.