Old Paris as one might remember from idyllic French movies or past excursions can still be found today in Le Marais. Layers of history enliven this culturally eclectic quarter in the 3rd arrondissement with avant-garde style, color, and an ancient wisdom that goes beyond the facades of bright bistros and funky shops. The energy is entrancing and the artful way of life—the small baker where you go every morning for croissant, the shop owner who sells beautiful paper, the petit restaurant down a hidden side street—unforgettable.
Le Marais, meaning “marsh,” has seen countless transformations: from a river swampland to an elite fashionable district for 17th century nobles, to a deteriorated wasteland after the Revolution. The Nineteenth century and first half of the Twentieth century saw industry, immigrants, and wartime hardship. Finally in the 1960s, the beautiful, historical buildings were rebuilt and placed under protection by the city. Today Le Marais is once again a center of culture, fashion, and growing prosperity.
Place des Vosges –
Oldest square in Paris surrounded by a picturesque arcade and 17th century mansions, including Maison Victor Hugo.
Rue Franc Bourgeois –
Small designers, shoe shops, galleries, home decorating boutiques.
Centre Pompidou, Beaubourg–
Museum of Modern Art, exhibits, cinemas, library, and restaurant with a fabulous panoramic view from the top floor.
Musée Picasso –
Lavish 17th century mansion housing several thousand diverse works: paintings, sculptures, drawings, ceramics, engravings, and manuscripts, with several works by Cézanne and Matisse.
Mariage Frères Tea Salon–
Teatime luxury elevated to an art: fine teas, elegant colonial décor, and waiters all in white.
Temple, Jewish quarter –
Rue des Rosiers: yiddish markets, bakeries, bookstores, menora shops.
Cacao et chocolat –
36, rue Vieille du Temple. More types of chocolate than you knew existed from all over the world, plus hot chocolate and ice cream.
47, rue de Turenne: Beautiful wooden décor from Cameroon, produced in an eco-friendly and ethical way.
Le Loir dans la théière –
3, rue de Rosiers. Small tea salon, amazing quiches (tartes salées) and omelettes for brunch. Funky décor and kid-friendly.
Travel Tip- Visit Le Marais on Sundays when many other neighborhoods are closed—but beware of the weekend crowds. If you prefer less people, choose a weekday.
(this article was first published in the fall 2004 issue of April Cornell - The Art of the Everyday)