Le Chalet des Îles

Little did I know it was possible to go island hopping on the outskirts of Paris. Today my Italian and I discovered two islands in the midst of Bois de Boulogne. It was Sunday brunch at Le Chalet des Îles that brought us there. This chalet dates back to La Belle Époque. What began as a literary café, frequented by the likes of Marcel Proust and Émile Zola, became a reputable restaurant in later years.

Le Chalet des Îles is only reachable by boat, making it even more charming and exclusive of a destination.

Once seated in the outdoor terrace, the ambiance was relaxed yet elegant. Eyeing the copious buffet, I could tell we were in for a treat. The waiter confirmed this as he came over with two glasses of champagne and motioned us towards the selection of seafood, meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, sweets… And so began our feast.

We ended with dessert which was a mouth-watering sight for a sweet tooth like myself. It was hard to choose!

After a final coffee and a little exploring of the chalet, we were ready for a walk around the islands.

What we discovered were secluded spots for picnicking; children playing in the grass; couples floating on the lake in rowboats. What a picturesque weekend paradise! Well worth the 30 minute bike ride from the Marais.

We could easily have spend the rest of the afternoon basking in the sun, book in hand. And this is certainly what we plan to do next time, after brunch of course.

La vie en français

In my continuing quest to perfect my French (some days I feel complete control and mastery of the language and others, less so), I have discovered a new platform. By connecting you with a local in your select country and city, airXpat assists anyone who is new, in settling in. In addition to language courses, they even help you find an apartment and deal with legal aspects. I know many fellow expats who could profit from these services! Curious to learn more, I connected to the site and quickly found a French teacher. What interested me most is that the lessons would take place around the city, a sort of cultural immersion while conjugating verbs.

At the suggestion of the teacher with whom I’d already had an initial assessment, my first meeting took place at Le Café Marly, set within the Louvre. I don’t think the location can get much more chic or French than this! Before the lesson even began, I was feeling confident and eager to learn. Once we met, I felt very much at ease, sipping café crème and speaking about all my favorite topics of travel, food and culture, in French bien sûr. 

As the hour lesson ended, I was clear on what I needed to do to improve my conversation skills and what I loved most about this city I call home. How could we not speak about our shared experience of living in Paris? I’m already looking forward to our next meeting, a new destination to explore and new vocabulary to learn. On y va!

Paris in Bloom

Spring has made its way to Paris! And with it comes the charm of discovering cobbled paths that lead to secret gardens, where you can sit for hours and lose yourself with a good book, or better yet, a good friend.

A favorite of these spots can be found in the Marais, of course. Where exactly? 60 Rue des Francs Bourgeois.

The Archives Nationales is the heart of Parisian history since 1808. Within two regal buildings, Hôtel de Soubise and the Hôtel de Rohan, all the pre-French Revolution archives are stored. Upon entering, you discover an enchanting space hidden within a bustling city.

Pass through the small entrance on the north side of the courtyard, and the scenery quickly changes from architectural marvels to verdant landscapes. A maze-like path weaves through fountains and rock formations. The four gardens you encounter were designed by French landscape architect Louis Benech, also known for the Tuileries Gardens. Have a seat on one of the benches surrounded by the scent of roses, and enjoy this clandestine Parisian paradise.

If you’re looking for more ways to the spend the perfect afternoon in Paris, here are a few tips in my recent collaboration with Eurostar. Though I warn you, you may never want to leave!

Paris Picks: Coffee Shops

In the last few years, a new coffee culture has made its way to Paris. Once upon a time you could only order a mediocre café noisette (espresso with hot milk) at a bistro counter, or for a little extra, sit on a terrace nursing a scalding café crème (the French version of a latte). Thankfully for us coffee connoisseurs, things have changed and a good coffee is not so hard to find, due to expat baristas brewing top roasts. But you must know where to look. Here is a list of my favorite coffee shops all over Paris, some of which are conveniently located in my North Marais neighborhood. (Café date, anyone?) In addition to stellar coffee, most offer free WiFi.

Télescope: 5 Rue Villedo, 75001 / Monday-Friday 8:30-5 / Saturday 9:30-6:30 / Sunday Closed

Café Kitsuné:  51 Galerie Montpensier, 75001 / Monday-Friday 10-6 / Saturday-Sunday 10-6:30

Matamata: 58 Rue d’Argout, 75002 / Monday-Friday 8-5 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-5:30

Café Loustic: 40 Rue Chapon, 75003 / Monday-Friday 8:30-6 / Saturday-Sunday 10-6

Fragments: 76 Rue des Tournelles, 75003 / Monday-Friday 8-6 / Saturday-Sunday 10-6

The Broken Arm: 12 Rue Perrée, 75003 / Tuesday-Saturday 9-6 / Sunday-Monday Closed

Boot Café: 19 Rue du Pont aux Choux, 75003 / Monday-Sunday 10-6

La Caféothèque: 52 Rue de l’Hôtel de ville, 75004 / Monday-Friday 8:30-7:30 / Saturday-Sunday 10-7:30

Le Peloton Café: 17 Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 75004 / Monday-Friday 9:30-5:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-6:30 / Closed Wednesday

Coutume Café: 47 Rue de Babylone, 75007 / Monday-Friday 8:30-5:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9-6

Honor Cafe: 54 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 / Monday-Friday 9-6 / Saturday 10-6 / Sunday Closed

KB Café Shop: 53 Avenue Trudaine, 75009 / Monday-Friday 7:45-6:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9-6:30

Republique of Coffee: Boulevard Saint-Martin, 75010 / Monday-Friday 8-7:30 / Saturday 9-7:30 / Sunday 10-7

Blackburn Coffee: 52 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, 75010 / Monday-Friday 9-6 / Saturday-Sunday 10-7

Peonies Café: 81 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010 / Tuesday-Saturday 9-8 / Sunday 10-4 / Monday Closed

Ten Belles: 10 Rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010 / Monday-Friday 8-5 / Saturday-Sunday 9-6

Folks and Sparrows: 14 Rue Saint-Sébastien, 75011 / Tuesday-Saturday 10-6 / Sunday-Monday Closed

Café Oberkampf: 3 Rue Neuve Popincourt, 75011 / Monday, Thursday-Friday 8:30-4:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-4:30 / Tuesday-Wednesday Closed

Passager: 107 Avenue Ledru-Rollin, 75011 / Tuesday-Saturday 8:30-6:30 / Sunday-Monday Closed

Hardware Société: 10 Rue Lamarck, 75018 / Monday, Wednesday-Friday 9-4 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-4:30 / Tuesday Closed

Lomi: 3 ter Rue Marcadet, 75018 / Monday-Sunday 10-7

CREAM: 50 Rue de Belleville, 75020 / Monday-Friday 8:30-5:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-5:30

Gluten-Free Paris

In the last few years, Paris has gone on a health kick, adding dozens of natural grocery stores and bio cafes to its wellness roster. It’s easier than ever to find a freshly pressed juice or vegan burger. But what about those restricted to a gluten-free diet? This is where one of my friends & fellow expats comes in. I first met Chiara before moving to Paris, when we were both working in advertising. Last year our paths reconnected, and since then this soulful Italian has taught me much about the art of gluten-free eating. Chiara is the expert, after all.

To help others with similar dietary restrictions discover the ever expanding gluten-free side of Paris, Chiara started a blog, Baci di Dama Living Gluten Free. Here she writes about the best sans gluten restaurants, bakeries and cafes in the City of Lights, anything and everything gluten-free. Her photos alone will make you salivate. She even sells pasta and other gluten-free products on her site, and is perfecting her very own bread. (Italians do love their bread!) You can also find an array of recipes on her website, and prepare your own gluten-free feast. There’s no reason not to indulge in the French (or Italian) way of life! Chiara even shares the stories of those behind the gluten-free worlds of Paris, Rome, London, Berlin, Madrid, Brussels and beyond.

Did I mention that she offers custom Gluten-Free Tours? She also collaborates with Airbnb and has designed the above bag in one of my workshops. (Photos by Nicole Flack.) On a recent morning, I asked Chiara to take me along on her food tour, curious to know if these desserts she raves about really do compare with traditional gluten-filled patisseries.  We started the day at an eatery I didn’t know but quickly grew to love, Lula in the 10th. I’ve never tasted something as delicous (and healthy) as their acai bowl. (I’ve since been back several times for their fresh juices and salads.) From there we stopped by an Italian epicerie to look into their gluten-free selection, and then it was time for lunch. And dessert.

Chiara chose the newly opened Sitron in the fashionable 2nd. Not only is this a charming lunch spot where we feasted on delicious wraps, but the skilled pâtissier creates some of the most exquisite cakes I’ve ever seen, and tasted. I opted for the caramel concoction and loved every gluten-free bite! With or without gluten, life in Paris is certainly a sweet one. Where to next, Chiara? Follow her adventures via Instagram and Facebook.

Art + Fashion

What could be better than shopping in the midst of an art exhibition? Art and fashion, two of my favorites. Today I discovered both at Le Bon Marché, Paris’s first (and most exclusive) department store founded in 1838.

Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota‘s in-store exhibition titled “Where are we going?” begins on the ground floor where the artist has spun 300,000 yards of white thread throughout a designated space. It’s both calming and perplexing as you wander through this white abyss. I was so mesmerized, I almost forgot that I had come to shop. All 10 window displays too are filled with the artist’s web, some with ancient maps.

The celestial element of this exhibition by Chiharu Shiota is visually poetic. The symbolism stayed with me long after I had left the store. It comprises 150 white boats carried on a wave and invites us to be amazed but also to question. The artist establishes an analogy between human life and travel: people set off for an unknown destination, crossing an ocean of experiences, emotions, encounters and memories. Chiharu Shiota evokes a fresh start, while keeping the itineraries open: “Life is a voyage with no destination”.

For those in Paris, this exhibition that was meant to close on February 18th, will continue until April 2nd.

 

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