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Perfect weekend in Paris

Explore Paris' elegant 16th arrondissement on foot, visiting not just markets and parks, but also a cemetery, a museum at midnight and a restaurant in the middle of a lake

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Suzanne Sng on 27 May 2018

The Straits Times

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When we first landed in Paris two years ago, a lost-in-translation moment with our rental agent led us to the wrong apartment in the wrong neighbourhood.

 

My partner and I were so desperate to find a place that we took it anyway. And that was how we ended up in the 16th arrondissement, an area said to be rather staid and even boring.

 

But day by day, its quiet charm has worked its magic on me. In fact, there is so much to do here that you can visit for an entire weekend without leaving the neighbourhood - and without ever needing to squeeze onto the metro. After all, the best way to do Paris is on foot.

 

There is a uniquely French word, "flaneur", to describe someone who strolls and ambles without apparent purpose. And the 16th arrondissement - with its leafy streets, elegant cafes and vibrant parks - is immensely and pleasurably walkable.

 

SATURDAY

 

10am

 

After almost two years in the neighbourhood, we have worked out that there is no better place to kick off a weekend than a visit to the market.

 

We start off at Marche President Wilson (Avenue du President Wilson), one of the best street markets in the city.

 

Two long, seemingly endless rows of stalls beckon and the hustle and bustle of the open-air market surrounds us.

 

Friendly bonjours are being exchanged.

 

Here, a cheesemonger offers a comte sample. There, a stallholder extols the virtues of apple cider, never mind if you do not understand a single word he utters except "delicieux".

 

This is the perfect place to pick up picnic supplies for later.

 

Rotisserie chicken - also ask for the potatoes at the bottom of the oven, which have been bathed in delectable chicken fat - and some cider to wash it down, perhaps?

 

11am

 

Saunter over to the four-storey gourmet food hall, La Grande Epicerie (80 Rue de Passy), the latest outpost of the famous Le Bon Marche. Marvel at entire walls devoted to just chocolates and jams and the mind-boggling array of artisanal butter.

 

Le Beurre Bordier is frequently listed as one of the best butters in the world and comes in flavours such as smoked salt (my all-time favourite), seaweed and yuzu.

 

Pick up a small block as well as a fresh baguette. Do as the French do and snap off the extra crunchy end, also known as the part which is invariably eaten before you reach your destination.

 

If you fancy poking around a French antique store, detour off the main road to Passy-Brocante (5 Impasse des Carrieres), which is filled with old paintings, crystal glasses, silverware and oodles of charm.

 

We can rest our feet in a hidden courtyard that even many locals do not know about.

 

Along Rue de l'Annonciation, keep your eyes peeled for a nondescript black metal double-gate at No. 25. As you step through the gates, you will spot an organic cafe nestled against a large brick-and-glass shed, which houses home decor store Maison Sarah Lavoine (25 Rue de l'Annonciation).

 

In the same courtyard are an indie jeweller and a bag boutique, both well worth a browse even with their eye-watering prices.

 

1pm

 

Toting our picnic goodies, we make our way to Bois de Boulogne, the second-largest park in Paris and about twice the size of New York's Central Park. Unlike many manicured gardens in Paris, this one has an untamed beauty to it, with lush lakes and shady paths through wooded areas.

 

3pm

 

After a ramble in the sprawling park, we head to Fondation Louis Vuitton (8 Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi), a sleek modern museum designed by American architect Frank Gehry. If you have children with you, Jardin d'Acclimatation (Rue du Bois de Boulogne) is an amusement park next to the museum. Spend the afternoon browsing the works of artists such as Americans Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons at the museum or taking rides in the amusement park, which dates back to 1860.

 

7pm

 

You should be able to get a table for dinner at Chalet des Iles (14 Chemin de Ceinture du Lac Inferieur) if you arrive at 7pm, as the French typically have dinner from 8pm. This cosy little restaurant, a pleasant half-hour stroll through the wooded parts of the park, is in the middle of a lake.

 

Cross the water on a barge, which is free and makes for a pleasant sunset interlude. The heated terrace is a nice option on chilly evenings and dishes such as salmon tataki and foie gras are perfect for sharing.

 

SUNDAY

 

11am

 

After all that walking the day before, we sleep in before heading to Passy, an area which has retained a quiet small-town feel despite being in the city. First up is brunch at Marche Couvert de Passy (Place de Passy), a covered market where I practise my halting French on the patient stallholders every weekend, when I do my marketing.

 

One of our favourite lazy weekend activities is to have brunch at Maison Belleguic (Place de Passy) in the centre of the market. Here, crepes and galettes are deftly made to order by Francoise, who hails from Brittany, with the help of her cousin, Richard.

 

The ingredients are sourced from Brittany as well as from the market. If you order my favourite, the galette with scallops, you will see Richard amble over to the seafood stall behind and return with plump raw scallops to be sauteed by Francoise.

 

At the seafood stall, you can have freshly shucked oysters with champagne, but it is a little too early in the day for raw shellfish for my taste.

 

1pm

 

After a quick turn at the market, we have a wander around Passy.

 

Rue de l'Annonciation is a pedestrian-only lane, which is lined with a mouthwatering array of speciality food shops and terrace cafes perfect for people-watching.

 

Find your way to Aux Merveilleux de Fred (29 Rue de l'Annonciation), where you can gape at the bakers putting together cloud-like meringues with generous slatherings of whipped cream, then meticulously coating the ball with shaved toppings. Don't even dream of leaving without getting the bite-sized ones in every flavour.

 

Back on Rue de l'Annonciation, duck into Notre-Dame de Grace de Passy (10 Rue de l'Annonciation), a Roman-Catholic church which dates back to 1666. Within the hushed and dim settings, you can admire some spectacular frescoes, ornately painted in reds and golds.

 

3pm

 

We stroll down the hill to Maison de Balzac (47 Rue Raynouard), the former home of French writer Honore de Balzac. A set of double wooden doors, set curiously in the middle of nowhere, opens to a dramatic view of the charmingly unkempt garden below. You almost feel like you have stumbled upon a secret retreat.

 

A flight of stairs takes us down to the squat, unassuming house where Balzac wrote his magnum opus, The Human Comedy. You can see the desk he sat at and this quirky museum gives a great sense of what Paris was like in the early 19th century.

 

Take a break on a garden bench and dive into the box of meringues you have been carrying so carefully.

 

5pm

 

Continuing with the theme of fancy French sweets, we find our way to Pierre Herme (58 Avenue Paul Doumer), famed for its intriguingly flavoured macarons (liquorice and violet, anyone?), followed by La Patisserie Cyril Lignac (2 Rue de Chaillot), which has pastries almost too pretty to eat.

 

This route takes us to the vicinity of the Cimetiere de Passy (2 Rue du Commandant Schloesing), a historic cemetery which opened in 1820. And no, it is not spooky in the least.

 

Grand ornamental domes and weathered stone busts sit alongside simple headstones. Keep an eye out for the graves of Debussy and Manet, among others.

 

7pm

 

A five-minute walk away is Trocadero, the perfect vantage point to take in the grand old dame herself - the Eiffel Tower. The view never gets old, but the hordes of selfie-snapping tourists may destroy whatever serenity you found at the cemetery. So let's quickly proceed towards the banks of the River Seine for a 10-minute scenic sunset walk to dinner.

 

Les Grands Verres, located within the Palais de Tokyo museum (13 Avenue du President Wilson), is a sleek contemporary bistro with killer cocktails. One Night In Paris, for instance, is a zesty pink cocktail with the unusual mix of blood orange, champagne and hibiscus.

 

After dinner, we check out the cavernous museum, where you can ogle avant-garde art and observe quirkily dressed art students.

 

Do not worry about not having enough time to explore the museum. It stays open till midnight, so we can have a night at the museum as a special treat to end the weekend.

 

• Suzanne Sng is a former Straits Times journalist now based in Paris as an independent editorial consultant.

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.