Picnic in Paris
Thu 19 Aug 2010
Paris is a city made for picnics. There are all those tempting bakeries with their simple yet scrumptious sandwiches, and the outdoor markets with their gorgeous and tasty produce, conveniently situated near thoroughly enchanting parks everywhere you turn. How could one resist? We French, in our tiny apartments, head out as soon as the sun begins to shine. At last, space for the kids to run around, and to welcome as many guests as we’d like, without the mess. Teens are free to party and make noise without disturbing the neighbors. . . . Picnics are a favorite local pastime and also a very convenient solution.
Perhaps you are a true gourmet on a tight budget? With a half bottle of chilled champagne and a portion of foie gras with wild strawberries, you can have a decadent feast for the price of a simple café lunch. A large family who needs to relax from a day at the museum? A young couple toasting romance? A woman on your own, simply too full from lunch for another restaurant meal? A group of girls who can’t agree on what to eat? Picnics to the rescue.
And what better place for a picnic than the City of Light, where you can munch next to the Seine rushing by just inches below your feet or in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. There are intimate little gardens once run by nuns and large public ones with perfectly private corners.
Here are my favorite spots for a picnic:
The back of the Musée Rodin, next to the sandboxes, where local families come to relax among an impressive art collection. Children enter the grounds free and are allowed to invite one adult, too! Even without the kids, garden visitors may walk right up to the front of the line, passing all the tripists waiting patiently to see the inside of the museum.
The Pont des Arts bridge, which spans the Seine from the Académie française to the entrance of the inner courtyard of the Louvre. This is where lovers place padlocks, throwing the keys into the river for eternity, and where youth from across the globe gather on warm summer evenings. Here I once witnessed an inspirationally romantic picnic—someone had created a fence of red roses for the picnic area. Charming.
The Catherine Labouré Garden, on rue Babylone. I love this little oasis, created by nuns from the neighboring convent. Passersby rarely even notice the park, with its thick stone walls. Once inside the gate, which is guarded by national police surveying the neighboring prime minister’s residence, you feel miles away. The kitchen garden is a treasure, the grape arbor a shady respite, and the people have mostly grown up together.
The Parc des Buttes Chaumont, with its 61 acres of greenery, hilly landscape, funky architecture and urban joy. Unlike the Luxembourg gardens, which everyone loves, you can actually find a place to sit on the lawns here.
This list is far from exhaustive and shows my lazy penchant for the left bank, while missing the No. 1 picnic destination in the city: the Champs de Mars, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. The best thing you could possibly do is to plan on finding some hidden gems of your own to share.
My favorite picnic memory is of the summer evening I came across some very affordable Brittany lobster, cooked it up and had the local fishmonger prepare a platter with open oysters, langoustine, sea snails and all the rest. It was beautiful. I brought along a lovely tablecloth instead of a blanket and real silver with porcelain in my purple Rolser cart. I felt so elegant sitting in the fields behind the golden dome of the Invalides. Then some true Parisians arrived, setting up a table with silver candlesticks, crystal glasses and wicker baskets. Out-eleganced by the French again. Zut alors!
For these locations and others, you’ll find gourmet picnic supplies at the inspiring grocery area of the Grande Epicerie du Bon Marché. Heading to the right bank? The gourmet store at the Galeries Lafayette has all you could desire. Or head to the outdoor food market nearest you for a truly Parisian picnic.
Editor’s note: Try the Girls’ Guide’s downloadable DIY shopping and walking trips of Paris.