Mary Hamilton Smith, director of Australian Womens Travel writes about her favourite place to stay in Paris. Join her on one of her tours.
Le Marais situated in the 3rd & 4th arrondissements, is my very favourite place to stay in Paris. I have been staying regularly in this enchanting area since the early eighties and I have seen many changes over the years, for me it just keep getting better and better.
I stay here with all of my groups I bring to Paris.
Their are many apartments for rent and boutique hotels in the area, but I always feel like a local when I am there , it has a great community feel. It is the perfect location for a visit to Paris and only a short walk to the River Seine and Notre Dame. The Metro St Paul is on the Yellow #1 line which takes you to the Louvre or the Champs Elysee in a very short space of time.
Le Marais abounds with cheese & chocolate shops, colourful macarons begging to be eaten, tempt you through the window, There is an abundance supermarkets, patisseries, wine shops and even laundromats. Vintage shops are everywhere, I can never resist buying some Parisienne vintage when I am there and luckily there is a great post office in the area where you can send 5 kgs home to Australia for around 50 Euros.
Parisienne cafes abound in the area, and there are many options to choose from that won’t hurt your pocket too much, compared to other areas in Paris. Today, Le Marais is much in vogue with young fashion creators and has many trendy bars. Only the old signs remain, still hanging over a new contemporary boutique to indicate the trade of baker, butcher, or violinmaker that it used to house. It is law that these old signs are maintained.
Monks and Knights Templar settled in Marais as early as the 13th Century, But it wasn’t until Henri IV began construction of Place Royale (today Place des Vosges) in the early 17th century that the aristocracy began building hotels particuliers (private mansions) and pavilions (somewhat less grand houses) so characteristic of the district. These golden and cream coloured brick buildings are among the most beautiful of Renaissance structures in the city and because so many were built at more or less the same time, the Marais enjoys the architectural harmony unknown elsewhere in Paris.
The Place des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris, no trip to Le Marais should bypass this beauti-ful square. Chopin played a concerto in here when he was 7 years old!! . This is the prototype of all the residential squares of European cities that were to come.
The golden age of Marais hotels particuliers continued into the first half of the 18th century, The removal of the Royal court, lock stock and satin slipper to Versailles in 1692 sounded a death knell for the Marais and the mansions passed into the hands of the Commoners who used them as warehouses, markets and shops. The quarter was given a facelift in the 1960’s and early 1970’s and today many of the hotels particuliers house government offices, libraries and museums.
Toward the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the area surrounding the Rue des Rosiers became home to many Jews from Eastern Europe. This area is known as ‘The Pletzl’. The Marais was therefore a target for the Nazis when they controlled France. On May 14th 1941- on order of the Nazis 76,000 Jews were rounded up and sent to camps, 11,000 of them were children. As you walk look for plaques on some buildings commemorating individuals and families who were deported and did not
return. It is a fascinating area to visit and if you are hungry ,mouth-watering Falafels are available to indulge in, as well as delicious Kosher bakeries.
Le Marais also has many squares and gardens hidden away and always an unexpected delight to come upon, each one with their own unique, design and history and always something fascinating to look at.
These charming little spaces give you the opportunity to sit and relax and contemplate all of the things this area has witnessed, through the centuries, from the Aristocrats in their grand mansions , then the French Revolution followed by The Terror, the ever eclectic and surprising Marais has seen it all.
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