The Best Of Paris 2018 – Something New, Something Old… Really Old

For the first time in 400 years Jardin du Luxembourg tops our annual Best of Paris list! That's not to say we haven't always loved this 50-acre garden, it's just that with the 30-plus degree temperatures in the summer of 2018 we came to appreciate the park's shady groves and pathways more than ever. Let's take a look at what else is on our list as the best of Paris for 2018.

1. Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg

In the heart of the busy and populous 6th Arrondissement is a 50-acre green sanctuary that celebrated its 400th anniversary just a few years ago. Jardin du Luxembourg was founded by Marie de Medici, the newly-widowed queen of Henry IV and mother of Louis XIII, who bought the Luxembourg estate only a year or two after Henry was assassinated. Immediately, in 1612, she began the garden by planting 2,000 elm trees and hiring a team of garden designers.

Jardin du Luxembourg has seen changes in style and even in size over the years, but it has remained essentially the same since the mid-19th century. Today it's visited daily by thousands of Parisians and tourists who relax in the shady spaces or around the large central pond, or have lunch in the outdoor cafés. There are tennis courts, a large children's playground, tree-lined pathways, and even a corner of the park set aside for chess players.

It may be a cliché, but no visit to Paris is complete without spending some down time in this historic park.

2. Reclaiming the Banks of the Seine

Parc Rives de Seine

The Seine River has had it tough through two thousand years of being the main artery of Paris. Centuries ago mills and slaughterhouses and tanneries established themselves on the river banks. Reforms and rezoning and cleanup campaigns resulted in the banks (rives) of the Seine becoming a place of more salubrious human activity in the 19th and early 20th centries. There was swimming and fishing along the banks, floating swimming pools were moored there, the Seine seemed the heart of the city.

Then came the automobile.

With pressure from short-sighted planners and politicians (we're looking at you, Georges Pompidou) much of the riverbank in central Paris became high-speed expressway, used not so much by locals as by commuters who lived outside the city. One of the most beautiful parts of Paris was blocked to walkers, strollers, bicyclists.

Now we're happy to report that things have been changing — often in dramatic ways. The former expressways on the Left Bank and the Right Bank have been closed to traffic and converted to green space, called Parc Rives de Seine, for use by Parisians and visitors alike. You can cycle (or walk or rollerblade) the 7 kilometres from Place de la Bastille to the Eiffel Tower and not see a single car. Instead, as you stroll along you take in the beauty of the Seine. There are restaurants and bicycle shops and sports facilities.

And that's not all. Every night (except for rain) there is dancing on the quais of the Left Bank. There are buskers. There are people and families eating picnics, drinking wine, strolling. As you watch on an evening as Parisians drift down to the banks in twos or threes it feels like the people of Paris are taking back the banks of the Seine. It's a stirring sight.

3. The Saint-Sulpice Quartier

Fountain at Saint-Sulpice

Most everyone knows and loves Saint-Germain, but we want to give some attention to a specific piece of that historic region — the Saint-Sulpice quartier, the neighborhood surrounding the magnificent church of the same name. First off, it's one of our favorite churches in Paris (it's the second largest in the city) and fronts onto a very pleasing place that features one of the best fountains in the city.

Facing the place on the other side is the Mairie du 6e Arrondissement, the town hall of the 6th Arrondissement. From Place Saint-Sulpice it's only a 5-minute walk to the gates of Jardin du Luxembourg. The area abounds with branches of the city's best food purveyors plus plenty of other shopping, including a wonderful boulangerie — La Parisienne — on Rue du Vaugirard at Rue Madame. We have spent days walking the quartier, each time discovering something new.

4. Pierre Hermé

Pierre Herme macarons

We know that Pierre Hermé did not suddenly appear on the Paris scene this year. In fact he's been creating patisseries in Paris for twenty years now. But this is the year we let ourselves go and really indulged in his incredible and delicious creations, including his world-famous macarons. These things may not be cheapest in the city, but they are utterly fantastic, nearly unbelievable.

There are about nine Pierre Hermé boutiques in Paris, but we tend to favour the shop on Rue Bonaparte, in Saint-Germain, kitty-corner from Église Saint-Sulpice.

5. The Glass Wall at the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

In the "Something New" category for 2018 is the glass wall being built around the base of the Eiffel Tower to provide enhanced security and, we hope, better control of line-ups for easier visitor access. It always did seem just a bit strange that the base of the Tower was wide open with unlimited access from all sides. This often resulted in crowds milling about, creating confusion for those with tickets to go up the Tower, or to dine at the restaurants on the Tower.

While at this moment, as the construction is taking place, there's somewhat of a line-up log-jam at the Eiffel Tower, we look forward to better control, easier line-ups, and shorter waits in 2019.

6. A Gaggle of New Grocery Stores

Franprix

Daily grocery shopping has been becoming easier in Paris over the past few years with the proliferation of small food stores tucking into what seems every available space. All of the French grocery store chains have gotten into the act and we're seeing small versions of Carrefour, the U grocery chain, Franprix, or Casino on virtually every block. It makes for a convenient stop when you've forgotten that one thing you needed to make dinner tonight.

7. Restaurant Aux Prés

Aux Pres

The standout meal for us in Paris in 2018 was lunch at Chef Cyril Lignac's Aux Prés. The chef has earned a Michelin star at another restaurant in the 15th (Le Quinzieme), but the food at Aux Prés was perfectly fine with us. Situated on Rue Dragon in Saint-Germain, it's near enough to Saint-Sulpice to call it a neighbor.

Michelin says about Aux Prés that Chef Cyril "serves international, decidedly creative and spontaneous cuisine, without losing sight of French country roots", although we also agree with Paris newspaper Le Monde when they call the service "snooty."

8. Restaurant L'Ourcine

L'Ourcine

L'Ourcine is most definitely in the "Something Old" category for us since we first ate there a dozen years ago. We were trepidatious when we made our 2018 reservations, since we hadn't been for quite a few years, but a good sign was that l'Ourcine had been included in the recent Top 100 Bistros of Paris list issued by the mayor's office.

The walk to L'Ourcine from the Latin Quarter seemed just as long as it had on earlier visits — so long that we kept thinking, "Is this the right street?" (In actual fact it's only 13 minutes from Place Monge.) When the restaurant came into sight it seemed somehow smaller than we remembered. Worse, the place was nearly deserted. (Only 15 people dined there that night.)

While the service was, at best, iffy, we were pleased to discover that Chef Sylvain Daniere is still cooking up great, hearty, country-inspired French classics. We loved the spider crab ravioli, the magret de canard, and the traditional vanilla Bourbon pots de crème. Definitely worth the walk, and the thirty-eight euros!

9. Bateaux Parisiens Dinner Cruise

Dinner Cruise

A nighttime cruise along the Seine is pretty much mandatory, especially if you don't get to Paris very often. This classy dinner cruise is among our fond memories of 2018. The way to think about this activity is as a relaxing, two-and-a-half-hour, slow cruise along the world's most beautiful river route. The fact that dinner is included is almost incidental !

The view and the leisurely pace are fantastic. There's nothing to do but to take in the many aspects of this beautiful city as the sun sets and the buildings light up. (The photo above was taken during this dinner cruise.) You cruise from the Eiffel Tower upstream past… well, past everything Parisian you can think of. Some way past Île St Louis the boat reaches the modernistic, monolith that is the Bibliothèque Nationale and turns around to head back.

Once you pass… everything else in Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, the boat turns around the Statue of Liberty and arrives back at its ET dock just in time for the Tower's 11 PM light show.

You want to make sure to book the VIP cruise (also known as Premier cruise) that gets you a table at the front of the boat, better service, and includes hotel pick-up and return (a must). Plus glasses of champagne at the beginning and the end of the dinner.

10. France Wins The World Cup… Encore Une Fois

France Wins The World Cup

Even if, like us, you're not a big sports fan, 2018 was an exciting summer for soccer (or football, as they say here) with France grabbing the top prize in the every-four-years football World Cup tournament when they beat the surprisingly-strong Croatian team in the finals on July 15. Watching the games on television with les français was a thrilling experience.

By the way, we also happened to be in France the last time the country won the World Cup — that was back in 1998.

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