Not another blog about Paris… Part One.

C’est officiel– the world loves Paris.

Whether it’s for art, fashion, shopping or sightseeing, France’s capital is one of the world’s most visited cities. The thousands of restaurants, museums and shops to be found in the country’s capital attract millions of visitors each year. And, of course, a fair few bloggers have told you all about where you need to go. At the top of the list usually comes the Eiffel tower, perhaps followed by Notre Dame and the Louvre.

But if you’ve read the blogs and been to the romantic capital before, you’re probably bored of hearing about how you need to visit all the tourist hot spots, and I don’t blame you. Having lived in Paris for a year, I can’t tell you the number of times people in England have asked me if I went up the Eiffel tower or visited Disneyland (yes to the former, and, rather embarrassingly, no to the latter). However when you start living la vie parisienne, you begin to discover some amazing places that you don’t find in the guide books. If you’re sick of the usual tourist attractions, there’s no need to despair- give Paris another visit and check out these hidden treasures in and around Paris that the locals enjoy.

1) Check out the graffiti at Serge Gainsbourg’s house.

Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991) is one of France’s musical legends, due to his lyrical brilliance and hard to define genre of music. When he died, Paris came to a standstill, and loyal fans lined the streets singing his songs. His house at 5, Rue de Verneuil, is now owned by his daughter, singer and actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, and is still as he he left it, 20 years ago. His influence on street artists is undeniable- loyal fans have adorned the side of his house in graffiti, in tribute to the acclaimed singer-songwriter, and it’s well worth going to this constantly changing piece of artwork to get a feel of real Parisian community and the love the country had for him.

Graffitti across the wall of Serge Gainsbourg's house
Graffitti across the wall of Serge Gainsbourg’s house

Also to do: have a look at Serge’s grave in the Jewish part of the Montparnasse cemetery.
Places mentioned:
Serge Gainsbourg’s house- 5, Rue de Verneuil, 75007, (metro Rue du Bac, M12)
Montparnasse Cemetery- 3, boulevard Edouard Quinet, 75014 (metro Raspail, M4 & M6)

2) Early evening in Bercy Village.
This is probably my favourite place in Paris, and it’s not very well known amongst tourists. Take the metro to Cour St. Émilion, go up the escalator and you step into Bercy village, an area buzzing with activity, with shops, restaurants, a cinema and Japanese style gardens. I’d recommend going in the early evening, wandering round the beautiful gardens (see if you can spot a terrapin in the lake!) and having a look in the expensive but beautiful shops. Walk down the main pedestrian street, Cours St Émilion, and the pretty fairy lights and fantastic atmosphere will have you falling in love with the city all over again. There are plenty of restaurants where you can sit outside and have some food and a drink, but be warned, they can be a little bit expensive. However I’d say it’s worth it for the ambience, beautiful lighting and, of course, the terrapins!

Cour St Emilion
Cour St Emilion at night

Also to do: go to the Musée des Arts Forains (Museum of Fairground Art), a short walk from the metro stop.
Places mentioned:
Bercy Village (metro Cour St. Émilion, M14)
Musée des Arts Forains, 53, avenue des Terroirs de France, 11th Arrondisement. (metro Cour St. Émilion, M14)

3) Go gamble, have a spa day, or ride the pedalos in Enghien-les-Bains
If you’ve explored Paris and want to get out of the city a bit, Enghien-les-Bains can provide some nice entertainment for an afternoon. Take the Transilien train H from the Gare du Nord in the direction of Pontoise or Valmondois to this little town around 20 minutes north of Paris. Make your way to the large lake where you can rent a pedalo in the summer or simply sit on the banks with an ice cream and enjoy the calm in comparison to the rush of the capital city. Enghien-les-Bains is a well known spa resort, so if you’re in need of a relaxing day, go to Les Thermes d’Enghien and chill out. For people wanting some more excitement, go to the casino next to the lake and have a gamble! This place has a great atmosphere with VIP lounges, poker rooms, slot machines, and tables, but it isn’t for kids, and you should dress in evening wear.

Panorama of the lake at Enghien-les-Bains

Also to do: go for a monaco (larger and grenadine syrup) in one of Enghien-les-Bains’ cafés.
Places mentioned:
Lac d’Enghien-les-Bains- Avenue de Ceinture, Enghien-les-Bains, Transilien Line H
Les Thermes d’Enghien- 38, rue de Malleville, 95880, Enghien-les-Bains, Transilien Line H
The Enghien-Les-Bains Casino Barriere- 3, avenue de Ceinture 95880 Enghien-les-Bains, Transilien Line H

4) Enjoy the real Paris Plage.

If you’ve been to Paris in summer you’ll know that the banks of the Seine are transformed into a beach where tourists can sit, have a drink and enjoy the view of the river. However, if you’ve got a car and are willing to travel a little bit, you can go to activity centres, or Bases de Loisirs, just outside of Paris, where you can relax on the beach by a beautiful warm lake. This is a great activity for families- kids and adults alike can do any number of outdoor activities, such as rafting, crazy golf or exploring in the woods. There’s also wind surfing and canoeing for the more adventurous! These activities do cost, but are really fun! Personally, I think the best bit of these Bases de Loisirs is the relaxing on the beach part- my favourite one is just outside of the village Moisson (you’ll need a car to get here) where the sand is golden and the lake is amazingly warm on summer days. However there are 12 of these centres around Paris, all with different activities, so it’s worth doing a bit of research as to what you want to do before you set off. Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, for example, has a brilliant wave pool, but grassy areas instead of sand for relaxing with a BBQ.

Base de Loisir at Moisson
Relaxing on the beach at Moisson’s Base de Loisir

Also to do: If you’re sporty and want to get around Paris, rent of the bikes from various points around the city to get around.
Places mentioned:
Paris Plage- The Seine, Paris.
Base de Loisirs Les Boucles de Seine, 78840, Moisson –leaving Paris, take the motorway ‘A13’ in the direction of Rouen, take the 14th exit for ‘Bonnières-sur-Seine’, go in the direction of ‘Bonnières centre’ and follow the arrows for ‘Base de Loisirs’.
Base de Loisirs de St Quentin en Yvelines, RD 912, Rond-point Eric Tabarly, 78190, Trappes (RER C, St Quentin en Yvelines)

5) Go for a cup of tea in la Grande Mosquée de Paris.
When somebody suggested that we go for a cup of tea in a mosque, I must admit, I was sceptical but a little intrigued at the same time. This particular mosque is the largest in France, and was built in the 1920s as a sign of France’s gratitude towards the Muslims who died in the first world war defending France’s colonies. Walk around the building until you find the Café Maure de la Mosquée de Paris, an African restaurant and tea room where you can stop off for some couscous, a sweet mint tea or a delicious cake. Visitors are welcome to take a tour of the mosque, but don’t do what I did and walk into the entrance to the Mosque looking for food, only to be ushered out and sent around the corner!

African food at la Grande Mosquée de Paris
African food at la Grande Mosquée de Paris

Also to do: Visit the nearby museum of the Institut du Monde Arabe for an exploration of Arabic culture and heritage.
Places mentioned:
La Grande Mosquée de Paris- 2 bis Place du Puits de l’Ermite, 75005 (Metro Censier – Daubenton, M7)
Café Maure de la Mosquée de Paris- 39 rue Geoffroy St. Hilaire, 75005, (Metro Censier – Daubenton, M7)
L’Institut du Monde Arabe, 1 Rue des Fossés Staint- Bernard, 75005 (Metro Jussieu, M7 & M10)

I hope you’ve enjoyed part one of my secret Paris hangouts- part two will be out shortly!

A la prochaine fois mes amis, bisous!

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