Once you’re done shopping at Galeries Lafayette, or bored of the Eiffel Tower, take some time from your Paris itinerary for Le Marais.
Le Marais, translated as ‘The Marsh’ in English, is a complete misnomer to describe this vibrant neighbourhood. The area was once founded by aristocrats before the French Revolution, leaving behind grand, beautiful mansions and sophisticated gardens. After the revolution, it became home to Paris’ main Jewish communities, which added new meaning to its cobblestoned streets. From lords and ladies to historic battles and a thriving Jewish community, Le Marais has seen it all.
Today, Le Marais is one of Paris’ most intriguing neighbourhoods, with narrow medieval lanes replete with old-world charm. If you take time to meander through the labyrinthine of streets in Le Marais, you’ll definitely be rewarded by an insight into Paris’ history and contemporary culture that’s unlike any other neighbourhood. Scroll down for our guide.
Appreciate some art at a gallery
Art flourishes in every part of Paris. Here, its streets are littered with a huge selection of art spaces, which can be overwhelming for the visiting holidaymaker. Luckily, Le Marais is home to some of the best contemporary art galleries in Paris that will make your trip to this neighbourhood worthwhile.
Galerie Marian Goodman
New York-born gallerist Marian Goodman has been regarded as one of the most influential art dealers of the 20th century, famous in the industry for having the golden touch. Yet, despite being one of the most important and prestigious galleries around to visit, the entrance to her Paris outpost is humble, with just a bronze plaque and its adjacent closed wooden doors. Ring the doorbell, and visitors will be lead to a cloistered courtyard of contemporary art.
Galerie Xippas is nestled in a quiet enclave, through a narrow passageway at Rue Vieille du Temple. The contemporary gallery sits above the glass ceiling of Galerie Yvon Lambert, another well-known exhibition space in Paris. It was founded by art dealer Renos Xippas in 1990, and has developed as a platform for discovering and promoting both young and established artists. The gallery has also played host to more than 150 exhibitions over the last 30 years. With rolling exhibitions all year round, check out their website to see what’s in the gallery here.
Take a walk through time
Rue des Rosiers
One cannot visit Le Marais without a visit to Rue des Rosiers, a street that holds the history of the Jewish community in Paris. Even though Le Marais is no longer Paris’ Jewish quarter, traces of its original inhabitants remain on this street, which has now been fitted with stylish boutiques and traditional bakeries.
Place des Vosges
Originally named Place Royale, Place des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris that straddles the third and fourth arrondissements. It was built by Henri IV from 1605 to 1612 and was often the meeting place for the elite and nobility to chat. Visitors here are able to get a sense of what living as a noble felt like during the 17th and 18th century, and can even go on a tour to learn about the people that once occupied the stunning homes. A must-visit stop is the house of Victor Hugo, the French poet and author of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Les Misérables.
Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis Church was first constructed between 1627 and 1641 before its renovation makeover in 2012 to regain its former splendour. The originally Jesuit church was the first in Paris to abandon the gothic style architecture for a baroque one, with its main inspiration being the 1618 facade of Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais de Paris. It is a building steeped with immense history, and is still one of the most important religious buildings in Paris.
Drink your way to happiness
Carbon/ La Mina
Carbon owns the streets of Le Marais during the day with its trendy rotating menus that pay homage to nature’s best. However, what many don’t know is that beneath its cosy interior lies a quaint speakeasy called La Mina. To get here, walk across the restaurant and make your way down the spiral staircase. Here, be greeted by a dark underground basement space complete with tall arches and mirrored walls that make the space even cosier. There may only be seven items on its cocktail menu, but they are anything but basic. Classics like the daiquiri de la mina is a blend of three rums, one which includes an infusion of grilled, carbonised pineapple that really comes through in the drink.
Le Piment is one of those secret spots that the locals like to keep hush-hush about. This micro bar is unassuming in its facade: a black exterior sets the backdrop for a mini sunshade that reads Piment Cafe in Comic Sans font that can hardly be seen. Step inside and you’ll quickly realise why this tiny pub has become so popular. The energy in the packed space is reflective of what Paris really is after-dark: unpretentious, laid-back but still well-heeled nonetheless. Skip the mixology and reach for a pint or two instead to really fit in.
Le Sherry Butt
If you’re looking for a spacious, classy establishment to impress that special someone in the City of Love, head to Le Sherry Butt. A discreet facade welcomes guests into two generous long rooms that are made complete with studded leather couches, giant mirrors and dim lighting. The cocktail menu is decent with 11 entries, and most of the ingredients are homemade. Get the Yuzu Yuzu, a mixture of gin and Japanese citrus spirits, or the Shimbashi, made with Japanese whisky, fino sherry and bitters. Those after sweeter flavours can opt for the Frangipane, a unique blend of rum, cognac, champagne, barley syrup, lime and chocolate.
This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Singapore.