Let me introduce you to the Marais, one of my favorite areas of Paris.
Paris is neatly divided into 20 districts called "arrondissements" (Ah-hrohn-dees-mohng), starting with 1 at the center, spiraling clockwise in the shape of a snail. Each of these arrondissements has its own particular atmosphere. Check out this post by a New Yorker on the different Paris districts.
Pedestrian street Rue de Rosier at night
The 4th arrondisement and part of the 3rd is known as the Marais (Mah-hrheh--French accent please). It's trendy, hip, and happening. It's also the historic Jewish quarter, and the gay area.
I'm not trendy or hip, nor Jewish or gay--but I always like to know what's the buzz.
The garden of the hotel particuliers Carnavalet
The Marais then attracted merchants, became a commercial area, eventually got overpopulated, run down and depressed--remaining that way for a long time. While Hausmann re-designed much of Paris, giving it its grand boulevards and neat buildings, the Marais' small narrow streets remained untouched.
It was only in the 1960's that many hotels particuliers were restored because of some government heritage preservation law.
(That is few hundred years of French history condensed into a few sentences--I know, shortcut. Sorry!)
Because of all the restoration going on in the 60s, the Marais began to flourish again. Today it is considered one of the trendiest arrondisements in all of Paris. It is said that fashion you see in the streets and shops of the Marais will most likely become the general trend the following year.
The Marais' narrow streets are filled with cafes and restaurants, art galleries, fashion boutiques and one-of-a-kind artisan shops. Many antique and brocante stores are also concentrated in Village Saint Paul.
Many of the restored hotel particuliers now house important museums (many don't charge an entrance fee!).
The garden of Hotel Lamoignon (which houses the archives of Paris) is open the public.
The shops in the Marais remain open on Sundays while everything else around Paris is closed! On Sundays too in the summer, motorists are blocked from going into the Marias. Only pedestrians and bikers are allowed in.
I discovered the Marais for the very first time around 6 years ago when we booked an apartment instead of staying with Bea in her apartment in the 15th. When she found out I booked an apartment in the Marais, she worried that we booked a seedy dump in an undesirable area.
Our first experience in a Paris rental was a one-bedroom on Rue des Rosiers
It turned out to be a wonderful find and we felt like locals, enjoying the energy of the Marais.
A whole closet of books at our disposal
The front door of our rental apartment on Rue Francs Bourgeois last summer
Parallel to Rue des Rosier is Rue Francs Bourgeois--one of the main shopping streets of the Marais. We stayed in an apartment here last summer. From our first-floor window, I would watch the scene below while having breakfast. I tried to see if I could tell the chic Parisians apart from the not-as-chic tourists (I wish I took more photos ala Sartorialist).
Rue des Franc Bourgeois runs straight into the Place de Vosges, the very first square in the whole of Paris. How wonderful is it to see a huge lawn of green in the middle of the metropolis? Among the famous residents of the Place de Vosges was Victor Hugo.
Getting some sun in the Place de Vosges
Also right on Francs Bourgeois is the Musee Carnavalet, originally a hotel particulier. It is now a museum showcasing the history of Paris. Musee Carnavalet deserves a dedicated post.
I probably lived in a hotel particulier in my past life--maybe as a servant who lit the candles. That would explain my fascination for chandeliers (and all things old and French!)
The garden of Hotel Sully
The building is a wild contrast to the quaint streets of the neighborhood, just like how the modern I.M. Pei glass pyramid contrasts against the renaissance-style Louvre, and how my future acrylic coffee table (I am still looking for it) will contrast against the rococo-style mirror in my living room.
More than the trendiness and the shops of the Marais, I like the history of the area, and specifically love the hotel particuliers. On one trip, I went finally went inside a few of them. I was instantly enamored. If you love French interiors of the Versailles kind, you will be too.
The Marais is the very first arrondisement of Paris I got to know well--only because of that fluke of booking that Rue des Rosier apartment.
On a recent business trip, we met a young Philippine embassy lady who lived in Paris (we weren't staying in the Marais on this trip) and when she was trying to explain to us where exactly she lived--as it is not really in most Pinoys' radar of places to stay-- "I live in this area, umm...which is the jewish area..." I interrupted with "the Marais? I know the Marais..." Her eyes lit up. I instantly felt young and trendy, just like her.
Coincidentally, her apartment was on Rue Francs Bourgeois too, just a hop and a skip from the apartment we had the summer before!
We ended up having drinks the next couple of nights in "our 'hood".
The view from Rap's 4th floor apartment on Rue Francs Bourgeois
Every arrondisement in Paris has its own charm, with art and culture, shops, cafes. But the history of the Marais, and the way it has evolved over the years is unique. Even if I stay in other arrondisements, I always seem to gravitate towards his area--it has become one of my favorite places in Paris.