A lot of people, upon learning I’ve spent a number of years in Paris, want to know where they should go in the City of Lights to experience a “real people” Parisian neighborhood. While there are many spots that qualify – there are twenty arrondissements (districts) in Paris, each with its own mairie (city hall) and distinct flavor, for the Paris of your dreams you can’t do any better than Passy.
Passy is a district in the 16th arrondissement, the section of the city where Parisians of wealth and taste sit at cafe tables with little white dogs, who they feed quiche (often via forchette – fork) and their children on Wednesday afternoons, which is the day French schoolchildren are dismissed early.Passy is home to the Musee Marmottan – Claude Monet, an elegant mansion which holds the Impressionist’s old palette and an impressive collection of the master’s works. If a trip to Giverny isn’t in your plans, and you’ve already seen the Orangerie, this is the museum to visit for a sublime basement view of the French painter’s massive water lillies. Above ground, the jardin du Ranelagh is the lovely park in front of the museum – it is the green space you walk through after you get out of the metro at La Muette.
Take time to sit in this park if you want a feel for comfortable Parisian family life. Small children ride a real donkey when they’re not on an old carousel that is hand-cranked by a man who has been working there for as long as I can remember. Look through the park, with the museum at your back – that is the Eiffel Tower winking at you in the distance.
Eat at La Rotonde de la Muette if you want a proper French lunch, or at La Gare, a converted train station, which will make even those who don’t normally eat potatoes swoon, with its buttery puree. Then stroll the rue de Passy and duck down the street that holds McDo (pronounced “McDoe”, it’s McDonald’s all right) and enjoy the fresh food market.
What kinds of neighborhoods do you like to visit on your travels? Do you prefer to “hit the highlights” or are you more drawn to quarters outside of the guide books?