The grown up version of a kid in a candy store window

…is pretty much any window in Paris.

 (Photo cred: Jannine Suplee)

(Photo cred: Jannine Suplee)

My January day trip to Paris was with four dear friends all from Seattle and living in Luxembourg as expat wives: Holly C, Holly Z, Shannon and Jannine.  On the recommendation of some well seasoned travelers, we did a walking food tour of Taste of Saint-Germain with Paris by Mouth.  They have a number of different neighborhood food tours as well as ones focused on wine. The Taste of Saint-Germain tour completely exceeded all our expectations, which is noteworthy since all of us have been living abroad and devouring European food for six months or more.  Here was my online review:

We had a fantastic food tour of Saint Germain with Sara. It is not a "factory type" tour at all. No one is carrying a sign for you to follow. It's small, intimate and personalized to the tastes of the 7-8 people in the tour. Not only do you get to taste wonderful food and a lot of it (we ended up skipping our lunch reservation), but you get to hear wonderful stories about each stop. Sara is clearly a friend of all the shop owners we visited. The first part of the tour is hunting and gathering and the second part is sitting and savoring, and you'll be learning things all along the way. This was my seventh day trip to Paris, and one of the most fun experiences I've had yet. Great for people new and old to Paris. Yes you've come to Paris for the Louvre, but you've also come for the food -- so why not let someone take you round to discover some the best bread, pastries, cheese, wine and chocolate the city has to offer.

I HIGHLY recommend this tour to anyone coming for a trip to Paris.  It’s totally worth the 95 euros per person in terms of the experience, amount of food and back stories behind the success of many of Paris's finest pastry chefs, bakers, and cheese mongers.  The larger-than-life butcher we met in the Marché Couvert is Ina Garten's (the Barefoot Contessa) butcher and apparently Brad Pitt was just in visiting him the week prior.  It's the only covered market I've been in that doesn't smell like fish or aged cheese.  It smells like heaven.  Make sure to book well in advance, particularly in the summer, as tour groups are small and as their reputation is growing.   I’ve also since used the Paris by Mouth website as a resource for restaurant recommendations in Paris.  Their website is still a bit clunky, but content is good.  The wine tour they offer and which I’ve heard most praised is: Beyond Bordeaux: A Tour of Unconventional Wines & Wine Bars.   

Places visited during our Taste of Saint-Germain food tour, in case you want to venture out on your own:

My February trip to Paris (just yesterday) was with a new transplant to Lux from Atlanta and a fast friend, Jeannie.  Piggybacking on the success of the Paris by Mouth tour, we decided to try another walking tour.  This time we did a scholar-led group walk of the Marais Mansions with Context Travel.   Given the time of year, our three hour walking small tour was even smaller – it was just the two of us!-- led by an art historian docent.  This outfit is larger than Paris by Mouth as they offer tours, or rather walking seminars, in architecture, art history and even food and wine in most all of Paris’s neighborhoods. (Though I'd stick to Paris by Mouth for food related tours.) They are in 23 other cities around the world. It's one thing to read about the places you visit, but it's something much richer when you are walking the streets with an expert who is willing to answer all your random questions.

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The Marais Mansions tour was an incredibly informative walk through one of Paris’s most lively neighborhoods and one that bears all the scars of a city through many transitions.  The walk was a chronological story of the change taking place in Paris between 1550 and 1720 before the French Revolution and the modern era.  The docent was a lovely Parisian 30 year old with perfect English who brought history alive with just the right amount of facts, storytelling, and gossip.  We learned a ton, and by the time the three hours were over – we were ready to eat and shop.

Our eating and shopping options in the Marais were plentiful and were informed by two great websites that you should know about when traveling to a new city: Unlike City Guides and Spotted by Locals City Guides.  I use these sites a lot.  They have recommendations across the arts, bars, music, restaurants, shopping, snacks, etc in most of the big cities in Europe.   Both of the websites are curated by locals and pick up where many of the travel guides leave off.  I particularly find them useful for restaurants and shopping, and each recommendation has a full blog entry so you have more useful context to decide if it's something that will float your boat or not.  They both have mobile apps, which I don't pay extra for -- I typically just scan it in advance of a trip and jot down a few notes. 

THE EATING

Lunch: Chez Marianne, 2 rue des Hospitalières St-Gervais, a sit down cafe with Middle Eastern and Jewish specialties and a house wine called "Marianne."  You will need Google translate to guide you in picking four or five of the options for your mix and match lunch plate else you may be swimming in toomuchummus.

Late afternoon refreshment: Café des Musées, 49, rue de Turenne, a sit down cafe on a busy corner of the Marais.

Dinner snack: Candelaria, 52, rue de Saintonge, because I'm always on a salsa fix quest.

THE SHOPPING

You could spend all day in the quaint Marais between the museums, shopping, bars and restaurants.  Rue des Francs Bourgeois is the major shopping street, and you don't really need a list of places to hit.  Rue de Turenne is lined with men's clothing shops and  Rue des Rosiers (the Jewish area of the Marais) also has a lot of good shopping including a particularly fun and unique dress store I had read about: Heroines.  Jeannie got a gorgeous cape there.  She also got some red boats at another store on Rue des Rosiers in honor of Valentines Day (or actually because they were 60% off and from Paris.)