Rent an apartment in Paris’ fashionable Marais district in the 3rd and 4th arrondissement to get a taste of what it’s really like to live in the City of Light; even if it’s just for the weekend
One of the many charms of a city like Paris is losing yourself in dreams, as you sit in a pavement café, watching the stylish locals pass by and imagining you live there yourself. So, if you’re tired of tiny hotel rooms, rip-off breakfast deals and feeling like a tourist, then make that fantasy of being a permanent Parisian a (temporary!) reality by renting an apartment right in the heart of the hip Marais district.
Let the train take the strain and hop on Eurostar. A return ticket (0843 218 6186, www.eurostar.com) to Paris starts from just £59pp from London St Pancras.
A true melting pot of cultures; the Marais is famed as being one of Paris’ oldest Jewish centres, with a beautiful Hector Guimard designed Art Nouveau synagogue. In the past 30 years Le Marais has also become home to a vibrant gay community and up towards the border of the 10e arrondissement, near République, it has a bustling Chinese neighbourhood too. All this makes it the coolest quarter in the most fashionable city on earth - forget the Latin Quarter with its outrageously expensive cups of coffee and other tourist traps - the Marais is where you can imagine yourself to be ‘un vrai Parisien”!
We found the perfect city pad thanks to www.rentapart.com on the Rue de Turenne, a historic 17th-century street complete with fountains and statues which runs through the heart of the district. Napoleon once slept at number 67 and Balzac lived at 37-39, so you’re in good company. Once we’d settled into our spacious flat, unpacked, twiddled with the satellite TV, felt smug about scoring a great one bed flat for less than the price of a good hotel room (from as little as €127 a night for a weekly rate - or if you can't bear to leave, €65 a night on a monthly rate) and admired the view, it was time to check out our new neighbourhood.
The Rue de Bretagne is a perfect example of the old meshing deliciously with the new in the Marais; gleaming stainless steel sushi bars and noodle joints next to classic corner brasseries and everywhere the intoxicating whiff of take-away Rotisserie chicken (which makes an ideal cheap evening meal to take back to the flat to enjoy with a bottle of wine and a disco nap before heading back out into the fray!).
We stopped for a Kir Sauvignon at Le Progrés, (1, Rue de Bretagne) a classic brasserie with a heated terrace and a lively crowd before deciding to try Chez Janou, (2, Rue Roger Verlomme; www.chezjanou.com) a neighbourhood restaurant which had outstanding reviews from Frommers and food bloggers which turned out to be better than even their glowing write ups promised. Set on a back street, lit with fairy lights in its heated marquee-terrace, Chez Janou was cramped, crazy and offers classic French cooking at reasonable prices. Packed with locals and the occasional foodie-tourist you absolutely have to try their legendary duck confit, and absurdly delicious chocolate mousse. The best bargains can be had at lunch with the prix-fixe menu (€15 per person).
Start the day with the best croissants in Paris, from your friendly neighbourhood bakers at Au Levain de Marias, (28, Blvd Beaumarchais) before checking out the surrounding area and the quirky designer stores along the Rue de Turenne. Time your trip to hit the junction of Rue de Bretagne and Rue Charlot around lunch, where you’ll find Les Enfants Rouge market, one of the oldest in Paris. You’ll find stall holders whipping up delicious treats from Vietnamese specialties to Italian, grab something and settle down at the table and chairs provided to get a real insider's feel.
Buy a Paris Visite Pass (two days, three zones - €19.60) from any metro station to enjoy all-inclusive transport on buses, metro and the RER trains - nothing says local like leaping on a bus. The 96 runs along the Rue de Turenne and will shuttle you across the left bank to St-Germain and Odeon where you can stop off at the best steak frites restaurant in the world, Le Relais de L’Entrecote (20, Rue Saint-Benoît; www.relaisentrecote.fr/) and afterwards collapse in the comfy leather seats of the Studio Galande cinema (whose weekly late-night Friday and Saturday Rocky Horror shows are legendary), they run a packed programme of VO (version originale) and French language art house movies from the latest Tarantino to Woody Allen.
After all that steak and sitting around, perhaps you fancy doing something sporty? Take the 69 bus (or take the metro to Les Halles-Chatelet), which will drop you off just around the corner from Les Halles, the incredibly ugly shopping mall and cine-multiplex, built over the wonderful old central market. Take the escalator to the third basement level and you’ll discover an enormous swimming pool, one of the few in Paris you can swim laps in. Don’t forget your swimming cap though, they are mandatory in France - and also be prepared for the communal single-sex showers!
One of the things that is unashamedly touristy, but loved by vrai Parisiens too, are the Vélib; the communal bicycle system in Paris. They’re incredibly simple to use, unbelievably cheap and provide a wonderful way to see the city and build up an appetite for guilt-free gourmet scoffing later! Just use a credit or debit card in the machines; you’ll be charged €150 if you don’t return the bike. A day subscription costs just €1; the game (which turns you from a tourist into a local) is to not be charged more than that euro - so you cycle for 25 minutes, then find another Vélib stand, return your bike, select a new one (test the tyres), punch in your code and you’re good to ride for free for another half hour! That’s valid for 24 hours, any problems, call the helpline number, staff speak perfect English and are really helpful.
As dusk falls, cycle down to the Rue des Rosiers, the buzzing Jewish area where you’ll find the infamous L’as du Fallafel shop; join the queue and get a stuffed take-away fallafel pitta which will ensure you won’t wake with a hangover in the morning (closed Friday evening)! It’s a wonderful place for an evening stroll; the streets are spilling over with kosher pizza joints, high-fashion designer stores and bagel shops. Keep walking and take a right on Rue Vielle-du-Temple and you’ll hit the gay district with its cool bars and clubs. L’Etoile Manquante makes for a great people-spotting venue with superb cocktails and a great wine and snacks list. It's a great place to plan that move to Paris...