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How Locals Spend a Sunday: Paris

by Christine Muhlke

Photo: Ivan Zuber / Flickr

Bon Appetit executive editor Christine Muhlke has exquisite taste in everything. Especially real estate: She has apartments in New York City and in Paris. She let us tag along on a perfect Sunday, and you can read more about her Parisian exploits in the May issue of Bon Appetit.

PARIS – Sundays in Paris are unfathomable to most Americans – What do you mean all of the stores and restaurants are closed?! — but they don't have to be a complete wash. While Parisians spend the afternoon eating home-cooked meals with their families, I have a quietly lovely day.

To Market

I got priced out of the marché aux puces at Cligancourt a decade ago. Luckily, a local friend (and master chineur, or bargain-hunter) told me about Vanves. The manageable market at the edge of the 14th arrondissement sells what fans like John Derian call "smalls," i.e., things you can pack. There are plenty of fine wares available on the tables, but I love digging around in soggy cardboard boxes tossed around them for 1-euro silverware, postcards, art books, chipped bowls and the like. You can find great furniture, too. The market dog-legs around a corner, and that's where things get really haggle-y and interesting for diggers like me. You have to get to Vanves early: The main drag (avenue M. Sangnier) closes at 1 p.m. sharp (start your serious bargaining at 12:30: you'll be surprised), while the vendors on avenue G. Lafenestre stick around until 3 or 5.

If you want to find one of the little brocantes (flea markets) that pop up in neighborhoods around the city, go to brocabrac.com and search in département 75 (Paris).

Because it's Sunday, your lunch options are limited, but not as limited as they'll be at dinner. I reserve a table at L'Assiette and walk the 20 minutes from Vanves, sometimes giving myself extra time to browse at the book fair that occasionally pops up on the rue de l'Ouest along the way. The chef was Alain Ducasse's go-to guy for years — I've loved his escargots and cassoulet at Benoît, and his coddled eggs at Aux Lyonnais. Now on his own, he modernizes the classics while keeping the lusty flavors that have me mopping up every last bit of sauce with the crusty country bread.

Des Gateaux et du Pain
Photo courtesy of Des Gateaux et du Pain

If I'm still in the mood to walk, I'll hike over to Pierre Hermé's outpost on the rue Vaugirard to stock up on macarons for the week. (This location is open on Sundays, while the one I usually go to, in the 6th, is closed Monday. One must plan!) And — I'm not done yet! — I'll walk a few blocks to Des Gateaux et du Pain, a masterful shop opened by a female baker who trained with Hermé. So many treats here, from bread to pastry to chocolate.

Other days I'll take the metro right back where I started, at the Place de Clichy in the 18th, and walk a block or so to the alley where my new favorite restaurant, Le Bal Café, is hidden. The chefs, young British women, worked at St. John Bread & Wine and Rose Bakery. That means they turn out an incredible, unpretentious brunch, with some of the best coffee in Paris. (They also have fantastic natural wines, if you're leaning that way.)

If you've rented an apartment and want to cook, you have until 1 o'clock to stock up on the market streets and in the grocery stores. I love to shop along the rue Lepic in the 18th, getting tarts at Les Petits Mitrons and blue cheese-studded sausage at Aux Vrais Produits d'Auvergne (my other favorite sausage, made with hazelnuts, is sold at Jacky Gaudin, just up the hill at 50 rue des Abbesses), and then winding down the rue des Martyrs in the 9th, stopping for a bacon quiche for Monday's breakfast at Rose Bakery and a vanilla éclair at Sébastien Gaudard.

When I can hack it (it's busy...and expensive), I'll make the trip to the marché biologique, or organic farmers' market, on the Boulevard Raspail in the 6th from 9 a.m. till 2 p.m. and get a 25-euro rotisserie chicken and a salad for dinner. Personally, I'd rather hit Batignolles market on Saturday.

Musee du Carnavalet

Photo courtesy of Musée Carnavalet

Culture

I tend to see art on Thursday or Friday evening, since most museums have night hours that tourists skip in favor of dinner. (Note: Weekday lunchtime is also quiet.) But on Sunday, I love to see whatever photography show is up at the Jeu de Paume Concorde, then people-watch in the Tuilleries. Not a bad way to kill an afternoon.

Sunday's also a good day to visit Musée Picasso (which is temporarily closed for renovations), Musée Carnavalet (the Paris history museum; there's a great Atget show through July), or oddball spots like the Institut Curie, where Marie Curie worked for 20 years. And, of course, you can always get out of town and see Versailles.

If it's rainy and crummy, I'll see whatever's playing at the wonderfully named Action Christine movie theater. There's always a great old film showing. I like to imagine Susan Sontag, who was a regular, sitting behind me.

Rosa Bonheur

Photo courtesy of Rosa Bonheur

Park It

A few years ago, when I was researching a story on the 20th arrondissement — a neighborhood I'd never really explored beyond dinners at Le Baratin — I walked through the Parc des Buttes Chaumont to find Rosa Bonheur, an old snack bar that turns into a super-cool party at night. I was charmed by both. The hilly, picturesque park is reminiscent of those in London. The scrappy Rosa Bonheur is the kind of place where I want to hang out on the terrace and write (and eat cheese) all day, then dance all night, drinking whatever punch they've put out on the bar. Whatever you do, print the map before you go.

The Dinner Problem

Sundays are tough! Be sure to reserve several days in advance, or you'll end up eating rotisserie chicken in your room. A few favorites: Try Benoît for ultra-classic dishes at a steep (but worth it) price, or eat as much as you can on their 35-euro lunch menu and skip dinner. Breizh Café has wonderful buckwheat crepes, made with organic, well-sourced products. Chartier is as touristy as they come, but the untouched décor is a Keith McNally fantasy come to life. Food is so-so, and super cheap.Le Verre Volé couldn't be cooler. The natural wine store cum restaurant (a favorite of young chefs) serves rustic, ingredient-focused dishes like boudin noir, jambon de paris with puree de pomme de terre, and octopus carpaccio. L'Avant Comptoir is the tiny holding area for the excellent Le Comptoir du Relais (excellent, as in three-month waiting list) where you can drink Champagne while eating charcuterie, crisp fried nibbles and excellent crepes and sandwiches. A fun scrum. My friend swears by the Café des Musées, which has delicious, unpretentious, gently priced seasonal menus.

Benoit

Photo courtesy of Benoît

Be Guided

Finally, if you want to learn something rather than just shop and eat (!), Context Travel has interesting tours led by local experts, whether it's an architect-led view of modernist architecture, a Monet seminar with a painter, or a glimpse of Zola's Belly of Paris led by culinary historian Carolin Young. My stepfather, having missed his tour of covered markets, instead hired a young artist through Context who gave him a private tour of the best places to photograph in Montmartre. Everyone was happy. Even on a Sunday.

PLAN YOUR TRIP

Get more restaurants, hotels, and ideas about what to do in our Paris guide.

MAP IT

See all the locations mentioned in this story. (Google Maps)

Christine Muhlke

Christine is an executive editor at Bon Appétit. She travels for the context, while hoping for a life-changing experience.

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