“‘Ave you been to zee Eiffel Tow-er yet?” the shop assistant behind the pastry counter asked me, while wrapping up the rather large collection of toffees and pralines I’d assembled – I’d just told her that it was my first time in Paris. “Nope,” I replied, “I only have a few days in the city and there are quite a few other places I’d rather visit”. She looked utterly horrified – although to her credit she tried very hard to hide it. Well, I’m sorry that I’d rather eat my bodyweight in macarons, eclairs, croissants and baguettes than waste an entire day looking at a metal structure (which I’ll remind you, CAN’T be eaten!). Luckily, after clarifying that I was on my very own pastry and chocolate tour of Paris, her face lit up and she hurriedly scribbled down her list of favourite pastry shops in Paris. It was, I’d later find out, the best advice I’d ever received!
But let me back up a bit: fellow South Africans, I don’t need to tell you what our poor old rand is worth against the Euro for you to know that traveling to Paris can be pricey. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the city! I managed to clean France out of it’s pastry, on a budget, and here’s how I did it:
#1: Rent an apartment with a kitchenette in an up-and-coming area.
An apartment is not nearly as expensive as a hotel and makes you feel like you’re living like a true Parisian. I stayed in Le Marais (in the 3rd arrondissement) which is a vibey, young area within walking distance of some really good pastry shops and restaurants. From Le Marais, it’s a short train or bus ride to every pastry shop you need to visit.
#2: Avoid eating out in restaurants
Be warned: dining out in Paris is NOT as affordable as it is here in South Africa. A simple 1 course bistro meal for 2 and bottle of cheap wine will easily set you back €100 (do the math – if you dare!). Eat in and you’ll save heaps of cash (or be able to spend more on chocolate and buttery delicious flaky things). Having a kitchenette meant that for a week we happily lived off the gorgeous baguettes, cheese, pate’s and were able to cook simple meals from the beautiful produce we found at the markets. If you must eat out, tuck into the much more affordable street food! [Speaking of street food – check out the interview WebJet did with me on my favourite street food of all time here.
#3: Order and drink your coffee at the bar – always!
You WILL be charged for sitting down and enjoying the view – don’t say I didn’t warn you! Same goes for pastries. Don’t be tempted to sit down in the pastry shop and enjoy the atmosphere – they will charge you for the air you are breathing and the fact they have to wash your plate. Instead, take your pastry to go and enjoy it on the streets of Paris!
#4: Pack your stretchy pants, people – you’re going to need them!
The best way to experience the Paris pastry/chocolate scene is to walk everywhere – that way you’re far more likely to stumble upon hidden gems and obviously there’s also the added benefit of walking off all that butter you’re consuming! While I went to Paris with a few places I wanted to visit plotted on a Google map, we ended up walking FOR DAYS! When you add up all the ‘it’s just a 5 minute walk away’s and you’re visiting 8 shops a day..? The kilometers are too much to comprehend. But hey, I’ve always said the only time I exercise is if cake is waiting for me at the finishing line, and look at that – I stuck to my word!
So you want to hear about THE BEST thing I ate on my trip?! Of course you do!
What the heck are Merveilleux, you ask? They are light-as-air meringues sandwiched together with more light-as-air flavoured whipped cream and then ‘cos that’s not enough the entire thing is covered in more cream and rolled in chocolate shavings or crushed up meringue. Side note: I NEVER queue for food – but this? This was worth queuing for. These are no ordinary meringues, people! It tastes like you’re biting into a ridiculously delicious cloud that evaporates onto your tongue leaving nothing but happiness behind – and you can quote me on that!