Dispatches From Paris by Taras Grescoe Taras Grescoe

The Perfect Picnic

“Pelouse Interdite”. In other words, keep off the grass. On a sunny afternoon, Paris offers some of the most enticing picnic grounds in the world, but in places like the Jardin du Luxembourg or the Tuileries, tempting expanses of pristine lawn are staked with signs that sternly prohibit a déjeuner sur l’herbe.

I’ve been asking around, however, and apparently there’s at least one Parisian park where people aren’t kept off the grass by unsmiling guards. In preparation, a friend and I head for the rue Montorgueil, a four-block-long, pedestrian-only street north of Les Halles which is well known for its excellent cheese, wine, and vegetable shops. Strolling over the street’s cobblestones, we duck into an upscale bakery called Paul (61 rue Montorgueil, 2nd), buy two ready-made sandwiches, a baguette, and a slice of fruit tart. At a fromagerie (8, rue des Petits-Carreaux, 2nd), we pick up a pungent livarot, a tangy Saint-Nectaire, and a little round goat cheese. With a bottle of cider (10 F), some cherries, and a basket of gariguettes (the tiny, elongated berries that every French person will tell you “are the best strawberries”), we tie up our bulging picnic bag and hop the #29 bus, direction Bastille. (The advantage of the #29 is its open rear platform, which allows you to do your window shopping on the aptly-named rue des Francs-Bourgeois without fighting the sidewalk crowds.)

We alight at the Place des Vosges, a tree-shaded square in the Marais enclosed by seventeenth-century townhouses. Substantial patches of lawn are already occupied by loungers and picnickers; we spread our blanket and tuck in, as water streams from the shrunken lions’ heads that circle the fountains.

During our picnic, rosy-cheeked Dutch college students pause beneath the linden trees to serenade us with “Only You”; a family celebrates their child’s first birthday with champagne and cake, and a flutist places notes in the mid-afternoon air.

Ten minutes after we pack up the leftover cheese and cherries, and start walking through the Marais, an errant cloud bursts overhead, and a freak hailstorm splatters the streets, driving us beneath the scaffolding—where a band of street musicians called Les Chevals keeps us entertained until the hail stops. Perfect timing. Perfect afternoon.

Total, for a déjeuner sur l’herbe (with one bus ticket): 121 F ($19.21).

Taras Grescoe, a frequent TRAVELER contributor, wrote “22 Great Hotels—for $100 or Less” in the March issue.

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