This chic Paris district is fast becoming Europe's trendiest city break spot


aAt Boubaré restaurant in Paris, you won't find steak frites on the menu, but you will find sea bream with Persian sabzi, olives, pine nuts and tahini sauce, and Frisbee-sized schnitzels served with fermented cabbage.

Next door, Buvalé, a sexy little bar, serves up the cocktail of the day, an unlikely combination of Grand Marnier, croissant syrup and fermented tomatoes.

“Are you sure you want to order that?” my friend Shelley asked.

But after taking a sip, she tried to snatch it from me.

Bouvaret is part of Le Grand Mazarin, a truly radical new hotel in Le Marais, a central Paris neighborhood that has seen rapid change over the centuries.

Originating in the 12th century as the marshland from which it takes its name, the district became Paris's fashionableest in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the marshes were drained and luxurious villas were built for Paris' bourgeoisie.

Bar Boubarre in Le Grand Mazarin in the Marais attracts a trendy yet laid-back crowd
Bar Boubarre in Le Grand Mazarin in the Marais attracts a trendy yet laid-back crowd (Vincent Leroux / Grand Mazarin)

After the revolution, the Marais went into a long period of decline, but in the 20th century it was recolonized by artists, writers and avant-garde actors and has never looked back since.

Le Marais is revitalized and bustling with indie boutiques, concept stores, contemporary art galleries, a jewelry museum and the fantastic eclectic cuisine of its diverse creative community.

Hotel Le Grand Mazarin is a case in point: it has been Paris' newest hot spot since it opened last September on the eve of Paris Fashion Week. Set in a restored 17th-century villa, this five-star boutique hotel is fully Wes Anderson-esque, with a crazy mix of salmon pink, aquamarine and nautical themes created by the design team from Annabel's in London.

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Restaurant Boubale retains a strong European Far Eastern influence, from the ethnic prints on the walls to the cuisine, reflecting the Marais' immigrant heritage in the most delicious way imaginable. In the basement, you'll find a fairy grotto spa with a peppermint-striped pool, Jacuzzi and steam room.

It's also the perfect base for a few days spent exploring the Marais before Olympic frenzy takes over the city. I've traveled to Paris many times, but I still can't get over the fact that you can hop on the Eurostar from London St. Pancras station and explore Paris's hippest neighborhood in just two and a half hours.

Here's how to make the most of it:

Place des Vosges

Paris' most beautiful square is lined with chestnut trees and stone arcades housing shops, cafés and galleries. Enjoy cafe au lait and eclairs at Carette, then pop into cult handbag boutique Maison Pourchet.

Explore Place des Vosges, one of the oldest squares in Paris
Explore Place des Vosges, one of the oldest squares in Paris (Getty Images)

Picasso Museum

Le Marais's most famous museum displays a small but significant collection of Picasso's greatest works. Enjoy a leisurely stroll through the collection housed in the magnificent 17th-century Hôtel Serres. Tickets can be purchased online for 16 euros.

Pompidou Centre

A monument to 70s brutalist architecture on the edge of the Marais. Love it or hate it. The Musée National d'Art Moderne houses a fantastic collection of contemporary art, from Kandinsky to Matisse to Chagall. It's worth taking the escalator up to the sixth floor terrace for great views over Paris. Pomidou will close in late 2024 for a (long-awaited) five-year renovation. So strap on your skates and get going: admission is 15 euros and free for under 25s.

The distinctive Centre Pompidou is home to the French National Museum of Modern Art.
The distinctive Centre Pompidou is home to the French National Museum of Modern Art. (Getty Images)

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Possibly my favorite shop in the world, this concept store is a three-storey warehouse filled with non-stop fun, from chic indie fashion brands to stylish homewares and French beauty brands that only Parisian women know about. Merci also has a fun restaurant serving fresh salads and cakes to help you unwind after all that shopping.

Fruit

Another unique fashion and homeware store spread across several buildings on the fantastic shopping street, Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie. For even more great shopping, stroll along Rue de la Temple, Rue Vielle du Temple and Rue Franc Bruois.

Etienne Marcel Street

If you love vintage shopping, stroll down this street for quality vintage finds and quirky cafes. Around the corner, on Rue Tiquetonne, you'll find Kiliwatch, one of the biggest and best vintage treasures in Paris.

BHV Marais

If you're short on time, this department store just behind Le Seine offers a one-stop shop for mid-priced French fashion, from Sésan to APC, as well as beauty and design brands.

Cobblestone streets are lined with fashionable restaurants and lively cafes
Cobblestone streets are lined with fashionable restaurants and lively cafes (Getty Images)

Where to eat

Red children march

Paris' oldest food market is a great place to have lunch at one of the small stalls, with a huge variety of cuisine ranging from Moroccan to West Indian, as well as traditional French seafood accompanied by a glass of chilled champagne.

Rogier Street

This street, in the heart of the old Jewish quarter, is full of goodies, from L'As du Fallafel, serving up delicious falafel for €8, to traditional pastries from bakeries such as Sacha Finkelsztajn and the exquisite Florence Kahn.

Bubare

Reserve a seat at the restaurant's bar for dramatic views of the open kitchen, or a table in the indoor garden. Michelin-starred chef Asif Granit, whose previous work includes London's Coal Office and Palomar, has created a menu that draws on the restaurant's Ashkezazi Jewish heritage. Main courses start at €29. End the night to disco beats in the jewel-box bar next door.

Julian's

Set in a bucolic garden square, this charming fairy-lit brasserie serves up a wide range of extremely well-executed French classics – it doesn't get more Parisian than this, with main courses starting at €34.

Where to stay

Grand Mazarin

The rooms at Le Grand Mazarin are palatial, stylish and extremely comfortable.
The rooms at Le Grand Mazarin are palatial, stylish and extremely comfortable. (Vincent Leroux / Grand Mazarin)

Just a stone's throw from the BHV Marais, the quirky Grand Mazarin strikes the right balance between sophisticated luxury and boutique: its 50 rooms and 11 suites have a distinctly Parisian feel, but also a modern vibe, its gorgeous pool is a haven in the middle of the bustling district, and its Boubarre restaurant is exceptional.

Queen's Pavilion

Conveniently located in the middle of Place des Vosges, the elegant Pavillon de la Reine feels tucked away from the busy streets, yet just a short walk from the heart of the Marais. It offers 50 spacious rooms and suites, some overlooking a charming courtyard, and its Michelin-starred restaurant, Anne, offers amazing value for money, with two courses for €79 and three courses for €89.

Hotel du Petit Moulin

Designed by Christian Lacroix, this glamorous hotel has 17 properties, each with its own unique style, from polka dot carpets to zebra print fabrics. It's located in the heart of the Marais, next to the Picasso Museum, and close to plenty of bars and restaurants.

Jeanne d'Arc Hotel

This 3-star hotel offers everything you need for an affordable getaway in Le Marais. Hôtel Jeanne d'Arc has 34 rooms decorated in neutral tones with muted accents. Guests can enjoy a simple but varied breakfast, and rooms also come with tea and coffee making facilities. Best of all, you'll be staying right in the vibrant center.

How to get there

Eurostar tickets from London to Paris start from £39 one way. There are various airlines that fly from the UK to Paris, including British Airways, EasyJet, Ryanair and Air France. The flight time is around 1 hour 20 minutes.

Fiona Mackintosh stayed in Le Marais as a guest of Le Grand Mazarin.

Click here for details A selection of the best hotels in Paris



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