“Paris is expensive!” “Did you know many restaurants in Paris serve frozen, reheated food?” Ah, Paris. So many Michelin-starred restaurants, so little cash. So many neighborhood bistros. So little time. What to do? Here is French Girl in Seattle’s guide to successful Paris picnics.
Picnics may seem like the easiest, most affordable way of sustaining oneself while enjoying the French capital. How relaxing: No need to decipher a lengthy menu in French while the efficient but standoffish waiter stands behind your chair. No need to wait for the next course to make its way – slowly – to your table. No need to beg for the elusive addition (check.) And what a great way to slow down, smell the roses, and enjoy those iconic parks and gardens!
Not so fast. Like many other things in French life, Paris picnics can be… complicated.
Tip #1: Not all Parisian lawns are created equal. When Monet painted the monumental “Luncheon in the grass,” pictured above, he and his friends did not have to worry about signs such as these…
Many visitors are shocked to find out that in many Parisian parks and gardens, it is simply not allowed to step on the grass, let alone sit or picnic there. Parents of young children in particular, just shake their heads. Occasionally, the city of Paris decides to be magnanimous.
The small strip of grass they have just “opened” immediately turns into this.
Rebels might be tempted to ignore no-go signs and start a picnic in the grass, à la Monet. Rebels will do so at their own risk. As they prepare to bite into that jambon-beurre sandwich they have been dreaming about, they may be surprised to see the local gardien de jardin (guard,) or municipal police officer stride towards them and shoo them away with a stern look on his face and a dismissive, “Allez, ouste!” Check out these photos of a scene captured in the Luxembourg gardens.
Tip #2: Use Parisian benches and chairs. They are there for a reason.
When in Paris… This is how many Parisians picnic, especially in the winter when the ground may be cold and wet.
Grass is still popular with many visitors.
Tip #3: Choose a good spot. For lists of the best locations for Paris picnics, look here and here.
The Seine river banks rank high on my personal list. On a hot day, I am not averse to picnics inside, as long as I have a room with a view…
Tip #4: Find picnic supplies. Raid outdoor markets. Visit specialty shops. Your best options are: le Traiteur (deli,) the local Charcuterie (another type of deli,) especially if they offer rôtisserie chicken, la boulangerie (for a fresh baguette, or sandwiches,) la fromagerie (the cheese shop.)
If you want to save time, the local supermarket has it all. Reliable chains to look for in downtown Paris include:
Tip #5: Discreetly, thou shalt drink. The city of Paris is trying to curb binge drinking in public places, especially among young people. Several neighborhoods in the city have enforced restrictions, and prohibit public alcohol consumption between 4:00pm-7:00am (the police tends to be more vigilant after 10:00pm.) You will be lucky if you manage to drink alcohol on the Champ de Mars, by the Eiffel Tower, for example. My advice: Bring a bottle of wine, choose a quiet picnic spot, and enjoy discreetly, especially during peak tourist season. The police typically do not disturb peaceful gatherings. This detailed article does a great job at answering some questions. As always, things are… complicated.
Tip #6: Indulge in a Paris picnic with style.
Several companies have started offering customizable picnic packages to visitors, and they deliver! They aren’t cheap, but if the thought of visiting French specialty shops and ordering food is daunting, they might be perfect for you.
Picnics Paris, by Chef Justin Kent.
A bientôt !
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