late october and the leaves are all yellow and orange… that sweet smell of fall is in the air… it really gets me reminiscing about how incredible it was to spend two weeks in paris this time of year two years ago. there was no agenda besides perusing the markets, snacking on brightly-colored macarons while people watching on boulevard st. germain, and maybe strolling through a famous garden or two.
i may be closer to prague, but today i’m thinking about the other equally as historic and beautiful capital and i’m quite lucky to have sara on the blog today, an american transplant to paris who traded her new jersey bagels for french baguettes when she moved to paris 2 ½ years ago. this gal is always experiencing all her new city has to offer and is sharing some fantastic tips for visiting paris this season.
When Cynthia mentioned that October marked the anniversary of her trip to Paris two years ago, I started thinking about what a wonderful season autumn is to visit the City of Light. Autumn means that the days get short (it is still light out around 11pm in the summer!), cloudy, and damp – but there are so many wonderful events and things to do during this season! If you’re following in Cynthia’s footsteps and traveling to Paris soon, here’s some of my favorite happenings to check out.
The start of September brings about la rentrée, which literally means “the return” in English.The closest expression that I can think of that we would use is “back-to-school.” But la rentrée is more than just the start of a new school year. It’s a time of everything starting back up again. The shops and restaurants that were closed for a good month or so in August open their doors again, locals return from their month-long vacations, and everyone is rejuvenated to get back into the normal swing of things.
As people return to the city and business resumes as normal, autumn brings back another element. Art. Not that art really goes anywhere during the summer, but autumn revs up a series of interesting cultural events. There’s les Journées du Patrimoine that takes place in September, a weekend when certain buildings and monuments are made accessible to the public, usually for free. Then there’s the unique Nuit Blanche event at the beginning of October where you can see art installations around the city…all night long.
Those events have come and gone this year already, but there are still other opportunities on the horizon. FIAC, (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) is an annual contemporary art festival that comes to Paris. The main exposition will be held in the Grand Palais from October 23-26, but the 35 euro regular entry fee is a bit steep. If you want to experience some contemporary art with less of a burden to your wallet, there are installations for free until November at: Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin des Plantes, Place Vendôme, Berges de Seine. (below, FIAC 2013 in the Jardin des Tuileries)
As I mentioned, the weather can be overcast and rainy during a Parisian fall, which can make for some great museums days. And starting with its re-opening on Saturday, October 25th, Paris is (re)adding another art museum to its extensive list: Musée Picasso. Its re-opening weekend on October 25-26 will allow the public free entry into the museum. Thankfully this attraction’s doors will stay open beyond autumn so there’s plenty of time to check it out!
(below, Inside the Picasso Museum at last, after 5 years of restoration!)
Living abroad in France can be hard, especially at this time of year when I realize how many American things I miss. There’s a gap that should be filled with things like haunted hayrides, candy corn, and even football season (it’s just a part of the season for me after watching every high school football game back in my marching band days). And as you might guess, Halloween is just another day that goes by, barely celebrated. Although if you do miss getting some trick-or-treat candy, there is a way to overdose on chocolate, Paris-style. That would be to attend the Salon du Chocolat, happening from October 29-November 2.
For your €14 entrance, you get to sample lots of chocolate, see live demonstrations, and be generally overwhelmed by the over 500-participants that make the Porte de Versailles pavilion space smell absolutely heavenly. Oh, and there is even a chocolate fashion show. If you need more convincing than that, then don’t bother going – more chocolate for me! (below, a tower of chocolate at last year’s Salon)
There is a holiday observed in France that is sandwiched between Halloween and Thanksgiving. It’s called La Toussaint (All Saints’ Day), a Catholic holiday when people visit the graves of their family members to pay their respects. It occurs on November 1st every year. If you are interested in visiting any of Paris’ cemeteries such as Cimetière du Montparnasse or Cimetière de Montmartre, this is a nice time to go to see the space brightened up by lots of chrysanthemums. I visited the well-known Cimetière du Père Lachaise last Toussaint and would certainly recommend it. (below, Cimetière du Père Lachaise brightened up by flowers on La Toussaint)
If you’re like me, when you think of autumn you can practically taste the cinnamon, apples, and pumpkin pie goodness in the tip of your tongue. Which naturally brings us to…Thanksgiving. It’s admittedly a bit harder to celebrate Thanksgiving abroad (I have plenty of tales about having a minor sweet potato fail, being price-gouged for jellied cranberry sauce, and trying to find a cheddar cheese substitute, but I’ll spare you for now).
What I will say is if you are in Paris for this holiday, you can take my lead and head over to American restaurant Joe Allen to get your fill of turkey. Granted, it is the most French Thanksgiving dinner I’ve had, served in three courses at an 8pm seating. But if I can get some pumpkin pie, I’m in. I will always miss my aunt’s amazing corn bread and mom’s maple apple crunch dessert, but not having to do any preparations or clean up after the meal is a nice treat! (below, the fanciest plated Thanksgiving I’ve ever had – here’s a starter of Joe Allen’s roasted pumpkin and ricotta enchiladas with spaghetti squash coleslaw)
The weekend after Thanksgiving when I would have been doing a little Black Friday shopping, I’ve adopted a new tradition in Paris. I do a little wine shopping at Le salon des vins des Vignerons Indépendants.
Let me break it down. Imagine an event where you can walk around and sample wines from all over France – with a selection hundreds of stands. Once the cover charge of a few euros is paid, all tastings are free. Not only can you sample but you can chat with the winemakers themselves who are often small family operations.This is one of my favorite events of all time in Paris. The Salon des Vins comes to Paris twice a year, once in March and once in November – and November salon is always larger. This year it is from November 27 – December 1, and if you are in town, it is an absolute must for any wine drinker.
I apologize that this might not be the best picture, and I blame the scale of the event for the difficulty (never the wine). See all those bright colored circles? Each represents a different vineyard. They are color-coded by region to help easily distinguish between a Bordeaux and an Alsace, for example.
Maybe it goes without saying, but you manage to come to Paris in autumn and miss all of these events, you can always enjoy one of my favorite activities. Curl up in a cute café or sit outside under a heat lamp and enjoy a beverage of choice while watching the world go by. Enjoy!
if i had only known all these things before my visit! want more paris on the regular? pour over sara’s writing about her adopted city (and see her big beautiful photos) on her blog, simply sara travel. i hope this list has inspired you during your future autumn travels to the city of lights– it’s a fantastic time as ever to take it all in.
linking up with the #sunday traveler crew. happy sunday!