PARIS TIPS by Maria Danthine, Paristep

visit insolit Paris


visit insolite Paris


visite insolite Paris


visit insolit Paris

Amusement of the French kings and aristocracy

We meet on a September Friday at "Carrousel du Louvre". A sunny September day is one of the details of the perfect organization of the travel agency Elytour. We are accompanied by Jessica, a young elegant Parisian lady, a historian, whose knowledge and plenty of interesting anecdotes prove that she moves over the centuries of the Parisian history so gracefully, as she does with her steps, revealing her long year passion in ballet.
"Carrousel du Louvre" as a meeting place wasn’t chosen accidentally. This was the place where for the first time people went to the streets of Paris to celebrate. Here took place the big public celebrations during two days on June 5th and 6th in 1662, with a public of 15 000 people. The king Louis XIV decided to celebrate publicly two important events: the birth of a crown prince (1662) and signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 (peace that ended up the war between France and Spain). During two days in the Tuileries gardens there were grandiose celebrations with the fire-works, glittering costumes with precious stones and decorative feathers. The rings were stabbed on the lances, there were games with the horses, a Moliere’s theatre piece was played. And all this in presence of the king Louis XIV himself. Five princes were disguised on the motives of five, at that time exotic, nations. Romans were represented by the king Louis XIV himself, and other princes represented Persians, Turks, Indians and « American savages». The French king was a rarity in Europe, by the fact that he was visible and Versailles was easily accessible to common people. We look at the Tuileries gardens’ gravel under our feet and imagine the hoof beats of the horses, colours and pomposity of the celebrations in the ambiance of the 17th century.

Several months after the moving of the royal court to Versailles, Louis XIV starts to organize three times per week the parties in his apartments - "les soirées d’apartements". This way of amusement of the courtiers is organized by the king in order to prevent the members of the royal court attending private parties. The first party in the king’s apartments is held in November 1682. During the parties the king gives up the strict etiquette, the formalities are abandoned and the king moves freely in the different parlours and the courtiers are not obliged to stand up in his presence.

And so the Carrousel has to wait with the amusement for the king Louis XV. "Carrousel" comes from Italy and the word "carrousel" comes from two Latin words "carrus-soli", with the meaning "sun carriage". The first "carrousels" were with the real horses lashed at the end of the ropes and turning around the stake. In France the carrousels replaced the tourneys, which were prohibited after the tragic death of the king Henry II in 1559. Versailles creates for a large public a Royal Carrousel, with horses, baroque costumes and opera music.

From the Tuileries garden we walk towards the theatre "Comédie française". In 1661 Moliere created here his theatre group and nowadays people still come here to see Moliere’s plays. Our guide Jessica explains us the context that at that time there existed three theatre groups: Moliere’s group, the Marais group and the group of "l’Hôtel de Bourgogne". In 1681 Moliere dies and as a consequence his group merges with the Marais group as per the king’s decision there is established a "royal theatre group", serving to the king and the Versailles castle. The front facade of the present building of Comédie Française is not from the 17th century, since the building burnt in the 19th century and was rebuilt. A curious fact is that the actors were mostly Italian. Italian drama theatre was preferred to the French one, since the French are not extraordinary in the drama theatre, they are better in comedies (what can be judged also from the present movies). Louis XIV appreciates the actors, under his reign they start to receive a pension. When the actors were accused of the conspiracy against the revolution, as a defence they started to communicate revolutionary ideas, theatre became more popular and accessible to wider public.

We walk by the coffee bar "Le Nemours", with its terrace flooded in the autumn sun and we walk towards the building of the royal palace "Palais Royal", which used to have a different form than it has today. Its today’s shape comes from the 19th century. Initially the building did not look like a palace but rather like a big house. Duke of Orleans, since he was a regent and not a king, could not stay in Versailles and so he settled in the royal palace "Palais Royal". In the royal court in Versailles, the courtiers started to be bored with the ageing king Louis XIV. And so the amusement moved to the "Palais Royal". A duke of Orleans loved profusion, alcohol, he hated the social etiquette, he had a lot of mistresses, his parties were decadent and full of orgies. His mother, princess Palatine was against those drinking-bouts, she called those men "sacs à vin" - bags of wine. Jessica explains that at that time the most current drink was a hot wine mixed with water. The duke’s parties were held in the closed company, the palace was locked, the food on the table was eaten without the plates, the girls were called "les campagnes" (mates). There are rumours that the duke was involved even with the nuns. The "Palais Royal" which we see with admiration today was actually a cradle of libertinage. From the "Palais Royal" we walk on the wide avenue towards the Opera Garnier, which shines in front of us with its stone and golden decorations. On the "avenue de l’Opéra" we stop by an advertisement stand with a nicely smelling fresh coffee, just perfect before the lunch time and completes the feeling that Elytour think over every detail in the organization of the visit. The guide Jessica completes our knowledge about the Haussmanian architecture with the information on the decorative balconies, high doors for the carriages with horses, architectonic features of the visible parts of the buildings, the richer inhabitants living on the lower floors and the so-called "chambres des bonnes" - servants’ rooms under the roof.

Paris is white, because most of its buildings are from a sand-stone. Unfortunately, sand-stone is easily blackened by the pollution and that’s why the historical buildings in Paris must be regularly restored and cleaned (except the Sacré Cœur basilica which is built from a special stone).

By the Opera Garnier, observing the tourists on the stairs of the Opera building, we learn how Louis XIV started to regulate the dance choreographies; he decided the number of steps. We learn also that for 200 years dancing in opera was a men’s matter and only progressively the ballet was added to animate the singing operas. Women in masks were doing the pantomime and the men were dancing. In the 19th century slowly the musical ballet comedies get a flair of nobleness and they become an independent genre. And dancers, such as Mademoiselle Guimard, become the part of the Parisian mosaic, which we know also from the paintings, movies, where the ballet girls are supported by the rich lovers. Even in the paintings with the ballet girls you can always notice a shadow of a man. Men come to Opera to be seen and to find the mistresses. In the 18th century the girls from the poor families become dancers in order to get out of the poverty, in the 19th century they become dancers to find rich lovers. Of course, with all their love affairs they get often pregnant and their graceful bodies change, when they get too much weight they have to be retired. When the dancers were pregnant, it was said that "their knees are aching". Napoleon, with his military discipline, introduces the rules also in the dancing code. In the middle of the 19th century the ballet dancers start to learn the jumps and pirouettes, and not only men are dancing. The dancers have to be able to hide their fatigue. Several expressions of the ballet terminology come from the French language and are used in other languages, such as "chat", "saut de chat" or "pirouettes".

An event from 1858, an attempt on life of Napoleon III brings a decision to build an Opera House with a wide impressive entrance. Napoleon had never seen the finished Opera. In 1875 he was imprisoned and then sent to the exile to England. Opera Garnier was inaugurated in 1875 and a sad fact is that its architect Charles Garnier had to buy a ticket for the inauguration and since he did not have much money, he had to be in the second row. As it happens often with the new things, even the Opera building had its moment of a radical criticism, a scandal for its variety and mixture of the architectonic styles and decoration. Jessica, also from a viewpoint of a ballet dancer, explains to us that although the modern Opera Bastille has much bigger scene and better acoustics for big ballets, nothing can be compared to the experience from a ballet in the historical building of the Opera Garnier, with its wide staircase and red carpets which give a nice tone to the complexion of women.

Our historical walk continues towards its last stop, another important place of a Parisian amusement and leisure time. We enter the passage "Passage des Panoramas", the oldest Parisian passage, the covered street where in 1799 was established a first cinema - "les panoramas" – the moving pictures in the real size. The usual topics were the historical battles. The oldest boutique of the passage is "Stern". "Cafés concerts" – the concert coffee bars, called the "Beuglants", were the places where Parisians used to meet, where they were coming to drink and dance. Dancers were progressively leaving Opera and going to the cabaret "Folies Bergères", with less clothes and more glittery veils. Matahari, who lived on Java in Indonesia for some time, brought an exotic touch to the dance. And we all know how the story continues, cancan, Moulin Rouge, dancers on the tables, upthrowing their skirts to show the underwear. In the passage "Passage des Panoramas" the variety theatre appeared - "Théâtre des variétés".

Within two hours we walked through various places of Paris, through several centuries, we are richer in understanding the evolution from the royal celebrations and parties to the cabaret. And as Jessica reminds us several times during our visit, we cannot look on the past centuries with the eyes of the 21st century. And thanks to her and the agency Elytour today we saw Paris this way.

Source of information: Jessica Terrier

 M.D.D., Paristep



visit ST germain


visite ST germain


visit ST germain PARIS


guided visit ST germain Paris

Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the royal town

The visitors interested in the guided tour gather in the "Tourism Office", located in one of the narrow medieval streets of the centre of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, in the street named "Rue au pain" (Bread Street). Our guide Mr Marouane Ouled Amor comes walking down the wooden stairs of the house, in which in 1862 was born the French musical composer Claude Debussy. A professor of history whose expertise and passion is not limited to the life of the French kings, but his admirable knowledge scale includes also the Indian cinema art and Pakistani poetry. The guided tour is bilingual, after each French sentence Marouane switches to fluent English with a nice British accent. And his linguistic skills go further. He speaks also Hindi, Urdu and Japanese.
We get on a 90 minutes adventure in the steps of the French kings in the town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the western suburbs of Paris, connected with the city by a metro line RER A. The first question of the tourists is why Saint-Germain-en-Laye is considered to be a royal town. Marouane explains that 29 kings of France lived here, from Louis VI in the 12th century to Louis XIV in the 17th century. Louis XIV moved his residence in 1682 to Versailles. Several kings were born here and one died at this place. After the departure of Louis XIV to Versailles, the inhabitants of Saint-Germain-en-Laye got divided by two and 250 houses were on sale.

Even today in the crooked medieval streets of the town you feel the air of the royal past. The town is full of old aristocratic houses, in French called "hôtels particuliers", which were built in the times when the royal court lived in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. One of the first that we can see during our tour are the aristocratic house "Hôtel de Guise" or "Hôtel de la marquise de Maintenon". This house was bought in 1680 by Madame de Maintenon. Madame de Marquise de Maintenon was a nanny of the Louis XIV’s children and the king fell in love with her. After the death of his wife Marie-Thérèse he married the nanny. She never lived in this house since she was by the side of the king in the nearby castle Saint-Germain-en-Laye. She had no children with the king. Besides the historical curious facts that make this house interesting, we admire also the beautiful wide balcony from the forged metal which was added to the house in 1880. On the square which leads us to the castle we observe the old houses "Hôtel de Soubise", which belonged to an aristocratic family and "Hôtel de Conti" which belonged to members of the royal family.

The castle built in the 12th century was destroyed by the English two centuries later. The only part which remained from the initial castle is the chapel that was built by the king Saint Louis in order to place there the Christ’s saintly relics. Today the relics are located in Notre Dame of Paris.

Before we enter the castle’s courtyard, we stop by the church built in the neoclassical architecture of the 18th century. The initial church was dedicated to the bishop of Paris Saint Germain and was also destroyed by the English. The king Charles V had it built again, and then the church was destroyed again and built for the third time by the king Louis XIV and for the fourth time by king Louis XV. A curious fact is that the entrance of the first three churches was at opposite side as today. The service was celebrated looking toward east, Jerusalem. The entrance of the present church is facing the castle, the king. The guide shows us the commemorative inscription on the church, saying that king James II, the last Catholic king of England and king James VII, king of Scotland is buried here. It is one and the same person, a Catholic king of two protestant countries. His two daughters were protestant. He married a young Italian princess who gave him a son, a Catholic descendant.His residence was in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, he also died here and wanted to be burried at this place. However, the king Louis XIV did not think he was worth it and so he moved his relics to an English chapel in Paris. During the French Revolution the chapel was destroyed and the relics of James II disappeared. In 1820‘ two boxes were found in Saint-Germain with "noble parts of the king James" and were moved to the church in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

The king Francois Ist in the XVIth century added to the medieval castle a new castle part with Italian Renaissance features. The castle is built in the shape of an irregular pentagon. Standing in the castle courtyard and admiring the walls of the castle, thanks to our guide we notice several important stone emblems. The letter F is a monogram of king François I. His personal emblem was a salamander, animal which is said to resist a fire, so metaphorically the war. The letter N refers to Napoleon III and the letters RF for the French Republic. The walls of the castle have two colors, the pale stone is combined with the red bricks. At that time bricks were an expensive material and that’s why it was often replaced by painting. A part of the castle is the Saint Chapel with gothic rectangular high windows. Its decoration is modest, the only decoration of the glass mosaics is the lily flower. In this chapel the kings were married, such as François I. The king Louis XIV was baptized here when he was four years old. Marouane adds an explanation that at that time the child at birth was only undulated and the official baptism was done several years later. The chapel and the chateau were restaured in the 19th century, during the French Revolution it served as a prison. The castle was saved by Napoleon III, when he made a museum out of it.

Our tour continues in the castle gardens, designed by the famous French gardener André Le Nôtre. A typical feature of the French gardens was a central axe which prolongs the facade of the castle. The gardens were organized symmetrically. Initially there were five fountains but four of them were destroyed and today there is only one fountain.

Passing by a stone bunker, covered with the growing grass, Marouane explains that the town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye was a general seat of the German army during World War II.

We get to the last stop of our historical walk, to the place where in the past was standing a so called "Château Neuf" (New Castle). "New castle" was destroyed and there is left only a piece of it, which can be seen from the 2,5 km long terrace. In the 17th century there were built seven gradual terraces in Italian style, connecting the castle with the Seine river. We observe the Seine river 66 meters from the upper terrace. On the right side there is an "Oratory" of the past castle "Château Neuf", the construction of which was ordered by the king Henry II and finished by the king Henry IV. Here, after the birth, was undulated the king Louis XIV and that’s why in the coat of arms of the city of Saint-Germain-en-Laye there is also a king’s cradle.

The gardens were located on a fragile soil and that’s why they degraded. During the reign of Louis XVI, the count Artois in the 18th century had a plan to rebuild the castle as a neoclassical villa and so by an explosion he destroyed the initial castle "Château Neuf". His plans were interrupted by the French Revolution in 1789. And so today we can find here only several villas and a restaurant to which used to come the writer Alexandre Dumas. He wrote his "Three Musketeers" in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Our guide puts down his black hat with red feather, our tour is finished and we go back to the medieval streets of Saint-Germain-en-Laye wiser, enchanted and enriched, seeing the town with different eyes. We stop in the bakery to buy a chocolate and pear cake which has a taste of an aristocratic royal town. .

 M.D.D., Paristep










Spring days in "Petit Palais"

"It is called a Small Palace (Petit Palais) but its architectonic look is not small at all, in its beauty the palace proudly competes with the neighbouring Grand Palais. The Palace was built at the occasion of the World Exposition "Exposition Universelle" in 1900 with the aim to create a perpendicular axe from the Alexander III. bridge to the Avenue Champs-Elysées. In 1900 the "Petit Palais", together with the Grand-Palais were the places of the biggest retrospective of the French art. The purpose of building both palaces was the idea to show to the public the noblest human creations in the impressive fancy premises.
In these days "Petit Palais" with the exposition "Paris 1900" commemorates the years of the "Belle Epoque" (Edwardian Era), the time when the palace was constructed. On the Avenue Winston Churchill between the Big and Small Palace in full speed the traffic is permanently flowing. On the pedestrian zone without the lights an elderly slim, almost fragile looking lady in the beige coat and a silk scarf straightens out her skinny arm and stops the traffic of the double-decker buses and cars driving at least 70 km per hour. She heads towards the crowd of Parisians dressed in a similar soft elegance, waiting in front of the Petit Palais for the exposition "Paris 1900". They wait patiently to see the show that whole Paris speaks about, being advertised in the corridors of the subway stations, exposition about Paris on the turn between the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 1900 Paris declared itself a capital of the world, a centre of modernity, art, fashion and gastronomy. "Belle Epoque" was a period when Paris enters in the mass culture, but it manages to keep its cultural originality. Parisians become passionate readers, they read short stories, almanacs, novels, crime stories, feuilletons, chronicles. Theatres flourish, as well as the concert coffee places, circus, cinema is being developed, people visit fairs and hippodromes. Women shop in the big fancy shopping malls "Grands Magasins", they spend their leisure time on the terraces of coffee places. Economic boost enables also to the socially weaker classes to spend a small budget of money for the leisure time activities.

By the "Belle Epoque" the historians named a period between the economic crisis of the years 1870 and the world wars at the beginning of the 20th century. After 70 years of the archive shadow, a huge painting called "Le ventre de Paris" (A Belly of Paris) from Léon Lhermitte is shown to the public in the "Petit Palais". This monumental painting represents the busy life on the biggest Parisian food market at the end of the 19th century. In the first position of the painting there dominates a young lady seen from her back, carrying a big basket with the poultry. The painting is full of action, full of details from the market, a soup being served to the vegetable sellers, price of salads being negotiated; you almost hear the noise coming from the market which used to supply the whole Paris.

In front of the palace together with a high colourful eye-catcher of the exhibition "Paris 1900" there is also an advertisement attracting to see an exposition of the Swedish painter Carl Larsson. The topic, completely different from the dissolute Paris of 1900ies, but still being from the same period. Painter who lived and worked at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, lived several years also in Paris and Grez-sur-Loing. In the joyful colours he shows the details of the everyday life of his family with six children in the Swedish countryside in Sundborn. In his paintings he captured the sensitive taste of his wife Karin, who was also a painter and she used her esthetical perception for a nice and soft decoration of their house. A picnic on the bank of the river, playing the Vikings, a little girl pulling a sleigh, hands in a Sunday prayer on the table with a checked table cloth, a little boy swinging on the white wooden horse, children looking through a key hole to the room with the gifts on the evening before Christmas, from his paintings you can feel the harmony of the everyday family life.

Whether you choose one of the temporary exhibitions or you will visit a permanent exposition of the Petit Palais, a pleasant break is the internal semi-circular garden which is in the middle of the four parts of the Petit Palais. In the exotic garden under the pergola with frescos and arches, colourful floor, big ceramic vases there is a coffee place where you can enjoy the "Lenôtre" pastries, a meal of the day, salads and sandwiches.

"Petit Palais" is one of the places that show the greatness of Paris.

Petit Palais: Avenue Winston Churchill, 75008 Paris. Metro: lines 1 and 13, stop Champs-Elysées Clémenceau. RER: line C, stop Invalides. Buses: 28, 42, 72, 73, 80, 83, 93.

Current exhibitions:
"Paris 1900" - od 2. apríla do 17. augusta 2014.
"Carl Larsson" - od 7. marca do 7. júna 2014.
Vstup na prezretie stálej expozície: zdarma.

 M.D.D., Paristep





Artistic commercial signs

"Enseignes artistiques". Art signs above the shop entrances can be more easily shown in pictures than described in words. It is not just a sign or inscription indicating the name of the shop.
It’s an idea, a witty and often funny idea of the shop owner, producer, artist or a craftman. It is a metal or wooden sign, which is esthetically nice, attracts the attention of the passers-by, shows the traditions, history, quality to which we want to attract the customers. It is an art creation with nicely combined colours, various figures, painted or embossed in the metal a baguette, a farmer, a baker, a key or a carriage with a horse....
While walking in the Parisian streets it is worth raising up your eyes and not only because of the details of the Haussmanian buildings. The artistic commercial signs are a pride of shops, boutiques, art studios, galleries, are part of the atmosphere of Parisian streets and boulevards. They complete the complex mosaique of a Parisian charm.
Although a particular character of Parisian architecture has to be respected, the advertisements cannot disturb the face of the most beautiful city in the world, the residential features of each part of Paris have to be kept, perturbative advertisement lights have to be avoided, inspite of all these regulations the artistic commercial signs above the shop entrances are flourishing in Paris, as well as in other villages and towns all over France.
There are plenty of them for example in the old passages, covered streets, the luxury and history of which are protected from the changing weather conditions. The passages are charming not only because of their history but also thanks to their original and unique shops, boutiques and art shops. In order to be more visible for the clients, many of them have "enseignes" hanging over their entrances. In the passages "Passage Choiseul", "Passage du Panorama", "Galerie Vivienne" in the 2nd Parisian arrondissement, raise up your sight from the ground and show windows in order not to miss interesting "enseignes", in order not to miss Paris.

 M.D.D., Paristep



French Epiphany cake

  GENNAIO A PARIGI   janvier à Paris   Jenuary in Paris

The Bercy Village

An area full of contrasts. One of the newest parts of Paris and at the same time maintaining its village atmosphere. Low stone houses, the cobblestone pavement, leisure atmosphere of a pedestrian area, ending by a modern cinema building, being with its 18 movies rooms the second biggest cinema in Europe. Entrances to the stone houses, taking us back to the past of this Parisian district, are scattered with tables and chairs. Terasse of each restaurant has its specific mood. On the tables of one of the restaurants there are colourful ketchup and mayonaise bottles and a big advertisement calling you for the best hamburger you have ever eaten and the most tasteful cheesecake you can imagine. In the restaurant "La Compagnie des Crêpes" you know what you will get, the French Birttany crêpes and the cider will not deceive. With our desire to sweeten our coffee with something different than white sugar and our question if they have "café gourmand" with our cup of nicely smelling coffee we get the plate of four small pancakes, each of them with its sweet secret: chocolate, marmelade, chestnut cream and "confiture au lait" (the specialty that can be translated as a milk jam).

By the wooden chairs on the terasse of the restaurant "Partie de Campagne" drawings of chubby bees animate the menu offer with the choice of meals from various regions of France. Italian cooking under the name "Buffet d‘Italie" or a British pub with the name "The Frog" will take you behind the boundaries of Paris.

Cour St Emilion in Eastern part of Paris, close to the modern building of the Ministry of Economy is a nice and successful creation of modern Paris. And as the French know in a sensitive and original way to connect the past with the present, also the Bercy Village is a proof of this "know-how". A metamorphosis of the past to the present, keeping the spirit of old Paris.

Over one century, till 1960 the Bercy area was a huge vineyard market, which is still witnessed by old wine stocks buildings from white stone in Cour Saint-Emilion, registered in the list of the Historical monuments. The architects Valode and Pistre restaured them at the end of the 90-ies of the last century and since then they accommodate this relaxing shopping and restaurants area.

On the metro line number 14, which runs without the driver, on the banks of the Seine river, with large greenery spaces, the pedestrian district from white stone is a pleasant place for a lunch break or finishing a Parisian evening in the cinema and a bar.

On the website of Bercy Village you can read that Paris begins in Bercy in 4500 before J.C., the proof of what is the archaeological founding in 1990 of a Neolithic village. Thousands of objects of everyday life, and especially three oak wood boats (exhibited in the Museum Musée Carnavalet), witness that people were present at this place more than 6500 years ago.

Not surprising that the Parisians say that each area of Paris can be compared to a village..

 M.D.D., Paristep



French Epiphany cake

  GENNAIO A PARIGI   janvier à Paris   Jenuary in Paris

French Epiphany cake

Everyday life of the French, their traditions and seasons are reflected in the windows of the bakeries and pastry shops "boulangerie-patisserie". As soon as the Christmas time is finished, the pastries in the shape of a tree log "bûches" are replaced by golden round cakes from the flaky dough and almonds filling, "les galettes des rois" (the Epiphany cake).
Let’s try to count them. Each day of January in the offer of the work canteen, among the colleagues, with the class of your kids in the kindergarten, in the family cercle during an evening tea time, with friends on the weekends. An average French will eat at least 15 pieces of this almond cakes in January. Adults like to accompany it with an apple cider or champaign, for children the most important part is to find the small porcelain figurine "fève", baked in each cake. Traditions around the "galette" cake vary in different regions of France, in each family they can be slightly different. The most frequent version is that the youngest family member hides under the table and tells the names of the persons for whom each piece of cake has been cut. The person who finds the porcelain figurine becomes a king, puts a paper crown on the head and according to various traditions he/she can give orders for the whole day, kiss a king or queen of his/her choice or to pay the next "galette".

History of the "galettes" goes back to the Roman celebrations. During Saturnalia that were celebrated at the end of December and beginning of January, the Romans chose one slave to be the "king of the day". This change of roles was done with the purpose to blunder away the bad intentions of the god Saturn. During the banquet at the end of Saturnalia, in each big family, Romans used the "fève" (white or black bean) as an "election vote" to choose "Saturnalicius princeps" (Lord of Saturnalia or the King of disorder). This habit enabled to strenghten the relations with the servants and gave to the "king of the day" the power to fulfill all his desires during one day (for example to give orders to his Master) before being condamned to death or going back to his slavery life.

In the past, the "galette" used to be divided with one extra piece being cut. This piece of cake was called a "part of a good Master", "part of Virgin Mary" or "part of a poor" and was given to the first poor person passing by the house. In France the tradition of the Epiphany cake has been kept since the 17th century.

For those who do not like "frangipane" (almond filling) there are also the galettes with apple sauce or chocolate filling.

As soon as January turns in February, the "galettes" in the bakeries and supermarkets dissapear and are replaced by the Candlemas pancakes.

 M.D.D., Paristep





Historical town of Versailles

Who was in Paris and have not visited the Versailles castle, knows that he has to come back. Let’s go to Versailles, but this time not with the crowds of tourists. On the summer Sunday morning let’s try a better plan : calm streets of the old town, where except people heading for a Sunday church service, the streets are empty and with the facades of their buildings reveal the message of secular history.

At the beginning there was a castle, thanks to which Versailles became the capital of the French kingdom (although the historians debate if Versailles can be considered really as a capital) and in the 17th and 18th century the surroundings of the castle started to be covered by a town, the charm and history of which can be felt on each step. We discover the secrets and curiosities of history thanks to the professional explanations of our guide Marouane, who is full of passion for history and inexhaustible source of knowledge.

Versailles town has two main parts. The old part St-Louis with its well preserved 18th century architecture and the newer part Notre-Dame built mainly in the 19th century. The Sun King Louis XIV (1638-1715) had all the forest by the castle cut down so that the St Louis part of the town can be developed.

Thanks to our guide, on each step we identify the characteristic features of Versailles, the architectonic style of its houses. No building could be higher than the King’s Castle (except the slim tower of the St Louis Cathedral). Part of the architectural rules, set in the 17th century by Louis XIV, was that the castle was constructed from the white stone and all the houses had to be built from bricks and stone. However, the problem was that the bricks were very expensive. A square constructed from the bricks cost a huge amount of money and that’s why often some fake methods were used. The houses were built from the millstone, then the walls were plastered and after painted with the bricks imitation.
In the 18th century the window shutters were installed from the inside of the houses. Typical wood shutters as we know them today, started to be installed in the 19th century.

Historical pride of the St Louis part of the town is its old marker, known also as "les Carrés de St Louis" ("the squares of St Louis"). This crossing of the streets rues Royale and d'Anjou is probably the most charming place of the old town of Versailles. Tiny houses, four ground buildings were built in 1737 with the purpose to give some more space to the merchants, in order to complete the shops of the Notre-Dame part. This market never got really developed. 20 years later the houses were used for living, an additional floor was constructed. Even today the houses have maintained their original aspect. In the past there were artists and merchants in these houses and even nowadays the town of Versailles orders that the ground floor of these historical dwellings to be used for shops.

Our sight is attracted by an impressive St Louis Cathedral with its architectural features typical for Central and Eastern Europe. Dome of the Cathedral reminds the Central European architecture in honour of Maria Leszynska, Polish spouse of the king Louis XV. Cathedral from 1754, built in Jesuit style, for France quite baroque, soars up on the rectangular square, surrounded by the soft and facades of the charming houses. Besides the charm of the whole square we find here two curiosities. A fountain from the 18th century and a statue of an abbot l’Abbé de l’Epée, who invented the first alphabet for earless and speechless and was a first teacher for these people in Versailles. Under the Louis XIV’s rule appeared the initial attempt of the Braille writing and first schools for blind were introduced.

Our steps on the old Versailles pavement of are spiced up by the anecdotes of our guide. In his words even the Sun King becomes a common immortal, with his weaknesses. We discover that Louis XIV had a professional taster who was in charge of tasting the food & drinks one hour before the King’s meal to be sure that it is not poisoned. However, it was not very attractive to look at the King’s eating. Since his teeth were very bad, they had to pull them out and since at that time the practice was quite rough, together with the teeth the “dentist” pulled out a piece of gum. Then they wanted to paste it with a hot coal and the result was the hole in the king’s mouth and when he was eating the food was getting out of his nose.

Louis XV was known to like women and in spite of the fact that he married the Polish Maria Leszczynska, whom he loved, the proof of this love were 9 children in 10 years, she got exhausted after all those deliveries and so the King started to look for mistresses. Among his mistresses was also Madame de Pompadour, who became his confident friend & advice, and even more friend than a mistress. Madame de Pompadour tolerated him to have other women, if they were not too smart and intelligent. Louis XV is said to have been father of 65 children and he started in the family in which all four sisters were his mistresses.

By a soft ascent we approach slowly the castle by the street "rue de l’Indépendence Américaine". Louis XV and Louis XIV almost never visited Paris, and that’s why the ministries were built close to the Castle. It is almost absurd to compare this small brick building of the former Ministry of Finances with the present Bercy complex in Paris. Almost hard to imagine that the finances of the richest kingdom in Europe were handled here. Today the plan is to use this historical building for a five stars luxury hotel. In the former building of the Ministry of Culture there was a huge collection of art, thousands of paintings that were not shown to the public and so the project came up to build the Louvre. The Mona Lisa painting was for example the part of the François I’s bathroom decoration. In the former building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today there is a public library of Versailles, to which you enter by an amazing beautifully decorated gate. At this place was signed in 1783 the Versailles Treaty, approving the independence of the United States of America and that’s why the name of the street is "rue de l’Indépendence américaine". We walk along the building of the Archives of the Ministry of War. The architect Berthier received a task to build two ministries, without a piece of a wood, so that they cannot be damaged by fire. When the king Louis XIV came to look at the construction, the architect on purpose put a fire on the roof. In spite of the fact that he risked the life of the king, the king was satisfied because the ministry did not burn, the fire did not spread out from the roof. The building was not damaged even during the revolution and today it still belongs to the army. In the small street the guide draws our attention to the building of the Ministry of the Post, from where the king’s messages were sent. After Louis XV reign, a decision was taken that the king will live in Paris, that if the king is in Paris, there will be enough bread in Paris.

Our mind is full of history and past centuries, and all of a sudden we find ourselves in a modern space with luxury shops, in the square "La Cour des Senteurs" (Court of the Scents) and it is here that the guide reminds us that under the Louis XIV reign the bath and water were considered unhealthy and so the parfumes, creams and balms were flourishing. And right at this place, with the shop proposing the special Versailles parfume and Lenôtre macarons we learn that emptying the king’s potty was a big privilege and the potties were emptied by the window directly to the streets accompanied by shouting "gare à l’eau" (attention on water!).

After the stroll in the quiet historical streets we are in front of the Versailles Castle, which is located a bit higher than the rest of the Versailles town. We find out that the room of Louis XIV had the view on Paris, towards East, since he was the Sun King and the living of his horses was more comfortable and luxurious than the living of many European kings. In front of the castle there were two stables buildings, one big for horses used for hunting and one smaller for horses used for carriages. Anyone could enter the castle, provided that he was equipped with a hat and a sword. Hats and swords could be hired at the castle entrance.

Our Sunday morning comes to its end by a walk in the newer part of Versailles, the Notre-Dame part from the 19th century. A dominating point of this part is the Notre-Dame Church, much smaller than the St Louis Cathedral, respecting the rule of the Versailles architecture, that it cannot be higher than the Castle. Here all the royal births and weddings were registered.

The sightseeing of the hidden jewels of old Versailles ends at the busy market, renown for the quality and freshness of its products, and also for its ambiance. Even many Parisians are used to come here to "faire leur marché" (do their market shopping). The market square is surrounded by numerous coffee terrasses and restaurants, each of them having its unique mood and meals offer. We stop by the year "cour de l'ancien Baillage" - the past seat of the town administration and Justice palace, where was also a prison. At that time the prisoners had to pay for their cell, the poorest were in the cellar and had to pay for the straw on which they slept.

"When we understand beauty, we can enjoy and appreciate it even more", says our guide, who already as a 10 years old boy visited museums while his mother was taking a coffee and waiting for him. The beauty of Versailles, the historical town with 90 000 inhabitants, is a whole, when we understand more and more from its history, when we understand that the charm of its present mood and atmosphere has the roots in the times when Versailles was a capital of the French Kingdom.

Versailles in the old French language meant "ground on which the bad weeds were taken out". Quite modest denomination for the town that even today reflects the glory of history and fame.

M.D.D., Paristep





Coffee place Lenôtre on Champs-Elysées.

Prestigious restaurant and coffee place „Lenôtre“ is located in a creamy building with stone decorations in the „New Art“ style on the number 10 of the Champs-Elysées avenue, neighbouring with the presidential palace Elysées.
Lenôtre is world-famous pastry cook and represents a term that does not need any explanation in France. Lenôtre belongs to a general culture, already children at primary school know that the president of the republic is François Hollande and Lenôtre is the name and brand of artistic, beautifully designed pastries, and not only pastries. Chocolates, cakes, ice-creams, champagne, thin slices of smoked salmon, accompanied by a glass of chilled white wine, all of this of a high quality, unforgettable taste and artistic design.
Terasse with wicker chairs surrounded by greenery, high windows bring a lot of light inside of the room and connect you with the terasse, behind which you can see Grand Palais.Tall waiter with dark eyes and friendly smile, without stress, patiently explains and helps with difficult decision in choosing the dessert and drinks. Winning option are six small „macarons“ of flavours of our choice: chocolate, caramel with salty butter and vanilla, chocolate cake served with the currents dip in a separate bowl.
Hot chocolate comes in a porcelain white jug, the volume of which corresponds to at least four cups, it’s dense, with a strong but at the same time refined taste. For the thirst the best choice was „thé glacé maison“ – „home made“ ice tea – really did not have nothing in common with the bottle or can „ice tea“. Refreshing, without sugar, with a slice of lemon and a jug with liquid cane sugar, which gave to the drink the right dose of sweetness.
The place with elegant design, fully blossoming white orchids close to our table, black and white dress of a young mother sitting at the neigbouring table, with a baby girl in a cute dress. We are in the heart of Paris, with the mouth full of delicious chocolate.
The first gastronomy school Lenôtre was established in 1971 by Gaston Lenôtre. It maintains the tradition, is open for new creative ideas, its purpose is perfection, successfuly tries to keep pace with its world reputation, and is a perfect synthesis of the past, present and future.
Lenôtre makes the life of competition in Paris difficult, however when you look in the windows of Parisian „pâtisseries-boulangeries“ (bakeries and pastries shops) you have to admit that even the competition does not miss knowledge, ideas, skills and French „savoir-faire“ (know-how).
M.D.D., Paristep



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