After my third trip to France, I could practically be a tour guide and personally show you the best sights and secrets of Paris. Not just the famous places like the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame, but also the lesser known (and even more impressive!) Hôtel de Ville and Opéra de Paris Garnier. But since I’m not brave enough to quit my day job just yet, I’d advise purchasing Paris: Eyewitness Travel Guides and following these 5 helpful hints.
1. Train for your trip.
The best way to see the city is by a combination of bus, metra, and walking, but especially the latter. How else can you get the true feeling of the Parisian culture except by strolling past the quaint cafes and mouthwatering patisseries? And don’t forget to hit the stair stepper after the treadmill—it’s 674 steps to the second level of the Eiffel Tower, 284 to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, and 387 to the bell towers of Notre Dame!
Inside Scoop: The Panthéon is another impressive cathedral with just over 100 steps and a free tour! Be sure to check out Voltaire and Marie Curie in the crypt too.
2. Visiting the Louvre is a contact sport.
If you want to see the Mona Lisa or Aphrodite, be prepared for a few bumps and bruises. Crowds can be so thick that you’ll throw more elbows than a football player and lose more teeth than a hockey player just to see these famous ladies! (Okay, I may have exaggerated. Just a tiny bit.) But be warned: Your toes will get stepped on.
Inside scoop: Try the French statue rooms at the Louvre for just as impressive art without the crowds. The Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de Cluny are other less crowded but equally fascinating options too!
3. Befriend the bees.
They know their flowers, and they know them well! The Jardin du Luxembourg has acres of beautiful plants and flowers, and it’s easy to meander for hours amongst the gardens and past the palace. Be sure to check out the flower markets near the Notre Dame too—the only place to buy cacti in Paris!
Inside scoop: It’s a bit of a train ride (about 40 minutes), but the gardens at the Palace of Versailles are, in my opinion, the most impressive in France. Complete with 50 gigantic fountains, you’ll be blows away by the grandeur. (And admission is free!)
4. “Forget” the camera.
In less than 3 days, I already used up my entire 8G memory card and needed to buy another one. Sure, I had hundreds of gorgeous photos, but I had been too busy snapping shots to truly immerse myself in all of the sights and culture! Not worth it. So leave the camera at home sometimes, or at least in your pocket. You’ll have lots more memories if you do.
Inside scoop: Postcards are pretty cheap (20 euro cents, or 30 US cents), so buy one of each of your favorite places and write memories on the back!
5. Seize the moment.
In wandering the streets of Île Saint-Louis, we passed by a cute patisserie with luscious fruit tarts tempting us from the window. We bought a slice of the apricot and pistachio, and it was one of the top desserts of the trip! We never saw another tart like it, which taught us our lesson. You will never be in the same place with the same opportunities ever again. Your trip is the chance of a lifetime, so don’t feel guilty, seize every moment, and enjoy yourself!
Inside scoop: Patisseries tend to close between 5-7 pm, so buy your after-dinner desserts mid-afternoon! Or even mid-morning… They make their pastries fresh daily, so if they run out of a particular type of tart, you’re out of luck!
Tarte aux Abricots et Pistaches
(Apricot and Pistachio Tart)
Using fresh apricots is key. It adds a subtle tartness to the typical sweet fruit flavors. I made these in individual tartlette pans, but if you multiply the measurements by 4, you can prepare a regular-sized tart.
¼ c. flour
2 tbsp shortening
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
1-2 tsp cold water
¼ c. shelled pistachios
½ tsp canola oil
1 tsp light corn syrup
⅛ tsp salt
1 ripe apricot
- To prepare dough, combine flour through sugar in a small bowl, and mash with the backside of a fork until the mixture resembles small peas. Mix in ½ tsp of cold water, and continue adding small amounts of water until a dough forms. Divide the dough into two, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and let them chill in the refrigerator for 30 min.
- While the dough chills, begin to prepare the pistachio part of the filling. If desired, take the papery skins off of the pistachios by dropping them in boiling water for 1 minute, draining the nuts, and then rubbing the skins off with either your fingers or a towel.
- Preheat oven to 375°.
- Add pistachios, oil, corn syrup, and salt to a food processor, and pulse until the mixture resembles a fine meal. If desired, continue to mix until the mixture turns into a more spreadable butter. Set aside.
- Lightly flour a clean, dry workspace. Flour your hands and a rolling pin as well. Working with one portion of dough at a time, roll it out until it’s ¼ to ⅛ inch thick, or until the diameter of the dough circle is 2 inches larger than a mini-tart pan (should be 5-6 inches across). Gently place the dough in the tart pan, and repeat with the second portion of dough.
- Break the apricot in half, and thinly slice each half into equal-sized sections. Spread half of the pistachio mixture in the bottom of one of the mini-tart pan and top with half of the apricot slices. Repeat with the remaining ingredients and second mini-tart pan. Bake at 375° for 40-45 minutes, or until crust is golden. Serve warm or cold.