During the Christmas holidays, parts of Paris transformed into Santa’s grotto with little chalets everywhere, offering food, crafts and gifts. At Paris’ two main Christmas markets, one on the Champs Elysées and the other near La Défense, traditional French food was sold at the chalet stalls, most notably raclette and tartiflette. We had tartiflette for dinner one night; a delicious mixture of potato, bacon, onion and cheese.
But when it came to raclette, we decided we wanted the full French experience and so headed to a proper restaurant instead of eating it with plastic forks and polystyrene trays. Le Chalet Savoyard, a large restaurant with a warm, wooden décor; the kind of building that would look more at home in the middle of the Swiss Alps than in Paris, is one of the best places in the city to eat raclette, and it is loacted on rue Charonne (Ledru Rollin metro).
The strong smells of cheese hits you as soon as you walk in, and once you order, one or two (depending on how many of you are there) raclette machines are brought to the table. The raclette machine is a device that is stuck into a wall socket before a massive crescent-shaped block of cheese is placed in its clutches, the cheese’s flesh exposed to a mini radiator that is used to melt it until it is ready to be perfectly slid off onto your plate. This tastebud-tingling melted delight is then eaten with potatoes, charcuterie and bread, all of which you are given endless supplies of. At 23€ each, a raclette lunch seems costly, but for the amount of never-ending food you get and the one-of-a-kind experience of it all, it is definitely worth it. Think a very French, very cheesy all-you-can-eat buffet.
The Grand Palais is one of Paris’ most elegant, most beautiful buildings, and if you ever get the opportunity to go inside, you should. The exhibitions held there are also worth a visit, especially one entitled ‘Mexico: 1900 – 1950. Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, JC Orozco, and Vanguards’. The biggest exhibition focused on Mexican art since 1953, and showcasing around 200 artworks from the time period mentioned, it is held in the Grand Palais until January 23. Being a big Frida Kahlo fan, I was content enough in just seeing two very famous paintings by her: ‘The Two Fridas’ which depicts two sides of her personality, her Mexican self and her European self, and ‘Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair’ which was her first self-portrait after her divorce from Diego Rivera.
There are many artworks by Diego Rivera in the exhibition, from well-known mural-style paintings to lesser-known portraits and landscapes, some even of buildings in Paris since he lived here for about a year during his life. Orozco and Siqueiros’ artworks are also on display, as well as the paintings and photographs of other Mexican women such as Lola Alvarez Bravo. As well as learning about the artists’ lives and the histories behind their paintings, we also learn some information about Mexico’s history, such as the Revolution, which often greatly influenced the great Mexican artists’ works. This is truly a brilliant exhibition, especially if you’re interested in Latin America.
Merci is a cool and immensely popular concept store on Boulevard Beaumarchais in Paris’ 3rd arrondissement. The entrance is a grand beige-coloured doorway with ‘Merci’ written in large lettering above it, and once inside you will see a wide range of objects to browse or buy. The clothes are beautiful yet very expensive, with brands like Alexander Wang, Isabel Marant and the pretty French label Soeur. There are also various trainers on sale, from Nike and Adidas to New Balance and Reebok. If you venture upstairs you will find objects for the home and in the room at the back, a wide range of different stationary and notebooks.
Back downstairs, there is also a room full of unique jewellery, from pendant necklaces to vintage style gold rings. After strolling around the shop, treat yourself to coffee or a scone at the Merci café, which is, in fact, half a café and half a library. Pick a second-hand book from the hundreds to choose from and have a relaxing read as you eat. A unique store that conveys Paris’ elegant but quirky ambiance perfectly, Merci is a must-visit.