Paris, France Kosher Vacation
Guest article by Yehoshua Feigin.
France is the most visited country in the world by tourists and it is not hard to see why. The culture, nature, architecture, and food really are top notch. It is also a manageable trip to get there from Europe, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. For a kosher traveler, the options are abundant, although antisemitism has reached peak levels in the last few years. On the street one can see many Arab and African refugees who come from some of the most anti-Israel countries often making unsafe to wear a kippah, as is the case in a lot of Europe. At one shul I visited, there was someone standing by the door reminding people to remove their kippot upon exit.
Side note: I came at the end of May, yet the weather was not especially summery. The mornings started in the high 50s and the days reached into the low 70s. Bring light sweaters and don’t expect sweltering heat in late spring.
Where To Stay
The city is divided up into districts known as Arrondissements in French. The lower the district number, the closer it is to the core of Paris. For accommodation in Paris, I would recommend staying in the Northern 16th or the 17th Arrondissements. Both of these areas are quiet, upscale neighborhoods with a lot of kosher options, yet not too far from the tourist areas. Another nice area would also be Le Marais, though it is a bit more busy than some may want. Don’t get super hung up about the neighborhood though. Kosher restaurants and attractions are spread out so you will have options in many other places too.
Make sure to book early when possible. I did not do this and found that all of the sudden almost everything was jam packed for my trip dates. Airbnb operates in Paris as well, and may be a better option as well. Be aware that accommodation can get very pricey.
Things to Do and See:
River Cruise – Taking a boat is a nice way to see the architecture as well as the many bridges which span the river Seine, each with an individual aesthetic. This can also be used as a means of transport, for example to get between the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.
Arc de Triomphe – Erected to commemorate the French military history of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Eras, this Neoclassical arch towers in the nexus of twelve avenues that converge into one chaotic roundabout. It is actually possible to ascend the arch by stair, though with all the walking done in Paris, that sounds rather tiring. We opted instead to watch all the cars navigate this crazy junction and wonder how no one had crashed yet.
Eiffel Tower – Of course coming to Paris one needs to visit its most acclaimed landmark. There are many ways of doing so. Firstly, one can ascend part or all of the height of the tower with stairs or an elevator. By the time it even dawned on me to do that though, the tickets were fully booked online. Lesson learned: Book early. The tower can also be enjoyed though from some optimal viewing areas including Trocadero (a plaza and building of some sort across the Seine river), Champs de Mars (the park beneath and behind the tower), or the banks of the Seine themselves. Beware that some of these areas can get quite crowded with tourists, merchants, and pick-pockets, depending on the time of day.
Champs Elysées – This road connects the Arc De Triomphe to the central area of Paris, with a straight view all the way down. It makes for a nice walk between the two to stroll along this grand avenue. Another street near the end of the Champs Elysees is Rue De Rivoli, where there are some nice shops and cafes to sit and get a coffee.
Le Marais – This traditionally Jewish neighborhood is home to many kosher restaurants, synagogues, and narrow cobblestone streets spilling into larger squares. All of this makes Le Marais a fun place to meander and explore.
Galeries Lafayette and Prentemps – These two shops are kind of like the Macys of Manhattan. Frankly the price range of the products was quite expensive, but I was still able to get something affordable. The real highlight is the roof of Galeries Lafayette and the view of Paris from its upper platforms. In my mind these stores are not a must, but nice to check out if you are in the area and combine with seeing the impressive Opera building.
Montmartre – I loved this neighborhood in Northern Paris. One needs to climb a lot of stairs (which I liked) or take an elevator and funicular to arrive at the top of Montmartre where sweeping views of the City await. An impressive church known as Sacre Coure looms from the other direction. There is a nice little park with a sign saying “I love you” in many languages, which made a nice picture. Stop by the artist square where painters congregate selling their wares and practicing their crafts. We got here early, but as we were leaving at around 10:30 or 11:00am, it started getting much more crowded.
Louvre – The Louvre is apparently the world’s most visited museum. It is not hard to see why. Just the building of the Louvre in itself is a work of art. I particularly enjoyed the royal jewelry exhibit that showed all these cool crowns. When I was there though, I found the visit a bit overwhelming. Firstly, despite having reserved a time slot (which is a must), we still needed to wait in a long snaking line. Then secondly, the place is so big that it requires a lot of walking. The air-conditioning of a building hundred of years old plus the throngs of people contributed to the overall feel of congestion. Also, the Mona Lisa is really a small rectangular painting of a woman. Not much else going for it. If there is something you really want to see at the Louvre, by all means go ahead. Otherwise, after seeing many other art museums such as the MET in New York, you already have the idea. I am sure there are many other smaller art museums in Paris that I would have enjoyed more.
Great Synagogue – This old shul is the main synagogue of Paris. I wasn’t able to make it there on my trip, but their website (which is just a google search away) has detailed information for visitors.
Monoprix – Grocery store, clothing shop, home goods. This chain store has it all.
Palace of Versailles – King Louis XIV, (the grandfather of the king who would later be executed during the French Revolution), was otherwise known as the Sun King and greatly expanded and upgraded the Palace of Versailles, transforming it into a symbol of monarchical opulence. Most demonstrative of this design is the airy chamber known as the Hall of Mirrors, which, like the rest of the palace, is generously adorned in brilliant gold. There are also gardens and other features of the grounds to see. I think 2-3 hours here is enough, but it is possible to bike or do other activities and tours. Book ahead at the Versailles Palace website. As the name states, this palace is not actually in Paris, but rather in Versailles, a suburb that reminds me of Montclair, New Jersey – only more French. It is easy to arrive here by the commuter train called the RER – the same train that goes to the airport. Just be aware that Versailled has many stations, but to visit the castle only the Chateau station is optimal. Google maps could do a better job directing you than I could.
Places To Eat:
Paris has over 100 kosher restaurants. A trip of even a week or two would not leave time to sample all of them. The website 123cacher is a convenient resource that lists most kosher restaurants in Paris (and other cities in France), provides menus, opening hours, addresses, cuisines, and a nice map of all the listings. It is also possible to deliver, though it did not go so smoothly when we tried it and we probably would have saved time by just going to the restaurant ourselves. Listed here are the eateries I sampled:
Kavod – Fancy French Meat and Steakhouse. In terms of luxury (and expense), Kavod is definitely on the upper end. We got so much food, including a carpaccio, grilled eggplant, beef tataki, rib-eye steak, and grilled duck that we could not even finish. Of particular note are the appetizers, which are so nicely done and quite filling. We liked them better than the mains. Be sure to make a reservation.
Cosy Italia – Located in the peaceful 16th Arrondissement neighborhood behind a nondescript storefront, this restaurant serves seriously great Italian food. Paired with white wine, the salmon bruschetta and fresh mozzarella tomato dish went above and beyond.
Easy Kash – Near Cosy Italia, this kosher supermarket makes a good stop to pick up meat, chesses, snacks, or whatever else.
L’As du Falafel – This falafel shop in Le Marais actually comes very highly recommended amongst non-kosher travelers as well. Maybe because I am used to eating so much falafel in Israel I was not as shocked or wowed as I was expecting. It was definitely tasty, but I am sure the many other falafel restaurants in Le Marais on the same street are just as good with less of a line. In any case, the vicinity boasts many kosher options and even shuls to check out.
Safrane – I can say that this is the best Indian restaurant that I have ever been to, closely followed by one that I tried in Seattle. However, Safrane is a proper sit-down place and it also serves meat unlike the traditionally vegetarian Indian restaurants found in America. The breads and curries make me want to plan my next trip to Paris. Another Indian restaurant that we tried was Darjeeling, which was alright, but nothing special, despite what I had read about it online.
Sucheese – Oh my God this was so good. I really need to diversify my descriptions here, but trust me that I am not exaggerating. Imagine everything you could want in a dairy cafe and then more – that is Sucheese. We got an olive assortment, a beautiful cheese platter that we ate with baguette and marmalade, and some sort of salmon and eggplant dish I don’t know the name of. Who cares though – just go and try it.
Neuilly Tratieur – Here we tried traditional North African cuisine that consisted of a stew with broth and chickpeas, beef and spiced potatoes, and sliced artichoke. Highly recommended.
On a side note, the bread, butter, fruits, and chocolates are top notch. I bought these things at general supermarkets and bakeries, but not everyone might be comfortable doing so for kashrut reasons.