Enjoy a cycle tour of the French capital in September
Time Out staff
Thanks to Paris’s Vélib rent-a-bikes (en.velib.paris.fr), it’s easier than ever to get around the city in order to stock up on great food. What’s more, the standard-issue bikes are equipped with a basket that should carry all you’ll need for a sumptuous picnic. This itinerary will probably take you the best part of two hours. Don’t bother searching for a station each time you need to stop; just use the chain provided to lock your bike.
Detach your bike from the borne at 1 rue Jacques-Callot, 6th (Mo Mabillon) and cycle down rue Mazarine as far as the carrefourde Buci. Turn left into rue de Buci and carry on until the junction with rue de Seine. The stretch of rue de Seine between here and boulevard St-Germain is lined with butchers and greengrocers. Ignore the smell of roasting chickens (you’ll be getting cooked meat elsewhere) and just buy salad leaves and fruit. Then head back down rue de Seine towards the river. About halfway down, turn left into rue Jacob. Cross rue Bonaparte and take the next left into rue St-Benoît. Pause for a moment to look in the window of Librairie St-Benoît-des-Prés (2 rue St-Benoît, 6th, 01 40 20 43 42), which specialises in rare books, manuscripts and letters.
Continue down rue St-Benoît as far as place St-Germain-des-Prés, where you’ll find three venerable institutions: Café de Flore (72 bd St-Germain, 6th, 01 45 48 55 26), Les Deux Magots (6 pl St-Germain-des-Prés, 6th, 01 45 48 55 25) and La Hune bookshop (170 bd St-Germain, 6th, 01 45 48 35 85). The Flore and the Deux Magots buzz more with tourists than writers these days, though the former is still a favoured haunt of enfant terrible journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy.
But it’s not books we’re after, it’s bread; so cross boulevard St-Germain and follow rue Gozlin round into rue de Rennes. This is a broad, busy main road lined with chain stores. There’s not a great deal to distract as you bowl south for half a kilometre or so, until you reach rue du Vieux-Colombier on the right. You’ll have to do battle with buses and taxis in this narrow cut-through, which leads to the far more charming rue du Cherche-Midi. On the left-hand side of the street, wedged among the boutiques, jewellers and galleries, stands Poilâne (8 rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th, 01 45 48 42 59), the renowned family bakers. You can expect to have to queue here for the famous Poilâne loaf, but it’s worth it: the bread is dark, firm and distinctively flavoured. The tarts and the biscuits are wonderful too.
Having loaded the bread into your basket, carry on down rue du Cherche-Midi. Go straight across boulevard Raspail, then take the first right into rue Dupin. You’ll eventually reach rue de Sèvres. Lock your bike up against the railings here and cross the road on foot to La Grande Epicérie, the food hall in Paris’s oldest department store, Le Bon Marché (24 rue de Sèvres, 7th, 01 44 39 80 00). This is a gastronome’s paradise. Make your way to the traiteurs in the centre of the hall and choose from a staggering array of cooked meats. While you’re here, you can also pick up dressing for the salad.
It just remains to buy some cheese and for this you’ll need to cycle a little further south down rue de Sèvres. You’ll pass the wonderful Art Deco entrance to the Vaneau metro station on the right, with its green iron lattices and globe lanterns. A little further along on the same side of the street, on the corner of rue Pierre-Leroux, stands Fromagerie Quatrehomme (62 rue de Sèvres, 7th, 01 47 34 33 45). Run by Marie Quatrehomme, this place is famous across Paris for its comté fruité, beaufort and oozy st-marcellin.
It’s time to head for a picnic spot, and there’s no better place than Jardin du Luxembourg, complete with a Vélib station at which to leave your bike (26 rue Guynemer).
Need to know
Getting there Etihad flies direct fom Abu Dhabi to Paris, with return tickets from Dhs6,860. www.etihadairways.ae.
Were to stay
Hotel Lindbergh This 26-room, well-located hotel is adorned with countless pictures of Charles Lindbergh. Weird, but quite cool. Double rooms from Dhs685 per night. Saint-Germain-des-Prés, www.hotellindbergh.com/en.
Hotel le Six One for art lovers – this four-star hotel features a fantastic glass-ceilinged courtyard salon and great spa bar. There’s a special offer until the end of August, with double rooms costing Dhs1,091 per night. 14 rue Stanislas, www.hotel-le-six.com (+33 1 4222 0075).