Back to the boulevards

29th August 1997 at 01:00
Walk around Passy, Paris Caroline St John-Brooks

It was a sultry afternoon as we set off - after a lunch of salade Nicoise, lemon tart, and a couple of glasses of wine - to wander dreamily round Passy. When I was living in Paris, this little area - just across the river from the Eiffel Tower but relatively unexplored by visitors to Paris - was my home territory. Today my 12-year-old daughter and I are revisiting old haunts.

We start from the Metro stop at Trocadero which, while reduced to a huge roundabout by the swirling Parisian traffic, retains that stunning view of the Eiffel Tower framed by the two wings of the Palais de Chaillot. Having survived the swarms of camera-toting tourists and suicidal skateboarders, we walk south down rue Benjamin Franklin, passing his statue as we go - a reminder of past close ties between France and the US as a result of their common revolutionary heritage.

At place de Costa Rica, we bear right into rue de Passy, a crowded shopping street which used to be the main thoroughfare of the village from which this area developed. Today, rue de Passy, set in the upmarket 16th arrondissement, boasts some of the smartest shopping in town. We confine ourselves to gazing in the windows of exclusive boutiques with names like Infinitif and Bisou Bisou (Kiss Kiss). But soon we are enticed into Zephora, an Aladdin's cave of coloured oils and gels and unguents displayed and illuminated like jewels. This is the place to indulge in a free squirt of French perfume and buy some Roger Gallet soap. We issue forth into the burning street feeling cooler and a great deal more sophisticated.

Halfway down the street we come to the place de Passy, where the local restaurant spreads its tables and awnings among the trees and over the cobbles - but it seems self indulgent to stop for refreshment quite so soon. Opposite is a newly opened branch of McDonald's - greatly disapproved of by British and Americans living in the area; but the Parisians (who have tiny kitchens in their apartments and seem to do as little cooking as possible) think it is great. So do their kids.

At the end of rue de Passy - having passed staggeringly expensive shops such as Kenzo and MaxMara - we cross the road opposite La Muette Metro station, and find ourselves in chausee de la Muette. There we marvel at one of those stunning window displays of French patisserie - tiny, gleaming mouthfuls, sweet or savoury. Martha, my daughter, yields and buys an opera - something rich and dark and chocolaty with gold decorations. A few steps further on in the heat and I give way too; we sit down at the Parc de la Muette cafe and drink citron presse at one of its cramped little pavement tables, watching the world go by.

We continue west down chausee de la Muette, soon turning right on to the sandy path which leads through the jardin du Ranelagh, with children playing sedately and a puppet theatre (performances twice every afternoon during the school holidays). Crossing the avenue Prudhon brings us to the Musee Marmottan in rue Louis-Boilly - small and relatively unknown but full of treasures. My favourites are Monet's visionary waterlily paintings, displayed in a cool underground gallery where you can lose yourself in the impression of tangled light, water and flowers.

Walking back towards Trocadero, we take a different route through the gardens, passing the vast statue of La Fontaine with the fox and the cheese, and wander through the backstreets back to the place de Passy - where you can stop and buy plasters for your blistered heels from the pharmacie on the corner.

Don't miss the traditional covered market across the road from the chemist, or rue de l'Annonciation, which (except on Sunday afternoons and Mondays) is a bustling market street, full of fruit and vegetables, sea food, meat and game. I once saw a wild boar hanging from a hook outside, alongside the hare and pheasant. A La Ferme de Passy sells cheese, Jeff de Bruges sells Belgian chocolates, and the Alain Foret boulangerie bakes fresh baguettes throughout the day, perfuming the street every time they open the oven.

At the end of the street we peer at Balzac's house in rue Raynouard, and then turn left and walk back to Trocadero via boulevard Delessert, taking in the carousel down by the pont d'Iena before climbing up past the fountains of the Palais de Chaillot to our starting point. But if your blisters are getting you down, you can stop and have a drink in the place de Passy, retrace your steps to La Muette, and get back on the Metro.

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