August is an underrated time to visit Paris. In that month, it seems as though half the city has decamped to the beach. The streets are quiet, the blare of traffic having given way to a kind of Sunday-morning hush. And speaking of mornings, one of the nicest ways to spend it is with a stroll around the Marais in the third and fourth arrondissements. Once home to one of the city’s largest Jewish communities, the neighborhood has in recent years been a center of gay life, and, more recently, the favored haunt of the fashion crowd. There’s great shopping, good food, atmospheric cafés, and cobbled streets. Here are our favorite local spots:
1. Place des Vosges (Metro: Bastille) Admire the vast arcaded square with blue slate roof tiles, which was commissioned by Henri IV in 1605 and inaugurated in 1612. Visit the Victor Hugo Museum at number 6. The building was once home to the great novelist. A few doors down, at number 11, is the former home of the successful courtesan Marion Delorme (1613 –1650) who kept company with some of the leading lights of the era, including George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, Cardinal Richelieu, and Louis II de Bourbon.
2. Rue des Francs Bourgeois, a long narrow street just off the Place des Vosges with many fashionable shops, restaurants, and patisseries. On Sundays, it’s closed to vehicles and turns into a pedestrian street.
3.The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme (71 rue du Temple.) Housed in one of the finest private mansions in Paris, the holdings of this gem of a museum include the archives of the Dreyfus Affair, and art works by Chagall, Modigliani, and other important Jewish artists.
4. The Picasso Museum at 5 rue de Thorigny is another must-see. In addition to major paintings by the Cubist genius, the museum’s permanent collection also has works by Degas, Braque, and Matisse.
5. If looking at so much art quickens your acquisitional appetite, head to Broken Arm (12 rue Perrée). The high-fashion concept store showcases the work of both established designers (Raf Simons, Marni, Philip Lim) and up-and-coming talent in a minimalist white setting.
6. Lunch? L’Ilot (4 rue de la Corderie), serves divine shellfish at reasonable prices. To start try the cod roe taramasalata or the house-smoked salmon rillettes. The oysters with smoked Bordier butter are the stuff of last meals. Same goes for the fish soup, made with wild fish. And for dessert, the kouign amann, a traditional Bretagne cake, is particularly good.
7. Forego coffee and wander over to the nearby Marché des Enfants Rouge. Once there, get in line at the Moroccan food stand, and have a glass or two of excellent fresh mint tea. During off-hours, the owners might let you sit at a table. Otherwise, take it to go and walk on.