Picnicking is one of the most visible summer traditions in Paris, and early fall is not too late to enjoy this pastime. Strolling along the banks of the Seine or through the city’s picturesque parks and ponts, you will inevitably come across large groups of friends of every age, gathered around a picnic basket, laughing, chatting, eating and drinking.
The Champ de Mars facing the Eiffel Tower, is a popular picnic spot, and the Pont des Arts, in the 1st arrondissement, is popular among students and international twenty somethings. Arrive early, as it becomes more difficult every minute to find a spot among the revelers on the bridge, who sit around in groups, eating, drinking, smoking, playing the guitar and singing along.
The banks of the Seine are lively at sunset, those parallel to Quai St. Michel are usually packed with large groups of friends late into the evening, and under the Pont au Double near Notre Dame, the atmosphere is peaceful and romantic. The crowd is diverse and pleasant over on Ile St. Louis, and if you settle in close enough to the Pont Saint Louis, you may be able to enjoy live music with your picnic, as musicians busk for change on the bridge above you. If you run out of provisions, the famous Maison Berthillon, located at 29-31, rue saint Louis en l’ile, is just upstairs and is well known for its ice creams and sorbets. I am a huge fan of both the mandarin and rhubarb sorbets, and the iced chestnut ice cream is “pas mal”.
The Canal St. Martin is hip for a picnic, or just generally hanging around, and once the sun sets, there are plenty of bars and restaurants to continue on to. I like Chez Prune at 36 rue Beaurepaire in the 10th for the friendly bartenders and the diverse crowd. Parks are also ideal for picnics during the day. For a list of green spaces in Paris, visit: http://www.paris.fr/portail/Parcs/Portal.lut?page_id=4952. I can recommend Butte Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement, or the Jardins des Tuileries to the east of Place de la Concorde.
Enough about where to picnic. Now? What to bring?! The best thing about a picnic is that it can be as low or high budget as you like; as simple or as elaborate as you have the time for. Chances are if you’re on holiday in Paris, you’ve got the time to prepare carefully (it’s worth it). Everything you need may be found at any of the supermarkets around the city, but who knows when you’ll be back in Paris, so it’s worth taking advantage of little shops and markets.
You’ll be able to smell the fromageries a mile away – don’t resist stopping in to pick up a selection of delicious cheeses. On Rue du Commerce in the 15th arrondissement, there are several excellent fromageries, all of which are just a hop skip and a jump from the Eiffel Tower (ok, maybe a little bit further, but not by much). I like Camembert, obviously, (who doesn’t?) and Saint Albray, Roquefort, and Chevre. Who am I kidding? I like them all, but you can’t go wrong with a good Coulommier.
The charcuterie has a variety of pâté (try the pâté de foie, or mousee de canard, and don’t forget the cornichons please), meats and already prepared foods are ideal for the lazy picnicker. Grapefruits stuffed with shrimp and avocado salad are easy to find, and refreshing for a summer or early fall picnic. After a stop at your local epicerie for fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, the boulangerie for a baguette, and the caviste’s for a bottle of chilled rosé or two, you will be ready to picnic with the best of them. Don’t forget your sunglasses, don’t forget a corkscrew. And please, don’t litter. Bon pique-nique.