A Paris Guide
Gros Caillou

Gros Caillou, Eiffel Tower

Gros Caillou (7th Arrondismont)

I didnít want to stay in the 7th. Actually I didnít want to go to Paris. It was early March and in North Carolina the signs of spring were everywhere. In Paris it was still winter. The forcast was for rain or at least a chance of it every day with highs in the 40s. It sounded miserable to me.

ďSo donít come. Nobody is forcing you.Ē My wife said. But the thought of staying home to feed the cats while the girls ran around Paris, eating, drinking, shopping and spending my money seemed worse.

So after an easy 7 hour flight from RDU, two hours of lines in the airport and an hour and a half drive in the morning traffic of Paris we found ourselves at the Hotel de Alma, on a small side street off rue Grenelle. The lobby was large enough for a concierge desk, a couch, a couple chairs, and a computer that shared space with an electric shoe shine machine. The rooms were small, not much bigger than the bed, the walls thin enough to hear your neighbors conversation, but it was clean and the bathrooms were nice. It was also cheap, not surprising since it only had a 7.8 rating on Bookingdotcom which was of some concern to me since my rule was not to stay at or recommend any hotel below an 8 regardless of any redeeming qualities. But in retrospect the hotel was better than its rating and anyway we had gotten a deal because Andreaís sister Pamela came for the anual ICOMOS convention and stayed there regularly. She was also meeting us there when she arrived a couple hours after us. But at the moment we could not see the rooms or plop ourselves down on the beds because it was at least an hour til check-in so we dumped our bags in the luggage storage room and set out looking for coffee.

Cafe Caillou

The first place we stumbled into was the Cafe Caillou which was just around the corner on rue de Grenelle and was in as much a discombobulated state as we were. They were between the last breakfast customers and the first lunch customers, and the arrival of cases of vegetables, meat, fish and other supplies that were loaded on to a dumbwaiter (hidden among the tables) to be taken to the storage and prep cooking area in the basement. But the manager got us coffee and then we ordered a snack which turned into lunch, which demanded wine, and so by noon we were eating our first French meal and by the time we left several hours later we had made friends with everyone in the restaurant and planned to come back for dinner so we could order whatever was left on the menu that we hadnít eaten at lunch. When I realized the delicious wine I was drinking was from a winery called Mathieu Barret it seemed like a good omen for the rest of the trip. So instead of resting in my room I grabbed my camera and wandered over to check out Rue Cler to see the shops and cafes and the Champs de Mars to take photos of the Eiffel Tower. Yes, we did return to Cafe Caillou that night to continue where we left off and for several other nights. And that first night after eating and drinking and not wanting it all to end we went to Ha Penny Bridge Pub, a cool neighborhood Irish pub of the sort every city, town, village or neighborhood should be required to have where everyone was watching the local football team (Saint Germaine).

Invalides

The neighborhood of  Gros Caillou is within a larger area known as Invalides. It sits between the historical military hospital which is now a War Museum, and the Champs de Mars which is the long rectangular park where the Eiffel Tower is located. The Hotel des Invalides (not a hotel where you stay, thatís just what they call official buildings) also contains the graves of many of Franceís most famous military officers, including the Emperor Napoleon. It is seperated from the River Seine by another long rectangular park where people flocked whenever the sun happened to come out. Though from this angle it looks like one building the gold domed church is actually behind the hospital. It was built in 1677 for Louis XIV and was the tallest building in Paris until they built the Eiffel Tower. After the revolution it became a Temple to Mars and Napoleon turned it into a Pantheon of Military Glories in 1800. Napoleon died in exile on the island of Saint Helena in 1840 but King Louis-Philippe brought his body here in 1861. If you walk to the river from Invalides you come to Ponte Alexander III.

So in between these two long parks and major historical monuments is a neighborhood of old apartment buildings, several boulevards, and lots of small streets full of shops, restaurants, cafes, offices, schools, and a dozen or so small hotels.

Eiffel Tower

Because Gros Caillou is the neighborhood of the Eiffel Tower there are a large number of tourists here, though they seem to keep mostly to the big roads along the river, the popular brasseries at the intersections of the boulevards, and at the famous attractions which also include the Rodin Museum and Gardens on the Boulevard des Invalides. The rest of the 7th has the feeling of an authentic Parisian neighborhood that is very different from the busy right and left banks on either side of the Ile de la Cite with its throngs of tourists. The sound of suitcase wheels on the cobblestones of Rue Cler is common, even in March, but if you eavesdrop on the Americans at the next table you might come to the realization that these people might actually live here or at least spend enough time here that they speak French and know the city well enough to pronounce the names of places and things correctly. I canít say how it is in the touristic center but at least in the 7th the feared French waiter who has disdain for the Americans he serves, is non-existant. The waiters, many of whom were not even French, were friendly, helpful and patient beyond what I would be capable of if I were waiting tables in a place as touristy as Paris. Maybe we just chose the right places but I genuinely liked everyone I came into contact with which was for the most part waiters, waitresses and bartenders.

River Seine

The River Seine is the antidote when you get tired of the small streets of the 7th. When I wake up and have had my coffee I feel drawn to the river with its activity and views from the bridges. The pedestrian roads along the banks, (which were under water when we arrived but gradually emerged), are full of joggers, runners and strollers, wheeled and footed. There is barge traffic and tour boats continuously going back and forth. There are several major bridges in the neighborhood like the 19th century Pont dí Lena between the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero Garden. The Pont dí Alma, named for our hotel, connects the Museum of Modern Art with the Paris Sewer Museum. There is also the Pont des Invalides, the 19th Century Pont Alexandre III, one of the most beautiful bridges in Paris and named for the Russian Tzar, built for the Worldís Fair of 1900 and connects the Invalides Park with the glass domed Grand Palais exhibition hall, which was built at the same time. A little further east is the Pont de la Concord which was built in 1791 during the revolution using the stones from the Bastile. It connects the Palais Bourbon (National Assembly building) with the Place de Concord, the enormous public square where King Louis the XVI was executed by guillotine, among many others, during the French Revolution. From here you are a short walk to the Orsay Museum on the south bank and a somewhat longer walk through the 17th Century Tuileries Garden to The Louvre on the Right (north) bank of the Seine.

Rue Cler

Rue Cler

About halfway between the Champs de Mars and Invalides is Rue Cler, a cobbled pedestrian street known for its fruit and vegetable markets, gourmet food shops, restaurants and cafes. The street begins on Rue St-Dominique and ends at Ave de la Motte-Picquet, with the automobile free section beginning at Rue Grenelle. The Cafe Le Roussillon at this intersection has a few outdoor tables and chairs, good food, and a nice working class bar with a view of the street though if you really want to hang out in an outdoor cafe, drink coffee, eat, drink wine and mostly watch people better options for visibility include Cafe du Marche, Le Central, Cafe Le Petit Cler, which have friendly waiters, decent food and ok coffee. (If you are a coffee connoisseur and need a higher grade to get started, the tiny Bleu Olive on Rue Grenelle next to Cafe Roussilon is your closest option or Petibon at 47 Rue Cler. Both have limited seating capacity but really good coffee. I spent a lot of time trying to find a brasserie/cafe that had really good coffee, and actually never did.)

There are several popular bistro restaurants on Rue Cler like Les Telephones, Tribeca, and LíEclair and some of these and the cafes previously mentioned serve breakfast for those who still think it is the most important meal of the day. There are also Italian and Asian restaurants and the intriguing Mon Petit Poulet, a tiny hole-in-the-wall (part of a chain) that proudly exhibited giant slabs of BBQ Ribs, roast rotisserie chicken and other meats that we never managed to eat at though we were tempted daily. But there are too many choices on Rue Cler whether you want a sit down meal or grab something from the gourmet delis, bakeries, wine and cheese shops to eat on a park bench somewhere whether it is in one of the parks or on one of the big avenues watching cars. Try Kavieri Delicatessen at 57 Rue Cler for smoked salmon sandwiches, taramosalata, salads, herring and other things that you can eat now or bring home with you or even eat on the airplane so you donít have to eat the miserable airline food. A last gasp of culinary Paris.

A couple small shops on Rue Cler that may be of interest is La Belle Iloise, the sardine and canned fish store at 30 Rue Cler for those like me who love sardines, mackeral, tuna and other canned delicacies. Then there is the Ulysse en Gaul at #20 which was famous for its crepes when it was a popular restaurant many years ago but is now a Greek delicatessen/food shop. It is full of your favorite Greek products like ouzo, tsipuro, wine, feta cheese, olives, cooked dishes like stuffed peppers and tomatoes, marinated octopus, anchovies and peppers, dolmades, taramosalata, sheep and goat yoghurt kataiffi and Baklava. The shop is owned by an old Greek couple from Samos and Olympia, who seem like people you would meet in a small Greek village, not in the middle of Paris.

Rick Steves has a pocket guide to Paris that features a section on Rue Cler (as well as most of Paris) which I put in my luggage and never saw it again until I came back to America and unpacked. But looking at it now for reference as I try to stimulate my memory it seems pretty useful for a tourist.

Cafe Rossillon

Rue de Grenelle

Though Rue Cler gets all the publicity in the neighborhood, personally I prefer Rue de Grenelle which goes almost from the Champs de Mars all the way to within a couple blocks of Saint Sulpice in Saint-Germaine-des-Pres. Running parallel is Rue Saint-Dominique which connects with the Blvd Saint-Germaine. Both streets are mostly one-way with Grenelle going west and St Dominique going east, and are serviced by the 69 bus which begins at Gambetta Japon and goes all the way to Champs de Mars, passing on the way the Pere Lachaise Cemetery (Jim Morrison, Chopin, Oscar Wilde among others), Place de la Bastile, the Marais, the Louvre, the Orsay Museum, the Invalides Military Museum, and ends at the Eiffel Tower, which makes for a very convenient route.

There are a number of good restaurants, cafes, bars, and food shops on Rue Grenelle including our favorite Cafe Caillou with all their friendly waiters and amazing steaks and bistro food and the best wine list of everywhere we went. Next door is the cool Royale Bar which is similar but with a younger crowd and a bigger bar with seats. Our morning and evening go-to place for coffee and draft Trappist Ale was the working class Cafe Le Roussillon which also has great food.Across the street is the Ha Penny Bridge Club (Irish pub great for watching sports), several small Italian restaurants including the tiny Le Den where I had one of the best pizzas of my life, made by their Bangladeshi cook who I have praised his talents to everyone I have met since. Cloe to our hotel is the the gourmet hamburger joint L'Artison du Burger, where even though I was tempted, we never ate because.... well, who eats burgers in France? (Besides French people and American tourists?) There are tons of food shops including the amazing cheese shop La Fromargerie de Grenelle, one of the best smelling shops in Paris, or the worst if you don't like strong smell cheese. Down the street a few steps is Le Petites Domains Cava, a wine store that will also cook you a meal and do wine pairings seated at their only table. Across the street is Le Manoir, a wine, spirits and fine foods shop where I tasted the best beer of my life (Brasserie Gode). All of these and more are located between the end of Rue Grenelle and the intersection with Rue Cler. Finally, if you leave the friendly confines of Rue de Grenelle and cross the street to 56 Av. de la Bourdonnais you will be rewarded at the best family owned Italian restaurant this side of Napoli called Sapori di Parma whose food and hospitality will make you feel like you are in a village grocery store in southern Italy where they just happen to make the most delicious Italian food you have ever had. All homemade pasta and Italian ingredients.

Fountaine des Mars

On Rue Saint Dominique which runs parallel to Rue de Grenelle there are more shops, bakeries and restaurants including Le Bistro des Fables and their sister restaurant across the street Le Comptoir des Fables, both excellent restaurants with bars worth spending time at and bartenders worth getting to know. Within a few steps of both places are three famous and popular restaurants: La Fontaine des Mars, and La Fontaine de Gros Caillou, on either side of the Fountain of Mars in the place de Gros Caillou (the place of the big rock) for which the area is named. The fountain was built in the early 19th century and usedto provide water to the neighborhood. Across the street is the famous pastry shop Maison Bergeron where on weekends you may see people lined up outside to buy bread, croissants, sandwiches, or the pastries that some have called the best in Paris.

Through the archway behind the fountain is Rue de l'Exposition (where our Hotel D L'Alma was located) where you will find the Michelin Star restaurant Pertinance and a hole-in-the-wall noodle shop called Restaurant 7 Nouilles, one of my favorite Chinese restaurants and the most inexpensive meal I had during my entire stay.

Hotel de la Motte Picquet
Hotel de la Motte Picquet

Hotels

We stayed in the Hotel D L'Alma because my sister-in-law stayed there every year for her ICOMOS meetings and said it was fine, even though its review score on Booking.com was lower than anywhere I had ever stayed anywhere. I fought against it, mainly because it did not have a bar, but the girls said there were so many cool places in the neighborhood it didn't need one. The rooms were small, like many Paris hotels, but I had to admit it did not deserve the low rating and I was quite comfortable in mine. And the good news is that it was cheap. The bad news is that it was sold the last day we were there and the prices are going up. It was such a surprise that the staff, who we had gotten to know, were actually crying that day, not knowing what the future will hold for them with plans of a major rennovation after the Olympics. (No reason to rennovate before since people will pay big money for just about anywhere to stay during the Olympics). But overall I would have to say don't let low review scores scare you away from a hotel. Assume hotels will lost points because of small rooms, small breakfasts and the fact that some people leave terrible reviews that a hotel pay not deserve. Spend more time looking at individual reviews than basing your decision on the overall score if you want to find a nice hotel for not too much money.

There are other hotels in the neighborhood with higher scores and higher prices, some three times what we paid. Hotel de la Paix Tour Eiffel, is on a small street right off Rue Grenelle. The Cler Hotel, the Grande Hotel Leveque and Hotel Le Beaugency, are all coveniently located on Rue Cler, get good reviews and don't cost an arm and a leg, just a few fingers. The Hotel de la Motte Picquet is right at the entrance of Rue Cler. The Hotel Tour Eiffel is located on the same street as our hotel and like ours has an internal garden courtyard (though in March we didn't even venture into it). The Hotel Relais Bosquet by Malone (the company who bought our hotel) has quiet rooms and like almost every hotel free internet. The Hotel Amelie is one of the least expensive hotels in the neighborhood though no mention of air-conditioning or an elevator. So if it matters to you make sure the hotel you book has a lift, especially if you tend to forget things when you go out and need to go back for them. Also air-conditioning is pretty essential these days with global warming or whatever we care calling it. That goes for apartments too of which there are many available in the area.

Click here to find more hotels and Air BnB style apartments in the neighborhood.

Eiffel Tower, Seine

In Summary
So if you are looking for an area to stay that will feel more Parisian and less touristy than the center of Paris, Gros Caillou might be a good place to stay. If you are in reasonably good shape you can walk to the Eiffel Tower (5 minutes), Invalides and Napoleon's Tomb (10 minutes), The River Seine (10 minutes), Place de Concord (15 minutes), Rodin Museum and Gardens (10 minutes), Orsay Museum (15 minutes), The Louvre (30 minutes), Montparnasse (20 minutes), Left Bank and Latin Quarter (40 minutes) and Le Marais (45 minutes). And of course you don't have to walk since all these places can be reached by bus, metro and taxi. The restaurants are great, the ones we went to anyway, and there is enough streetlife to make sitting in a cafe interesting whether it is day or night. And if you have an apartment with a kitchen you will love shopping for dinner.

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