The Perfect Day Out in Paris

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The Perfect Day Out in Paris
I’ve now lived in Paris for 32 years and, like most expatriate residents, I have a recurring problem: what to do with family and friends when they come to visit? Of course I can always turn them loose to visit the city’s famous sights, but what if they’ve already seen them? Current exhibitions are only part of the answer, as I baulk at sending them to join long queues or worse still, having to queue with them. Ideally I want to take them somewhere authentically Parisian that most tourists won’t know about and to share with them the sense of discovery that is one of the great rewards of travel. So I have found that the best solution is to show them surprising places I’ve recently discovered. My latest find is at no. 55 bis Rue des Francs Bourgeois in the Marais, a street I have walked down hundreds of times. Last year I noticed a small gateway which I hadn’t seen before and on impulse went inside. Entrance to the Café Griffon and medieval tower. Courtesy of Annabel Simms The entrance led past a tower, the massive base of which turned out to be an astonishing remnant of the 12th century city wall built by Philippe Auguste. Next to the tower was a pillar, an elegant fragment from the 17th century Hotel de Nouvion which once stood here, set on an earlier base with the date 1577 carved into it. The tower is at the corner of a hidden courtyard, with a café inside it. I made a mental note to go back and try the café, but of course I never did. Last week, walking down the same street, I saw a sign for “Crédit Muncipal” above another, larger gateway. I assumed it led to a boring bank but went through it, past the security guards into a courtyard. There I read the fascinating history of the Mont-de-Piété, founded in 1637 as a sort of People’s Bank, offering credit without charging ruinous rates of interest. The Crédit Municipal de Paris, owned by the city, is its direct descendant and operates on similar lines to this day, at the same spot. Then I noticed an archway at the side which looked vaguely familiar. It led into the courtyard with the tower and hidden café which I had found a year earlier. Archway between the Café Griffon and the Crédit Municipal de Paris. Courtesy of Annabel Simms This time I made a note of the address of the café which is opposite the forbidding-looking entrance to the Archives Nationales. Reflecting that I had never set foot inside that building either, and with a family visit looming, I went inside, expecting to find that it wasn’t open to the public. Entrance to the Archives Nationales. Courtesy of Annabel Simms

Lead photo credit : Entrance to the courtyard of the Café Griffon, with medieval tower on the right. Courtesy of Annabel Simms

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Annabel Simms is an English resident of Paris, with over 20 years' experience of exploring the Paris countryside by train, bus, boat and on foot. She is is the author of "An Hour From Paris" (3rd edition 2019) and "Half An Hour From Paris" (2nd edition 2023). Her website is


  • Lois Stewart
    2024-05-19 12:19:25
    Lois Stewart
    Annabel, if you have a newsletter, would you please add me to it. I have noted your website. I thoroughly enjoyed your article. Lois Stewart


  •  Marilyn Brouwer
    2023-06-08 04:51:48
    Marilyn Brouwer
    Fascinating article Annabel! Will follow your footsteps next time I'm in Paris. Thank you


    • 2023-06-15 02:53:47
      Thanks for the feedback, Marilyn. Am glad you liked it!