A dreamy day to wander – or so I had hoped. Despite the weather’s utmost efforts to thwart our meandering mood, Dan and I wrap ourselves in copious layers, ready to face the bitter, unrelenting wind that raps unwelcomingly upon our sixth-floor apartment window. No matter, I set my woollen beret on a fashionably jaunty angle, and we venture forth in the direction of something deliciously warming to eat. A dreamy day to wander, indeed!
With hair tucked firmly underneath the safety of our hats, and coats fastened securely at our chests, we battle the elements with optimism, heading in the direction of the Jardin du Luxembourg, the city’s sprawling public garden inspired by the elegance and grandeur of the Boboli Gardens in Florence. A teeny sliver of enamel-blue, shaped like a single, solitary eyelash, streaks the otherwise ominous sky, encouraging us to push on. A smattering of lovely, cosy looking cafés along the way attempt to lure us inside with their steaming cups of something hot and entice us with convivial atmospheres. However, on the recommendation of a friend, we forge on in search of a tiny little eatery which, I am assured, will be worth the wait.
A few doors down from Debauve & Gallais, one of France’s most revered and delectable chocolatiers – and undoubtedly one of our strongest temptations along the way – we find our welcome breakfast establishment. Saint Pearl, as its eponymous name suggests, is a jewel amongst the lovely, yet undoubtedly homogenous Paris bistro scene. The café, at home inside a slender 18th century stone building along the rue des Saints-Pères, nestles perfectly within its elegant surrounds. The original rough stone walls of the interior and the exposed, time-worn wooden beams feel decidedly more Mediterranean than Parisian, lending the space a light and airy atmosphere. We settle down at a cosy table for two and watch with awe as the petite Japanese girl, the only waitress on duty, whizzes around the tiny, heaving space with ease and graceful efficiency. I select an unusual, yet utterly delicious dish of Seoul pancakes: a perfectly poached egg on a fluffy, savoury pancake with a side of crispy bacon, wild shitake mushrooms, roasted baby carrots, and a smattering of toasted hazelnuts – superb! I need a moment or two to luxuriate in my food induced bliss.
Unable – or unwilling – to resist, and despite our satiated state, we surrender to the seduction of Debauve & Gallais, whose gilded lettering above the entryway makes it feel like we are stepping into a giant chocolate box, which invariably we are. The glistening glass surface of the curvaceous counter gleams so brightly that it must be polished at least a dozen times a day. It becomes a window into chocolate heaven; so bountiful are its alluring contents. Encased within this protective glass home lies an assortment of bite-sized, jewel-like chocolates, so carefully displayed they look like precious gems. Clusters of roasted almonds dipped in exotic dark chocolate overflow from an upturned, beautifully illustrated box with Art Nouveau-style depictions of arching black cats amidst a border of golden swirls. Mounds of cocoa-dusted chocolate truffles look almost too beautiful to eat, their roughly hewn, dusty-red exterior reminds me of the otherworldly surface of the slopes of Mount Etna; little volcanoes in edible form.
We select two volcanic truffles, one milk chocolate caramel nougatine, and a perfectly formed round globe adorned with two tiny gold leaves – so miniscule that anyone over seventy might require a strong prescription to see them. They accompany us on our way towards the Jardin du Luxembourg, where they will be devoured most vigorously underneath the embrace of some grand old tree.
The gardens, which cover twenty-five hectares of land, are divided into two traditional garden designs: French and English. The formal French gardens, with their orderly lines of plane, chestnut, and lime trees all in perfect symmetry are a striking contrast to the looser, flowing style adopted in the English gardens, where a mass of yellow daffodils bolt across the lawn, with little regard to balance or form.
You can extract a slice of England and deposit it inside these majestic gardens, yet the overall space remains purely French in aesthetics. The ubiquitous army-green metal chairs that grace many of the city’s parks and gardens are scattered throughout the greenspace, ready for weary tourists and lunching Parisians to take respite. These rigid and uncomfortable looking chairs, painted in that drab green: the colour of an army tank, look formidable strewn about singularly. Yet arranged together, even haphazardly, amongst the loveliness of the rest of the grounds, seem an elegant addition to an already gracious space.
The wind has blown away the clouds revealing a crisp blue sky, dotted only here and there with translucent whisps of cloud that look more like fluffy cotton balls than anything that might cause us any harm. Energised by the promise of a true spring afternoon, and awakened by our tasty chocolate jewels, we stroll towards the Jardin des Tuileries, the splendid public garden between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde. Strolling through the sun-dappled pathways, with darling birdsong and couples strolling arm-in-arm, it is hard to imagine that this was ground zero for the French Revolution, as well as the official residence of French kings and queens.
It seems Parisians, much like Londoners, relish any chance to luxuriate in their ever-elusive sun. Despite the still relatively cool temperatures, local office workers on their lunchbreaks have taken up residence among the smattering of chairs, their faces turned towards the warming light like a field of sunflowers basking in the midday sun. This elusive season is changing before our eyes as we wander the gravelled pathways that circle the generous garden beds. Soon the bare trees, still slumbering from a long and bitter winter, will flourish with fresh new greenery, and the lolly-coloured spring bulbs that punctuate the lawn will give over to a blaze of summery flowers in a riot of yellows and red.
Finding solace at the edge of the grand park, we settle in at an outdoor café for a glass of something special. Dan orders a paper-thin crepe filled generously with cheese and ham, while I choose a very French tarte au citron, whose globular form is so bright and yellow it looks like the sun has been captured and placed upon my complimentary sky-blue plate. We enjoy a quiet reflective moment facing the surrounding garden as it extends outwards before us and observe the transient sunshine and changing elements in this glorious city of light.