I never get tired of spending time in Paris. I don’t think I’d want to live there full-time, but I sure do love visiting and I like to visit a lot. One of my favorite spots is rue Montorgueil, a huge pedestrian only cobblestone market street that spans the 1st and 2nd arrondissements, running from rue Réaumur down to the Forum des Halles. It is full of restaurants, cafés, bars, flower shops, hardware stores, clothing boutiques, pharmacies and just about every kind of food shop you can imagine. Fruit and vegetable stands, bakeries, patisseries, fish stores, cheese shops, chocolate shops, butcher shops, delis, wine shops. You name it, it’s here. And it’s not just a shopping street, rue Montorgueil is also a place where Parisians go to socialize and catch up with each other. It’s almost always packed full of shoppers. Yet, surprisingly enough, not a lot of visitors know about it. When Carole and I are in Paris we often stay at a small hotel called Hôtel Bonne Nouvelle which is right around the corner from rue Montorgueil. Every time I walk down this bustling street I almost always discover something new.
[more info after the photo gallery]
A Little History
We can trace the roots of rue Montorgueil back to 1183 when King Philippe Auguste created Les Halles, the huge central Paris marketplace. Rue Montorgueil developed into the main road leading to the market from the north. The name “montorgueil” dates back to the 13th century when it was originally “Mount Orgueilleux” (Mount Pride) because the street at the time led up to a small hill at nearby rue Beauregard. In Les Miserables Victor Hugo says that the street owes it name to the instrument used to carry heavy loads, a device then known as “l’orgueil.”
In the middle ages, rue Montorgueil was nothing more than an open air dump site for Parisians. It is first mentioned in a manuscript from April 1636 where it was described as “dirty, muddy, with several piles of rubbish.” The garbage piles eventually became so big that it actually changed the landscape of the area, creating a large vertical drop-off (which has since disappeared). By 1820 the height of the garbage dump had reached over 16 meter (52 feet)!
Nuns from the order of the Visitation of Saint Mary apparently settled on the street in 1660 though they moved on about 13 years later. The oldest literary and scientific journal in France, the Journal des Savants, had a house in the street in 1665.
In 1750 two men, Bruno Lenoir, a shoemaker and Jean Diot, a servant, were arrested and burned alive in Place de Grève on the grounds of homosexuality. In October 2014 a plaque was installed at the intersection of rue Bachaumont and rue Montorgueil to pay tribute to the two men, the last men ever executed for homosexuality in France.
Balzac wrote about Au Rocher de Cancale, a restaurant on rue Montorgueil that opened in 1804, in his 1843 novel Honorine. “Ah, to find Paris again! Do you know what that means, dear Parisians? It is to find… the cuisine of the Rocher de Cancale, as prepared by Borel for gourmets so lucky to appreciate it, for it only exists on Rue Montorgueil.” The restaurant is still there today (though it changed locations in 1846) and still just as popular.
Claude Monet painted the street in 1878, titling his painting “La Rue Montorgueil.” It reflects the street during the French national holiday (14 juillet) and it is filled with a long line of French flags.
There’s way too many fabulous shops on rue Montorgueil to list in an article like this. But, I will point out a few of my favorites, starting from the north end and working our way down to Les Halles. It’s a bit confusing, but the first part of the street, right after the big trellis announcing that you are on rue Montorgueil is actually rue des Petits Carreaux. The closest metro stations are Les Halles or Étienne Marcel on the southern end of the street and Sentier at the northern end.
Don’t let the fact that Eric Kayser (16 Rue des Petits Carreaux) is a chain of boulangeries and patisseries throughout France scare you away, they have wonderful, delicious products. Definitely the high end of “chain” bakeries. In fact, there are stores located in countries all over the world. Located right on the north end of rue Montorgueil I often stop here for a “tarte au chocolat” or a “pain au chocolat.” Very good bread, tartes au citron and croissants as well. Other good boulangeries include Boulangerie Blouet (4 Rue des Petits Carreaux) and Maison Collet (100).
If you’re looking for cheese, you’ve got two great options pretty close to each other. Fromages et Détail (8 Rue des Petits Carreaux) and La Fermette (86). Both are fairly small stores but each has a great selection of cheese. La Fermette seems to be a bit more favored by the locals and also offers a wide choice of cold meats, creams and dairy products and a delicatessen items. Another popular shop is Cul de Cochon (98).
There are several great chocolate stores on the street, but one of my favorites is À la Mère Famille (82). It’s part of a small chain of about a dozen stores throughout Paris. It’s a family run business headed up by Étienne Dolfi and his four children. You’ll find a wonderful selection of chocolates of course, but also lots of spreads and jams, calissons, pommes candies, grignotines, pastries and even ice cream. There are many different types of pre-packaged boxes that are perfect gifts and presents. If chocolate is your thing, also check out Leonidas (4 Rue des Petits Carreaux) Charles Chocolatier (15).
If you’re after fresh fruit and/or vegetables Le Palais du Fruit (62-74) is the place for you. You will find lots of quality fruits and vegetables that vary with the seasons. Eric Croizet, the owner, chooses his producers very carefully and favors French products. Fresh shipments come in twice a day, 6 days a week. They also sell lots of dried and dehydrated fruits.
Le Compas (62) is a very popular and authentic Parisian bistro, a great place for lunch, dinner or just a drink with friends. They are open continuously from 6AM to 2AM and serve a great selection of dishes that range from burgers to croques to pastas with salads and meat and fish selections as well. Le Petits Carreaux is another popular brasserie (17 rue des Petitis Carreaux).
La Maison Stohrer (51) is supposedly the oldest pastry shop in Paris, dating back to 1730. Nicolas Stohrer was the pastry chef to Marie Leszczynska, daughter of King Stanislas of Poland. When she married Louis XV she brought him with her to Versailles and he opened his shop five years later on rue Montogrueil. Today it is still one of the most well known and prestigious patisseries in all of Paris and still resides in its original location. Parisians and visitors alike come from all over, at all times of the day to purchase some of the delicious confections made on site (the “baba au rhum” was created here). It’s a bit more expensive than some of the other patisseries on the street, but that’s to be expected. Queen Elizabeth II paid the shop a visit in 2004.
Just a few doors down from La Maison Stohrer is Fou de Pâtisserie (45). In just a couple of steps we’ve gone from one of the oldest, most storied pâtisseries in Paris to one of the newest, most cutting edge. Fou de Pâtisserie is different than most pastry shops in France. It’s a collective, a multi-chef pastry shop with over twenty chefs contributing some of the most unique, innovative and “avant-garde” patisseries in France. Macarons, chocolates, madeleines and more arrive each morning to provide customers with a truly unique selection of sweets.
Les Jardins d’Anaïs (52) is a wonderful little local flower shop with lots of loose flowers and beautiful arrangements. You can order just about type of arrangement you’d like.
L’Escargot Montorgueil (38) is one of the most popular restaurants in Paris. Established in 1832, over the years the restaurant has served the likes of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Charlie Chaplin, Jean Cocteau and Marcel Proust as satisfied customers. There is a painting on the ceiling of the entrance by Georges Clairin which once resided on the ceiling of Sarah Bernhardt’s dining room. If you want real, honest l’escargot this is said to be the place to go, though being vegetarian, I can’t vouch for this.
For lunch or a light dinner my favorite place is Caldo Freddo (34) a terrific little sandwich and pizza shop serving authentic Italian food. Lots of choices for pizza as well as panini and focaccia sandwiches. It’s a very casual place with a nice dining room upstairs where you can relax and eat or some tables on the street in front if you want to watch the people passing by.
There are also several very well known meat and fish stores on the street, but since I don’t eat meat or fish I’ll leave it to others to help you with those.
More to Visit
If you make a visit to rue Montorgueil spend a little time on some of the neighboring streets as well. Over the past few years numerous shops, cafés and restaurants have opened up along rue Saint-Sauveur, rue Bachaumont, rue Greneta and rue Mandar, among others.
There is also one of the fabulous “covered streets” of Paris, the Passage du Grand Cerf, very close by.
The huge Saint-Eustache church, known for its organ concerts, can be found at the southern end of the street and is well worth a visit. Built between 1532 and 1632, it is considered as a masterpiece of late Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Young Louis XIV received communion there and Mozart also chose the sanctuary for his mother’s funeral. The outside of the church has been recently cleaned and repaired.
The Tour Jean-sans-Peur (Tower of John the Fearless), a medieval tower erected in the 15th century by “Fearless John,” the Duke of Burgundy, is just a short walk away. For a small fee you can visit some of the original rooms by climbing a spiral staircase. It’s almost unknown by tourists, so well worth a stop.
If you like to shop in malls you’re right next door to Les Halles, one of the largest indoor shopping malls in central Paris.