The Mesmerizing Saint-Denis France
Paris is a city with a reputation for being the perfect place to fall in love (maybe because the Eiffel tower looks like a giant robot “pp”). I decided to go off the beaten path, into unknown territory, Saint-Denis. Going into the unknown is sometimes scary. Fortunately, I was with Lea, a beautiful and smart girl who, though was a couple cm shorter than me, made me feel safe.
Saint-Denis is a suburb of Paris that is often overlooked by tourists. Rich in the ancient history of past Kings and birthplace of Gothic art as well as the royal necropolis of France. This location is probably most notorious for where to find the Stade de France (football stadium). Though, there are a few other intriguing delights with visiting this place.
The ancient city home to past Royals
One of the centerpieces of the area is the Basilica Cathedral, a highly sacred site of France. I was built atop of the tomb of St Denis (a 3rd-century martyr who got beheaded by evil Romans). The majority of Frances queens and kings are buried here, including Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. They were executed during the France Revolution. Click here for more insight into the execution.
The tombs in the crypt are probably the eeriest place I’ve ever visited, especially with the funerary art showcased everywhere, but Lea held my hand all the way down. I felt so lucky to have in my company such a beautiful and fearless girlfriend. The interior of the building is more gothic than Marilyn Manson on Halloween.
A large outdoor and indoor market was waiting for me outside of the cathedral. The area is home to many different ethnic groups providing goods on an international scale and reflected the tastes of the neighborhood. A few blocks away is a flea market known as ‘Puces de Paris.’ If you aren’t a fan of antiques or rare collectibles, then avoid it though it’s one of the largest antique markets in the world, so you will likely find something.
Lea and I made a new friend through the website penpal, her name was Pascaline, and she was more than eager to give us a tour of the city. We eventually decided to do a double-date with Pascaline and her boyfriend in a local café. Four of us talked for a few hours about how impressive the city’s architecture was, almost reminiscent of an episode of Game of Thrones. The double date was splendid, and we got invited to Pascalines home the next day.
I think it was the first time in months when I got invited to a local’s home, but I wasn’t going to decline the offer. Travelling is all about new experiences, right? She cooked for us a lot of traditional food, freshly-baked specialty bread accompanied by lush spreads, salad, and a rich, fruity cake that I can’t remember. The evening took a random yet fun turn when we were invited to make smoothies but French style. We thanked our new chums and said goodbye, thinking about how such acts of kindness are hard to forget.
Football is huge in France (as in most countries in the world). The 80,000-seat football stadium known as Stade de France was giant for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. The tour I went on lasted only 90 mins, but I got a glimpse behind the scenes. I learned about how the venue is also used for concerts. I felt as though Lea was bored during the tour until it was finally over. If you are reading this, sorry for dragging you along! I purchased a few merchandises and enjoyed a snack from one of the kiosks outside before setting off to the next thing on my list, the Museum of Art and History.
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire is southwest of Basilica Cathedral and inside a restored convent, an ancient one (founded in 1625). Lots of modern art, surrealism, portraits, illustrations, and politically charged posters. It was invigorating, impressive, and ingenious all at the same time.
Locals were nothing like the stereotypical status-quo
Parisians are occasionally uptight, unfriendly, and look at you with a sarcastic smile when you try to talk French. Though not all Parisians, this is one of the typical stereotypes tourists witness when in the city. Saint-Denis is different, the locals here come from communities with shared values and ideas.
The locals I met at the market were inquisitive, they could tell I was a tourist (maybe because I had a giant backpack), and they seemed sincere too. I was looking at a few coats when the seller approached me with a smile. She said, “this would look great on you” she then affectionately approached me with the coat to try it on. It’s possible that it was a sales tactic or that she was genuine, either way, I got a new coat AND for an excellent price too.
Walking around Saint-Denis, I found a duality in its people. The contrast between locals talking loudly on their phones as they stampeded around to reserved, quiet locals curiously watching from a distance.
Cuisine with a hint of personality
French food is always good quality, delicious, and nourishing. I sometimes would reminisce about a meal, remembering the delicate flavors and how good it made me feel.
Lea and I visited a restaurant called Sacrée fleur. It was a cozy and quaint spot. We treated ourselves to Foie Gras (a must when in France). The waiter was humorous and outgoing. He recommended a few signature dishes to try since Lea and I were new to the area.
Breakfast in Saint-Denis consists of a lot of fluffy bread and tasty spreads. Salmon rillettes is a type of spread made from smoked salmon, chives, lemon juice, olive oil, and paprika (and probably other ingredients that I don’t know). Perfect with a few toasted baguette slices. If you don’t enjoy fish, an alternative called Cervelle de canut is usually available. An impeccable cheese spread seasoned with herbs, salt, pepper, shallots, olive oil, and vinegar.
Of course, no breakfast is complete in France without a croissant or pain au chocolat. Lea adored pain au chocolat, which is basically chocolate bread, made of the same layered doughs as a croissant.
A signature dish of Saint-Denis and perfect for lunch is the delicious Tarte Flambée. It is made of bread dough rolled out very thinly and drenched in fromage blanc or crème fraîche, sliced onions, and lardons.
Crêpes Suzette is a dessert. It consists of crêpe and beurre Suzette (a sauce of caramelized sugar and butter, tangerine or orange juice, zest) prepared in a tableside performance.
The architecture, art, culture, food, and people in Saint-Denis were super awesome. Everything about it was simply mesmerizing. Lea and I had lots of fun there. Special thanks to Pascaline and her boyfriend.
Have you ever visit Saint-Denis? Let me know what your highlights were. Read more blogs like this here. Don’t forget to share this blog with your friends and family. As always, stay safe and have a nice trip 🙂