One of my absolute favorite things to do when it is sunny and warm in Paris is to spread out a huge tablecloth on the grass—under a shade tree—and have a picnic.
It doesn’t have to be fancy; a baguette, a stinky piece of cheese, a bottle of wine, and I’m good. On the other hand, nibbling on a huge buffett for hours while laughing with friends is one of the great pleasures of life.
People have been picnicing in France since at least 1692; when the word “pique-nique” entered into the French dictionary during Louis XIV’s reign. Today’s French dictionary (LAROUSSE) defines it as a “meal taken outdoors during a walk.”
After 8 years of living in France, I think I’ve gotten better at picnicking. I’ve learned from my French friends, had lots of trial & error, and forgotten the same thing enough times that I don’t anymore.
What I put together here is my own “Perfect” Picnic in Paris guide. Each year I update it with any new, little things that I’ve learned. This 2021 version is post-COVID so it includes a few tips for dealing with that. Read through and take a few notes. It will take all the stress out of planning or having your impromptu picnic in Paris.
Table of Contents
THE "ONE-STOP SHOPPING" PICNIC
You can put together an “impromptu” picnic from what you can buy at any medium-to large-size supermarket like Monoprix, Franprix, Super U, Carrefour, Lidal, A2pas, LeaderPrice, or G20. Don’t worry about finding one. One of the things that struck me when I first moved to Paris was how there was one of these supermarkets every 2-3 blocks in every direction. Note that they can be deceivingly small on the outside and vast—including multiple floors—on the inside.
Here are the three main categories for what you will need and my tips / recommendations:
The first thing before I leave for a picnic is to gather up the picnic items I already have. Depending on how big of a deal the picnic is, I think of each of the following:
- Something to sit on – a large blanket or tablecloth…the bigger the better. It’s maybe not a critical item but, especially if you’re going to be on grass, it certainly will help keep everything together and make your photo memories prettier.
- Utensils – plastic cups, plates, and eating utensils: forks, spoons and something to cut and/or spread cheese. If possible, make the knife metal because those little plastic ones don’t cut hard cheese or charcuterie very well. If you bring a sharp knife, wrap it in a dishtowel.
- Hardware – bring along a corkscrew for wine or a bottle opener for beer. You can buy them at any major grocery store, “convenience” shops, or wine shops. Wine shops will usually open any bottle you buy from them before you leave.
- Water reserve – I like to put a large bottle of water in the freezer the day before a picnic—emptied a little so it doesn’t expand and explode—and bring it along. This gives you a block of ice for keeping things cool and after several hours, you’ll have ice water to drink or wash your hands.
- Transport – heavy-duty sack or a couple of backpacks. Remember that wine/water bottles quickly get heavy so it’s best to plan on having at least a couple of sacks for everything.
- Cold transport – if you’re going a long way or want to serve cold food or wine, a nylon cooler with that frozen bottle of water inside is your best bet. The frozen food store, Picard, sells these but if you are renting an apartment, ask your host if they have one so you don’t have to buy it.
This is my complete list of food options for a “basic” picnic. They are things that most every supermarket will have and are tested and approved by me. Use this as a jumping-off point for your own perfect mis en scene. I recommend you pick a couple items from each category if you’re not sure:
- CHEESE: aged Comté (12-24 months), Saint-Félicien, Roquefort, Camembert/Brie (i love “Le Rustique” because the taste is more “cru”) …don’t try to keep the cheeses cold. French cheeses are better after at least an hour out of the refrigerator
- and/or, anything “spreadable” like Cancoillotte d’ail (con-co-yotte)…a gooey cheese, like fondu
- and/or anything tartiné…especially for crackers
- Charcuterie: (sliced packaged meats) rosette, prosciutto, mortadella, serrano ham, etc
- and/or, rillettes: my favorite is the roasted chicken “roti poulet”)
- and/or, thinly sliced saumon: just be careful how long it’s going to be away from the refrig
- Veggies: baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, radishes, etc.
- Fruits: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches, plums, etc. – whatever is in season
- Dessert: if you’re not planning on stopping by a boulangerie, pick something that looks good from the cookie isle or, there are often tartes and other desserts that are made in-store
- Bread: usually near the front of the store, you can find baguettes. They’re not quite as good as from a bakery on the street, but still good. They’ll be easier to find before lunch and more difficult in the afternoon. I’m not even going to mention that you can find sliced “American” bread in the store…because you’re in France. Eat a baguette! 😜
- Pre-made Things: sometimes in multiple places throughout the store, you can find hummus, couscous, olives (sometimes 3-4 places throughout the store!), salads, potato/ham salad (i love this stuff!), or even gazpacho that you could serve in cups.
- also, chips, crackers, breadsticks, etc.
The supermarkets in France all sell wine, even on Sundays! Because the French are used to drinking things warm, you won’t find a lot of cold drinks there. Just get things that don’t need to be cold to drink—my favorite is wine!—or buy cold drinks just before you arrive at your picnic. Here are a few ideas for getting your picnic drinks:
- Wine: check in the refrigerator section near the front door for chilled white/rosé wines or Champagne, otherwise pick a red Bordeaux or Côtes-du-Rhône from the wine aisle
- Water: you can find “flat” or bubbly water in the refrigerator section but it will probably be more expensive than in it’s designated area of the store; usually near the sodas
- Limonade/Juice: same as water above
- Bottled Teas: same as water above
- Beer: you will almost never find cold beer at the supermarket—especially a pack—and ice is very hard to find…although, i’ve seen it more and more the last couple of years. i wouldn’t plan on having beer at your picnic.
🧺 WANT TO HAVE A « FANCY » PICNIC ? 🧺
If you want to get romantic or just treat you and your friends to an extra-special moment, you can take some extra time and get everything for your picnic separately. When i have friends or clients in town, this is what i prefer to do. In fact, i’ve done it so many times now, that i have certain things that i get from specific places from all over the city because i really do love picnics in Paris! I give you some of my secrets below.
🥐 BOULANGERIE / PATISSERIE
- Of course, une tradition is the first thing on the list. This is not your ordinary baguette, which is somewhat soft on the outside. This type of baguette, my favorite, is crispy on the outside—especially if you ask for it bien cuite (be-in queet)—and soft on the inside. Perfect for spreading on warm gooey cheese. You can also get your dessert here but keep reading. i have other suggestions below.
- Speaking of cheese…and i love to! The next thing i go after, especially if i’ll be heading directly to the picnic is the cheese shop. This way, while you’re picking up the rest of your list, the cheese has a chance to warm up so it’s ready to eat. The great thing about going to a speciality cheese shop is that you can sample before you buy! For some reason, i have found that most fromagers speak at least a little English. My absolute favorite thing to get is Brie de Melun! (Not de Meaux. That’s just my preference.) When it’s warm and gooey, it’s absolutely sinful. I recommend buying at least one each of cow, goat, and sheep’s milk cheeses if you don’t already have favorites. You don’t have to buy large pieces. Try 4-6 smaller samples.
So now that you have bread and cheese, you could just get a bottle of wine (or two) and that could be your picnic. i’ve had many picnics like this and never had a complaint. 😳 Unfortunately, most wine shops don’t have cold whites or rosés. Don’t ask me why. Grab a Bordeaux or Côtes du Rhône and don’t pay more than 10 euros. TIP: if you don’t have and don’t want to buy a corckscrew, ask the shopkeeper to open the bottle for you before you leave.
- These shops are like fancy delis where you can find pre-made dishes of all sorts—especially vegetarian. Think of pasta salads, mini-quiches, sandwiches, etc. You can also request a “couvert” of plasticware here like at the supermarket. The dishes can end up being expensive but the quality is always good. Just look for the word “traiteur” as you’re walking down the street and you’re bound to find one on almost every block. If you don’t like the look of one, keep going…you’ll find another.
🧁 SPECIALITY DESSERT SHOPS
- So, you could get your dessert with your bread at a boulangerie / patisserie. But, if you really want to get fancy like me, you can find a specific shop that sells a specific type of French pastry. Obviously, in France, the list is endless so let me just tell you a few of my favorite secrets:
- Le Merveilleux de Fred – i absolutely defy you to offer up a more decadent dessert than the Merveilleux de Fred! It’s devilishly delicious and heavenly sinful. (i am NOT joking.) Usually, i prefer to recommend it for a home dessert because it’s a bit fragile. But, you can get a mini version that, if you’re careful, can be transported to a picnic; especially if your mission is only to bring dessert. i prefer the classic chocolate but there are other flavors.
- Choux – there are plenty of places to get these light, fluffy, cream-filled pillows of deliciousness, but—and i’ll admit that i haven’t tried all the speciality shops in Paris—my favorite is Popelini. Because they are bite-sized and bursting with flavor, they are the perfect accompaniment to a picnic sur l’herbe. My advice is to get 2-3 different flavors for *each* person. Then you can cut them in half—remember that knife i told you to bring?—and marvel at the different flavors. The only trick with these is that they’re best served “cool-ish”. So, be careful. You don’t want them warming up all day.
- Macarons – obviously, you can’t come to France without eating a macaron—even just one good one—and as far as i am concerned, Ladurée, Fauchon, and Pierre Hermé take these mini-cookies to a whole new level. But, feel free to search the internet for “best macarons in paris” and find your own.
- Stohrer – if you have no idea what you want and you just want something classically French and delicious, stop by the oldest pastry shop in Paris…only 289 years old. If you can’t find something tempting there, get out of France!! 😜
⚡️ FINAL TIPS
- EXPERT TIP: If you are just one or two people and don’t want to buy a whole set of forks, spoons, etc., ask for a “couvert” (coo – ver) from the cashier or a “deli” person. This is your typical plasticware + napkin in a bag. Supermarkets almost always have them and they’re free! If you’re buying food, a good cashier will notice you’re a tourist and usually offer automatically. If not, just ask.
- Most medium- to large-size supermarkets will have a little rayon (department) somewhere in the store for picnic supplies:
- If it’s hot and you’re craving ice cream, i’d recommend you just plan to walk somewhere after the picnic. 🍦
- Before you sit down for your picnic, make sure you have:
- something to open, your stuff (corkscrew)
- something to cut, your stuff (knife)
- something to drink, your stuff (cups)
- something to eat, your stuff, and (utensils)
- everything made in #FRANCE
- If you don’t mind spending a little extra, you can stop by the two main department stores near the opera house, Printemps and Galleries Lafayette, to do some one-stop-shopping. They both have mini-markets where you can get everything for a picnic. I feel that the market at Galeries Lafayette is better suited for finding picnic items but they’re both good, albeit a little pricey. P.S. If you’re at either of them, be sure to go to their top floor terraces for wonderful views (and photos) of Paris.
- Printemps du Goût is located on the 7th and 8th floors at 64, Boulevard Haussmann
- Le Gourmet at Galeries Lafayette is located on the ground floor and basement at 35 Boulevard Haussmann.
Unfortunately for us last weekend, almost everything in town was closed by 2pm…that’s France!…so we improvised. We picked up a bunch of delicious pre-made things from the Traiteur, bought wine from the Monoprix, and found an ice cream shop that was still open. It wasn’t Berthillon, but it was a GREAT way to start our lunch! 🙊
Whatever you do, if you want to have a picnic while you’re visiting #Paris, plan ahead just a little. But if things go wonky, adjust your plans. There are plenty of places to find things for a picnic. Heck, for me, we could grab a falafel, a bottle of wine, sit on a park bench, and be happy. At least we’d be in France!
i hope these tips help you. i’ve been thinking about writing this article for a couple years. If you found it helpful, please leave a note in the comments and let me know what you think.