With Paris being today’s most popular tourist destination in the world, you wouldn’t think there are any ‘hidden’ gems to speak of. I however, may have found one courtesy of my culture-loving Parisian friends whom I visited recently. Do you know of Le Jardin des Plantes, the 69-acre botanical garden in the 5th arrondissement? Across the street from that garden is a little oasis where we spent an afternoon sipping mint tea and laughing under the olive trees: Le Grande Mosquée de Paris. If you are in the area definitely stop by for a visit; you’re sure to enjoy the unique building, colorful mosaic patterns, fountains, mint tea and moroccan pastries.
The Courtyard: A Mosaic Shangri-La
Inspired by the architecture of Andalusia, Spain, Morocco and beyond, most of the mosque’s building materials and artists who decorated it came from Northern Africa. There are some incredibly detailed carvings too. Quiet is the courtyard area despite many visitors wandering and sitting, with only the sounds of flowing water fountains. The bright turquoise tiled floor reminds me of a crystal clear ocean… it brings peace into my world.
The Tea Room: Mint Tea and Pistachio Cookies
The mosque’s several colorful indoor tea rooms are popular, though my favorite is definitely the leafy outdoor patio reminiscent of Granada, Spain. For two euro, a waiter will bring you a cup of Turkish coffee or mint tea, and you can wait in line for some Moroccan cookies flavored with pistachios and honey. So good! If you have the time, consider a full meal from their restaurant. The menu of middle eastern delicacies such as lamb couscous and tagines are very highly recommended.
The Spa: Turkish Steam Baths
The Grand Mosque also houses a hammam spa (turkish steam baths) where they welcome visitors of all nationalities, religions, shapes and sizes. While I did not partake in the services, spa connoisseur and fellow traveler Kate Pocock had a steam bath, body scrub and massage with almond-infused oils here. She said, “Our skin felt like velvet. But even better, we’d experienced just a small piece of Arabic culture in a female-centric atmosphere. As a character in Arabian Night says, ‘Oh my lord! Verily the bath is the Paradise of this world.’ “
Thank you for reading.