A Guide to Paris à la française
Every year millions of smitten tourists flock to Paris for a week or so. Spurred – like most – by guide books promising impossibly chic Parisians, and icons such as the Place de l’Opéra, the Louvre, Edith Piaf, the Lido cabaret, the Champs-Élysées, and of course, the Eiffel tower, they will flit from attraction to attraction, snapping away at their cameras.
It seems that for some, the realization that Paris isn’t, as it is commonly portrayed, a quaint village of Dior-clad beauties, is too overwhelming. With all that has been written about Paris and its landmarks, how can reality be so far from expectations? Simply put, it is because Paris as a whole cannot be described.
Paris is, of course, all the previously mentioned icons. It is also the Place de Grève (now Place de l’Hôtel de Ville), where executions took place. It is the social student revolution of “Mai 48”, and les bobos, and a national train company that files strike warnings every day, just in case.
It is Paname, a moniker given to it – and still used – for the panama hat, once worn by the upper class. It is an assortment of arrondissements, which are further broken up into quartiers. These neighboring quartiers can be as different as Santa Monica and Los Feliz; teeming with life, but while one neighborhood will take you high into the quiet, residential hills of Montmartre, another will have you meandering through tight cobblestoned alleyways lined with Jewish and LGBT businesses.
Beautiful year round, it is in summer that Paris shines. While it is a myth that all Parisians flee in August, the city does become noticeably less frantic, even peaceful. With temperatures in the 60°-70° range, it is the time when tourists and residents (re)discover the City of Light. The métro is a great way to travel (Paris ci la sortie is a great app to know where to go, and avoid crowds)but the city has also made bikes and cars, respectively Vélib and Autolib’, available at numerous spots for all to use for as little as 1 euro. For an even more relaxed vibe, you can descend the sparkling Seine in a bateau mouche or a péniche and wave to sunbathers at Paris Plage. Picnic at the Parc de la Villette while you watch a free open air film. Even better, the parc André Citroën will have you forgetting you’re in a bustling metropolis. Follow in the footsteps of the surrealists and have lunch at the Café de Flore. Shop for English literature at Shakespeare & Co., a bookshop so beloved and famous, it was featured in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset. The summer also brings a number of music festivals from the famous Rock-en-Seine to Solidays. And yes, you can also take a tour through the Place de l’Opéra, visit the Louvre, and take jumping selfies at the base of the entire Eiffel tower.
At night is when the City of Light earns its name. Return your Vélib’ and check out the Latin Quarter. Walk along the Pont-Neuf, which, although French for “new bridge”, is actually the oldest bridge in the city. Look down at the Seine and see a myriad of lights reflected back at you. Stroll down the Champs-Élysées, which is lit as far as the eye can see, and take in a burlesque show at the Lido. Hire a Bus Bleu and party in a bus. Discover emerging music at the iconic Batofar, l’Alimentation Générale, le Pompon, or any of the other café-concert around the city. Sneak into the catacombs with some friends and spend the night, but make sure to bring rain boots and a warm sweater. Rent a Bus Bleu and party on a bus all night. When you’re done, finish the night in true Parisian and grab a grec from the nearest kebab shop.
If you know where to look, Paris offers a something for all ages, wallets, sensibilities and cultures, from the Espace Dali high in the hills of Montmartre to an annual festival in honor of the Hindu God, Ganesha. There is a little something for everyone in the city.
Paris takes music seriously. World Music Day, which takes place on June 21st in 110 countries, originated there, and every summer its festivals attract thousands of people. Be sure to check out Rock en Seine which takes place annually in Aug.
One of the oldest fairs in Paris, the Fête des Loges has been around since 1652. Nowadays, it welcomes around 3 million visitors from end July to about mid-August. A blend of traditional fairs and theme parks, the Fête des Loges is a great outing for anyone.
Less famous than the renowned Lido, is Au Lapin Agile, a pink cabaret in Montmartre, near the Sacré Cœur. Its many illustrious patrons include Apollinaire and Picasso, who even turned it into a painting.
Head to the Seine for a swim…without ever touching the river? As gorgeous as the Seine looks, you wouldn’t want to swim in it. Enter the Piscine Josephine Baker, a swimming pool on a barge with a retractable roof. In summer the first two hours are free for certain categories.
Sunday dinner with strangers. Every Sunday for the last 30 years, Jim Haynes, an American, has hosted 50 to 60 total strangers in his renovated sculpture studio. The meals are prepared by a different person each week and begin at 8 pm shart. To reserve, email him or call + 33 1 43 27 17 67.
When in Rome… eat pizza. When in Paris, head to the nearest patisserie for some macarons, éclairs, chouquettes and many more culinary delights. Carette is arguably the best and a local favorite. Its macarons are divine, as are its salads, and the tea is served is gorgeous ceramic sets.
Have a drink on a rooftop overlooking Paris and watch the sun set. Le Perchoir is a discreet restaurant in the 11th arrondissement that is open from 4pm to 1am. The bartenders are meticulous, though if you prefer wine, the sommelier will gladly help you pick out a bottle. Reservations are required.
Tcha, La Maison de thé is the perfect interlude to a busy day in the sun. The tea is served in sumptuous Chinese tea sets by a very discreet staff. La Maison de thé also offers homemade desserts and several soy-based dishes. Reservations not requires but if you don’t have one, you’ll want to go during the week. Fun fact: the check is calculated on an abacus.
The Passage Molière was named after the Théâtre Molière (now the Maison de la Poésie). At the other end of this passage is a quaint shopping center that almost doesn’t want to be known. Check out the Librairie Scaramouche, then head to the Restaurant des Poètes, a simple restaurant, which offers some of the finest wine you’ll find.
What can’t you do on a boat on the Seine? The Bateau Johanna is a Bed & Breakfast with two cabins opposite the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. Eat breakfast in the wheelhouse with the original wood panelling from 1936.
The Hôtel Particulier Montmartre is a very exclusive and very sumptuous hotel in Montmartre. It is located inside a garden so peaceful you’ll forget you’re in Paris. The rooms, each designed by Morgane Rousseau, are visual treats with themes ranging from arboreal to velvety. Pack your best tux or gown when you go, the dress code – yes, dress code – is “glamorous.”
If you prefer to stay in a home, check out Feels Like Home in Paris, which offers vacation rentals in Montmartre. These include anything from studios to 4-bedroom apartments. When you stay here, you’ll get, amongst other services, a personal meet and greet, a welcome basket, a guide book and an iPhone with useful apps and free data.