On the Ground Paris
It's the most visited city in the world, and for many good reasons, as even a weekend there will show.
Words by Marie-José Sylla.
Photography by Helen Cathcart
GET THE VIBE…
A CITY THAT ONLY IMPROVES WITH AGE
Va-va-voom! The allure of la Parisienne is as unmistakable as her city, and in many ways the former is a perfect metaphor for the latter. Indeed, when we see a real Parisienne in the street she strikes us as coolly sophisticated, cultured and impeccably put together – just like the City of Light, with its picture-postcard looks.
It’s a city that is no stranger to innovation or aesthetics. Looking around, most of what we recognise as Paris today is relatively new, a lot of it not much more than a century old. In the late 19th century a large portion of old Paris was torn down or ploughed through to make wide boulevards and apartment buildings of a more sanitary nature.
Such an act would be unthinkable in western Europe today. But the fact that the resulting replacement for the old was conceived with such extraordinary élan and good taste speaks volumes for the globally ingrained stereotype of Paris as the home of style and culture.
Yet despite all the stately museums, parks and monuments, this is no overgrown mausoleum – it is definitely a city with a pulse. And that pulse is youthful, bold and fun-loving, just like la Parisienne can be under her remote exterior.
Where once, 20 years ago, kids from the posh parts of town would have smarted at going to the Bastille neighbourhood, now they’re venturing off to the newly hip 19th and 20th arrondissements, where a spate of galleries and bars is injecting a fresh vibe.
Even the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum in the 16th arrondissement has become a byword for innovation. In addition to its bold roster of exhibitions, the Palais hosts avant-garde projects such as Nomiya, a tiny, 12-seater glass rooftop restaurant; and Brunch Bazar, a monthly environmentally friendly food and crafts happening. With so much going on, it’s little wonder that this grown-up playground is now developing an unused underground space for 2012, measuring a whopping 9,000m2. No, that is not a typo!
Other changes afoot include the sleek new tramway ringing the city, providing a modernist link between diverse communities. And the Vélib’ public bicycle system has proved a hit with locals and visitors alike. Cycling has also been improved by narrow cycle lanes going in the opposite direction down previously one- way streets. Pedestrians be warned though – always look both ways before you cross!
The bike scheme has made it even easier than before to go from one great little bar to another, without worrying about missing that last Metro home. This partly accounts for the surprising success of the relatively far-flung Rosa Bonheur, located at the heart of Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. This old-fashioned “guinguette” (a type of outdoor café) has become the place for trendy locals to dance their cares away. And in the wee hours it’s no rare sight to see one of those usually icy Parisiennes cycling her Vélib’ in a rather wobbly manner singing Édith Piaf or very bad Barry Manilow with gusto, not giving a damn about what anybody in the world might think.
Paris, that great, seemingly timeless beauty, is changing. But to fall back on a reassuring maxim, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (“The more things change, the more they remain the same”). In other words, it’s always a good time to go to Paris.
ON THE STREET…
WHERE THE MONA LISA MEETS PRINCE
From the gem-like, soaring stained-glass windows of the 13th-century Sainte-Chapelle chapel to the oasis of tranquility that is the central Palais-Royal garden, culture in Paris is an unavoidable constant – whether or not you’ve paid an entry fee.
Its very enormity means that, even if you don’t visit it, the Louvre ( 1 www.louvre.fr) can’t help but play a starring role in your Paris visit. Whether entering via the beloved pyramid or the mall beneath, lengthy queues are a frequent occurrence, so the late opening until 10pm on Wednesdays and Fridays is something to bear in mind. While you’re speeding towards the Mona Lisa, don’t miss the numerous works on display by Leonardo and Raphael – masterpieces of equal importance and far greater beauty.
A recent addition to the cultural landscape of Paris is the restored Grand Palais ( 2 www.grandpalais.fr), which has been playing host to a series of bold contemporary art exhibitions with brio. In the process, it won kudos from no less than Prince, who upon visiting it immediately declared that he must absolutely play there. Which he did. Who would dare quibble with the Purple One?
The also relatively recent Musée du Quai Branly ( 3 www.quaibranly.fr), devoted to ethnic art from outside Europe, is in itself a striking wonder. Flanked with a vertical garden by Patrick Blanc, the Jean Nouvel-designed building is visually arresting. It hugs the quay just up from the Eiffel Tower which, being one of the world’s most recognisable monuments, is so familiar that we shall skip over it here. Though, for the sake of spectacle and romance, one really shouldn’t miss its 10-minute twinkling on the hour from sundown, whether purposely viewed across the river from the majestic neo- classical viewpoint of the Palais de Chaillot ( 4 ), or unexpectedly in a gap between two buildings in the chic 7th arrondissement.
When it comes to exhibitions, some small, often overlooked spaces often offer the best ones. Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson ( 5 www.henricartierbresson.org), tucked down an alley in the 14th arrondissement, mounts stupendous photography exhibits. Just around the corner, Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain ( 6 www.fondation.cartier.com) is an extraordinary structure sealed in its own wilderness, giving the latest in contemporary art a pastoral setting. And those with more classical tastes should make a beeline for the Musée Rodin ( 7 www.musee-rodin.fr), boasting quality temporary shows and an enthralling sculpture garden.
Off the beaten track lie the many charms of the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont ( 8 ), which offers some unbeatable views over the city.
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in art, it’s worth investigating some galleries to see the recent work of big names and up-and- coming artists. No need to feel daunted, these places get a steady stream of visitors every day of a type more prone to perusing than purchasing. In the upper part of the Marais lie a cluster of internationally influential galleries and small newbies. Yvon Lambert, Karsten Greve and Thaddaeus Ropac are some of the leading venues, where you could easily come across a show from the likes of Takashi Murakami or Antony Gormley. Across the river in the 6th, Kamel Mennour and Kreo fly the flags of cutting- edge art and design, while the so-trendy-it- hurts Galerie Chappe in Montmartre keeps drawing the crowds with its canny mix of art and entertainment. However, the biggest recent event on the scene was the opening of the Paris base of Larry Gagosian ( 9 www.gagosian.com) in the 8th arrondissement.
AT THE HOTEL…
ROOMS SO GOOD IT’S IN-SEINE!
It’s not hard to find hotels in Paris – the most visited city in the world has thousands to suit all budgets, and most hit the reasonable end of the scale too.
The particularly impressive, great-value chain Timhotel ( 10 doubles from €135, www.timhotel.com), which counts several outposts in Paris, has perhaps its best on a small square in Montmartre. The perfect base for exploring the winding streets crowned by the wedding cake Sacré-Cœur, one of the many benefits of staying here include quality, comfy beds and an atmosphere as cosy as any independent inn.
If you want to take things up a notch, and shop till you drop at the deluxe boutiques lining Avenue Montaigne, then book yourself into the five-star Champs Elysées Plaza ( 11 doubles from €480, www.champs-elysees-plaza.com). Unwind on the chaise longue of your artfully decorated suite, or glide into the state-of-the- art fitness centre’s sauna and hammam.
Nestled in the heart of the 9th, with its 20 rooms customised stylishly by a colourful palette of artists, Hôtel Amour ( 12 doubles from €150, www.hotelamourparis.fr) is all about love. Its fabulous small terrace is perfect for lingering over a glass of wine with your partner or even someone you’ve just met!
Or why not make like Keira Knightley and nab one of the five eye-catching suites at Hôtel Particulier ( 13 junior suites from €390, www.hotel-particulier-montmartre.com)? Its lush private garden seems a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Equally charming, but easier on the ol’ pocketbook is Hôtel du Nord ( 14 doubles from €69, www.hoteldunord-leparivelo.com) near the Canal Saint-Martin, whose gregarious owners even offer guests free bikes so they can take in the city at their own pace. A favourite with the fashion pack, this unpretentious little gem must be booked well in advance.
Just as popular is Mama Shelter ( 15 doubles from €79, www.mamashelter.com). Despite a less than central location in the residential 20th arrondissement (prepare to make friends with plenty of very opinionated Gallic taxi drivers), it has proven such a hit with the hipster crowd that several others are in the works from Marseille to Istanbul. And what’s not to like? Designed by the ubiquitous Philippe Starck, this Mama doesn’t take itself too seriously – its fabulous features include a chic bar, restaurant and a funky pizzeria.
Finally, if chic design’s your thing be one of the first to check out the newly revamped 15 rooms by the talented India Mahdavi at Hôtel Thoumieux ( 16 prices TBC, expected to reopen in October/November, www.thoumieux.fr). You’ll be sleeping practically underneath the Eiffel Tower, and above one of the finest brasseries in town.
Paris offers a number of well-located options for visitors seeking hostel accommodation, some exceptionally so. Bed down at HI Jules-Ferry ( 17 dormitory beds from €23, www.hihostels.com) near Place de la République in the 11th arrondissement, a large, well-run establishment. Alternatively, hostel MIJE ( 18 dormitory beds from €30, www.mije.com) is housed in a glorious medieval building in the Marais quarter near the Seine. You can maybe spend the money you’ve saved on dinner at the expansive terrace of Chez Julien a few doors down. A slice of Parisian life, the swanky eatery boasts both fantastic food and views. St Christopher’s Inn ( 19 dormitory beds from €26.95, www.st-christophers.co.uk/paris-hostels), a branch of the English youth hostel chain, lies in a new, purpose-built, canal-side building in the north-eastern reaches of the capital. Featuring a maritime feel, it’s made even more interesting by having its own bar, Belushi’s, with a waterfront terrace.
ON THE TABLE…
ICONIC EATS AND WELL-PRICED PLATES
While escargots are somewhat easier to find, you’ll be hard pushed to find restaurants that serve cuisses de grenouilles. So if snails and frogs’ legs are what you imagine Paris dining to be all about, you may end up disappointed. Yet the good news is that every neighbourhood, and almost every street, is bound to have an eatery of some sort, from the simplest croque- monsieur to Michelin-starred French cooking.
Fuss-free and friendly, Le Chateaubriand ( 20 ) in the 11th was named one of the top-10 restaurants in the world this year. While in the past, diners would have had to fight for a night- time table, the recent opening of a daytime offshoot, Le Dauphin, next door means you’ve doubled your chances of sampling the imaginative cuisine of chef Iñaki Aizpitarte.
There are those temples to haute cuisine, and then those places so wonderful and unpretentious, like Bistrot Paul-Bert ( 21 ). Boasting an extensive, very affordable menu, it serves traditional food, simply done and delicious. It’s packed every night.
At under-the-radar Derrière ( 22 www.derriere-resto.com), a secluded apartment- like place, you can eat slow-cooked food like leg of lamb, ox cheeks and spit-roast ham. Its huge courtyard, indoor ping-pong table and wardrobe where you can have a sneaky smoke are all great for partying too.
With the Hôtel Costes as its fulcrum, the Costes foodie empire has restaurants dotted all over the city, almost all with a great location and/or view. La Société and Café de l’Esplanade are two of the chicest, but with its clubby minimalism and stupendous view from the top of Centre Pompidou, Georges (www.centrepompidou.fr) is a perennial favourite.
Restaurant Hotel du Nord ( 23 www.hoteldunord.org) by the Canal Saint-Martin – no relation to the nearby hotel of the same name – is large and low-lit. Though the general coolness might lead one to suspect otherwise, the food and the service are exceptionally good.
A block and a bit behind lies Ploum ( 24 www.ploum.fr), one of the finest Japanese eateries in town. Who comes to Paris and eats sashimi? Well, anyone with sense, if they plan to have it here! The fish dishes are so fresh they’re leaping off your plate, and the big bay window is perfect for a spot of people- watching. The owner is also an irrepressible flirt – all part of the fun!
A final unexpected treat comes from American chef Daniel Rose’s souped-up Spring Restaurant ( 25 www.springparis.fr) in the 1st arrondissement. Expect attentive service and delicate-yet-dynamic French cooking, all in a beautiful location. Perfect if you’re looking to impress that someone special. All of Paris is swooning, so what are you waiting for? Book now!
New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Paris likes to get its eight hours’ beauty nap! So peckish night owls should be warned that eating after 11pm is not always easy.
Unsurprisingly, since it was once the location of Europe’s largest produce market, the area around Les Halles has retained the ability to handle hunger in the early hours. Bright, busy and open round the clock, Au Pied de Cochon ( 26 www.pieddecochon.com) has been doing business here since 1946, and the well-priced menu is sure to satisfy any appetite. Don’t miss the seafood, and their famous onion soup.
Open every night until 5am, La Poule au Pot ( 27 www.lapouleaupot.fr) is a cliché of classic French restaurants, and all the better for it. Run by an affable couple, it serves traditional, honest cuisine. While the downstairs feels a bit cramped, the main room is picture-perfect, and chicken in a pot is the eponymous special. Other warming winter dishes include braised lamb shank and fried Camembert cheese.
AT THE BAR…
PARTY LIKE YOU KNOW YOU CANCAN
Call it the credit crunch effect, but the Paris nightlife scene has taken a more intimate turn of late, with punters turning more towards low-key and cosy bars to have a good time. It’s a trend that has inspired young entrepreneurs to open fab-yet-accessible hot spots in less flashy parts of Paris, such as La Fidelité ( 28 ), in the edgy east end. This place sees the town’s cool-seekers crowding onto its basement dance floor and drinking the bar dry. You’ll certainly find no airs and graces at nearby Chez Jeannette either – a former dive that’s become a hub for the Converse-sporting fashion and film crowd.
Authenticity is also the byword around the Canal Saint-Martin – whether you’re bringing a bottle to the waterside, or vying with the local hipsters for a table outside Prune. Or you could dart around the corner to the more discreet La Patache ( 29 ), with its yellow walls lined with old posters and saucisson. Further up the canal, Point Ephémère ( 30 www.pointephemere.org) is an on-the-rise industrial factory venue, hosting monthly all-night DJ sessions.
An equally eclectic, laid-back scene can be found in the underground 20th arrondissement. Every night the ultra-festive Bellevilloise ( 31 www.labellevilloise.com) revels in presenting an alternative acoustic live show, before unleashing its dance floor with creole and latino rhythms as well as Kylie!
Meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead for the newly reopened La Flèche d’Or ( 32 www.flechedor.fr), a former train station that is drawing crowds with gigs by up-and-coming talents from the electro, pop and folk scenes, as well as names like Pete Doherty, who once played a surprise gig here.
Not to be outdone, the Left Bank is also embracing the new austerity but in its own inimitably chic way. The speakeasy decor of the newly opened Prescription Cocktail Club ( 33 ) in Saint-Germain is a clever homage to the Prohibition era, when you needed a prescription to drink alcohol. Here doctor’s orders are to enjoy your killer cocktails along with the equally great DJ mix.
But for those intent on making a flash splash with the city’s most beautiful people, just make a move to Scopitone ( 34 www.scopitoneclub.com) down in the 1st, a tiny music box of a club, attracting cool guest DJs like the MGMT boys. Or head to the water, or rather the Batofar (www.batofar.org), a red boat moored in front of the soaring book-like Bibliothèque François Mitterand, which keeps the music and your perspiration pumping till dawn – when the onboard restaurant opens for breakfast.
FIVE-STAR HOTEL BARS
Even if one’s budget doesn’t quite stretch to a week-long stay in a palatial suite at one of Paris’ five-star hotels, that doesn’t mean one can’t soak up the experience, albeit temporarily, by dropping in for a drink.
At the Ritz on Place Vendôme, the main bar – with a beautiful garden for sunny days – lies just inside the main entrance. Staff dressed in snazzy uniforms, excellent service and the more than generous free nibbles will make you feel right at home.
By night, why not channel Ernest Hemingway in the bar named after him, or Kate Moss – who was a recent guest at the eclectic, electro-infused Ritz Bar. Both serve up cocktails created by head barman Colin Field, so you’re in good hands either way.
Over at Hôtel Plaza Athénée on Avenue Montaigne the evening bar is certainly flashy. And in the afternoon, settle into a chair in the Galerie des Gobelins, where the people- watching and silver- service hot chocolate are copious enough to keep you occupied for a languorous hour or two.
IN THE BAG…
FASHION HIGHS AND MARKET BUYS
Paris is without a doubt the centre of the fashion world, as anyone who’s heard of Coco Chanel or Jean Paul Gaultier will know. Ironically, it’s also a city where people love to dress down too.
Having said that, there’s been an explosion of brands in the past five years or so, all catering to the 20-to-30-something crowd, at more mid-market prices. Names like Sandro, Maje, and The Kooples (which suddenly seems to have a store selling its skinny tailoring on practically every shopping street) have joined more established names like Agnès B, A.P.C. and Comptoir des Cotonniers.
Around the Canal Saint-Martin the streets are filled with stores dedicated to a trendy, young, well-heeled clientele. Many are part of chains but some, like Renhsen ( 35 www.renhsen.com), plow an independent furrow.
The Marais district, too, has seen an explosion of trendy shops in its northern reaches. Men’s boutiques like French Trotters and Maison Jean-Baptiste are adding an extra dimension to the primarily feminine retail scene. On the edge of the Marais is Merci ( 36 www.merci-merci.com), a sprawling concept store selling everything from fashion to furniture that donates all its profits to charity. Filled with post-shopping self-satisfaction, you can satisfy your hunger here at Cantine Merci.
Speaking of fashion ’n’ food, Ralph Lauren ( 37 www.ralphlauren.com) spent over two years – and a heck of a lot of money – labouring over a vast building on Boulevard Saint- Germain. Opened in spring, the end result is jaw-dropping. Beautifully restored and carrying a huge array of lines, the store also has a picturesque bar and restaurant, where securing a table requires some serious advance booking. Colette ( 38 www.colette.fr), the original Parisian concept store, has its own great restaurant (no reservations, just a queue on the stairs), and is still the place to go to find out what is and what will be in fashion, be it clothing, music, photography or design. With CDs, candles and cosmetics in profusion, there’s no excuse not to buy something.
If you want your children to be tastefully spoiled, try Bonton ( 39 www.bonton.fr), whose covetable clothes are best seen at the new 3rd arrondissement concept store.
For those yearning for a taste of the real Parisian market experience, Aligre ( 40 ) is open Tuesday–Sunday between Bastille and Nation. It’s a treasure trove of quality cheeses, meats, fruit and veg, at affordable prices. So, make like the locals who, after filling their baskets, go to the Baron Rouge bar for a glass of red on one of the outside tables stacked on wine crates.
HAVE IT ALL SEWN UP
If you fancy customising your vintage dress that just needs a little je ne sais quoi to be truly fabulous – or want to whip up a whole new outfit using some material you picked up at the Marché Saint-Pierre – then this zany café-couture concept in the 10th arrondissement is right on the money.
At The Sweatshop (13 Rue Lucien Sampaix, tel: +33 (0)9 5285 4741, www.sweatshopparis.com) amateur seamstresses can buy access to a Singer sewing machine for €6 an hour, just like you do at an internet café. You can even take evening classes if you’re keen to dust off your technique. See the website for special events too.
And because all that whirring away on the machine is hunger- inducing work, there’s a sweet array of cakes and coffee on hand to wolf down – all dished up by the passionate duo who run the place.
Apart from keeping your fingers busy, it seems they’re keen to ensure that theirs is the hippest and happiest sweatshop in town!
1 / VANESSA BRUNO HANDBAG
Channel your inner Parisienne with this chic piece of arm-candy from hot French designer Vanessa Bruno (www.vanessabruno.com). Get ready to make all your girlfriends back home green with envy. €270
2 / SPACE INVADERS KEYRING
Head to the Artazart (www.artazart.com) shop to nab this nifty little homage to the work of Invader, a French street artist who pastes up characters inspired by the 1970s Space Invaders video game on the walls of big cities around the world, including Paris. €5
3 / ZAZ ALBUM
Critics are dubbing this 30-year-old the 21st century’s Piaf, after the runaway success of her single Je Veux, blending soul, jazz and French chanson to beautiful effect. Proof there’s more to French pop than a leather- clad Johnny Hallyday! €15.99
4 / PARIS BEST PLACES TO KISS GUIDE
We may hate to admit it but we all want to share a big French kiss in the most romantic city of them all. This fab little book from L’Arbre à Lettres bookshop doesn’t tell you how but it certainly does tell you where, so pay attention and pucker up! €6
5 / EIFFEL TOWER BRANDY
Imagine if the Eiffel Tower really was filled to the brim with liquor. To dream, to dream! Ah well, you can always enjoy this mini- version bought from Relay newsagent’s (www.relay.fr). It’s kitsch-tastic, which is one of Paris’ special charms too! €7.50
WHERE IT’S AT…
MAP & CONTACTS
1 The Louvre Cour Napoléon, tel: +33 (0)1 4020 5760
2 Grand Palais Avenue Winston-Churchill, tel: +33 (0)1 4413 1717
3 Musée du Quai Branly 37 Quai Branly, tel: +33 (0)1 5661 7000
4 Palais de Chaillot Parvis des Libertés et des Droits de l’Homme, tel: +33 (0)1 4405 3910
5 Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson 2 Impasse Lebouis, tel: +33 (0)1 5680 2700
6 Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain 261 Boulevard Raspail, tel: +33 (0)1 4218 5650
7 Musée Rodin 79 Rue de Varenne, tel: +33 (0)1 4418 6110
8 Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
9 Larry Gagosian Gallery 4 Rue de Ponthieu, tel: +33 (0)1 7500 0592
10 Timhotel 11 Rue Ravignan, tel: +33 (0)1 4255 7479
11 Champs Elysées Plaza 35 Rue de Berri, tel: +33 (0)1 5353 2020
12 Hôtel Amour 8 Rue Navarin, tel: +33 (0)1 4878 3180
13 Hôtel Particulier 23 Avenue Junot, Pavillon D, tel: +33 (0)1 5341 8140
14 Hôtel du Nord 47 Rue Albert Thomas, tel: +33 (0)1 4201 6600
15 Mama Shelter 109 Rue de Bagnolet, tel: +33 (0)1 4348 4848
16 Hôtel Thoumieux 79 Rue Saint-Dominique, tel: +33 (0)1 4705 7900
17 HI Jules-Ferry 8 Boulevard Jules Ferry, tel: +33 (0)1 4357 5560
18 MIJE 6 Rue de Fourcy, tel: +33 (0)1 4274 2345
19 St Christopher’s Inn and Belushi’s 159 Rue de Crimée, tel: +33 (0)1 4034 3440
20 Le Chateaubriand 129 Avenue Parmentier, tel: +33 (0)1 4357 4595
21 Bistrot Paul-Bert 18 Rue Paul-Bert, tel: +33 (0)1 4372 2401
22 Derrière 69 Rue des Gravilliers, tel: +33 (0)1 4461 9195
23 Hôtel du Nord 102 Quai de Jemmapes, tel: +33 (0)1 4040 7878
24 Ploum 20 Rue Alibert, tel: +33 (0)1 4200 1190
25 Spring Restaurant 9 Rue Bailleul, tel: +33 (0)1 4596 0572
26 Au Pied de Cochon 6 Rue Coquillère, tel: +33 (0)1 4013 7700
27 La Poule au Pot 9 Vauvilliers, tel: +33 (0)1 4236 3296
28 La Fidelité 12 Rue de la Fidelité, tel: +33 (0)1 4770 1934
29 La Patache 60 Rue de Lancry, tel: +33 (0)1 4208 1435
30 Point Ephémère 200 Quai de Valmy, tel: +33 (0)1 4034 0248
31 La Bellevilloise 19 -21 Rue Boyer, tel: +33 (0)1 4636 0707
32 La Flèche d’Or 102 bis Rue de Bagnolet, tel: +33 (0)1 4464 0102
33 Prescription Cocktail Club 23 Rue Mazarine, tel: +33 (0)1 4634 6773
34 Scopitone 5 Avenue de L’Opéra, tel: +33 (0)1 4260 6445
35 Renhsen 22 Rue de Beaurepaire, tel: +33 (0)1 4804 0101
36 Merci 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, tel: +33 (0)1 4277 0033
37 Ralph Lauren 173 Boulevard Saint-Germain, tel: +33 (0)1 4477 7600
38 Colette 213 Rue Saint-Honoré, tel: +33 (0)1 5535 3390
39 Bonton 5 Boulevard Filles du Calvaire, tel: +33 (0)1 4272 3469
40 Marché d’Aligre Place d’Aligre