Looking out from the tall buildings in La Defense I try to to understand what makes Paris so beautiful. The Montmartre, that ethereal all white church, glistens in the early morning light – perfectly positioned on the top of the hill overlooking Paris. The exquisite historical buildings maintain their majesty and their presence in balance with modern high-rise buildings. The Urban Planners have done a superb job. It is particularly evident from the Eiffel Tower where observing the city is like looking at a painting … the heights, position and everything about the new buildings is in perfect harmony with what was built 1000 years ago.
I have been in Paris so many times. For me it is a place that I just like to “be” – a place where the evocative beauty fills me with serenity. I tend not to do the touristy things unless I am with someone who is new to Paris. That said I still always go to Café Marly at the Louvre for a drink to watch the sun setting over Pei’s Glass Pyramids. Then I cross the Seine on Le Pont des Arts where the enchanting view of the Notre Dame and the Ille de la Cite lure local lovers – touristy maybe, but who can resist. It’s like enjoying the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge from Neilson Park. On Sundays I have brunch with perfectly cooked oeufs(eggs) at one of those teeny tables at Le Loire in the cobbled Rue des Rosiers and wander around Le Marais or visit the antique markets at Les Puces. Paris is incomplete without a visit to the Orangerie to absorb the impressionist collection and time to be captivated by my favourite artist at the Picasso Museum. I also love the French art of afternoon tea at La Duree, lunch at Palais Royale, and dinner at Costes – the most romantic restaurant I have ever been to where the waitresses are just GORGEOUS. Then of course I spend hours walking cause the whole city is basically a museum … every building is special.
Get the quintessential French look:
Have a hair cut at one of the many Jacques Dessange salons – perhaps even the original salon at 37 Franklin Roosevelt Avenue near the Champs Elysees. Jacques Dessange came into prominence as the official hairstylist of the models of Dior, Chanel and Carven and for inventing the “disheveled” look. I always plan a haircut on arrival and something about the cut adds a chic French look. Book a few days ahead of time and ask for a stylist with some understanding of English.
Have a facial.at a Gatineau Institute. Madame Jeanne Gatineau, who devoted her entire life to beauty, opened a beauty salon in Paris in 1937 and developed her line of skincare products working in close collaboration with doctors and dermatologists. The success was the beginning of a series of firsts with many products ahead of their time -the first to develop exfoliants and slimming creams, and the first to discover and put to use the benefits of various antioxidants in skincare, such as green tea, and vitamins A, E and F. Book at least a week before you go and ask for a beautician who speaks English. You can of course try any French Cosmetic House.
Have a cosmetic consultation at one of the Sephora stores or at your favourite cosmetic counter in one of the large department stores. The Sales Assistants are incredibly knowledgeable and whether you want to improve your foundation, eye makeup or body lotion you will get excellent advice for no charge.
Have a Makeover at Galeries Lafayette in Boulevard Houseman. This is a half-day affair where your Personal Shopper will provide guidance on colours and styles to enhance your skintone, body type and personality. Thereafter they select clothing and accessories from the store in line with your budget. During the fitting session they provide advice on how to mix and match pieces to create a personal wardrobe plus education of how to find your inner chic. I had a friend photograph me wearing the various outfits so that I could review and make decisions on what to buy. Whilst the service can cost around 150 euros it is worth every penny – having a ‘wardrobe’ of clothing that works together means you achieve so many looks with far fewer clothes. In addition you set the budget for the Personal Shopper to work towards and decide on a casual, work or whatever wardrobe. They also arrange a tax rebate. Whilst there is no obligation to buy anything it is unlikely that you will get such a good deal for a long time. I am still getting compliments on the outfits I bought three years ago and will not hesitate to do again. I strongly recommend excluding the component for hairdressing tips (go to Jacques Dessange) and excluding the in store Sisley beautician which will save 50 euros. Book a “relooking”(French term for makeover) at least two weeks ahead of time and remember to ask for someone who speaks English. (Phone: + 33 1 42 82 35 50)
- Learn about the neighbourhoods or arrondisements by partaking in Paris Walks. The walks are an excellent way to discover the intrigue and secrets of Paris and the unexpected beauty of a neighbourhood. They are around two hours and offered by two companies – one charges 12 euros per walk and the other requests a donation. See helpful links below for details.
- Tour the Garnier Opera House – the old one. The building is stunning and the 90 minute tour is incredibly entertaining. Tours are ONLY available on Weds and Sat at 11:30am or 2:30pm. Google to make sure its on before you go.
- Make a trip to Roland Garros to watch how the French enjoy tennis at the French Open if you like tennis or a sports fan and are in Paris in May. Even a visit to the Qualifying rounds will generate excitement and a special thrill.
- Visit the Picasso Museum in the Marais, which has just reopened after 5 years of renovations and the Orangerie in the Tuileries to see the Impressionist collection. Each is a pleasureable two hour excursion without the vastness and the crowds that places like the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay attract.
- Explore Musée Rodin at 79 Rue de Varenne,in the 7th which opened in 1919 and is dedicated to the works of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin who donated his entire collection of sculptures along with his paintings by van Gogh and Renoir to the French State. Most of Rodin’s significant creations, including The Thinker, The Kiss and The Gates of Hell are there. It is particularly lovely to view art in the natural setting of a house and to see many of his sculptures in the extensive gardens.
- Visit Musee des Arts et Metiers, 60 Rue Reaumur which is the tradies museum. Anyone with an engineering bent and most men love it. It’s on the outskirts of the Marais area and the public transport to get there is painful so walking from nearest metro is possibly best. Closed on Mondays.
- AquaBoulevard is an indoor water world with multiple pools, giant waterslides, and even has an area with man-made waves. A fun way for kids to spend a rainy day or a welcome escape from being a tourist at any time of the year.
- Pompidou Museum with all its colour, way out architecture by Renzo Piano, glass enclosed elevators providing a “to die for” view of the Parisian skyline, often has excellent exhibitions. Kids and you will enjoy the space, the museum shops and the environment even without paying the entry fee to see the exhibition.
- Euro Disney if you are a diehard Disneyworld fan as it a little way out of Paris on the train in a rather cold and inhospitable part of Paris.
- Les Plage is Paris’s man made beach on the banks of the River Seine in the summer.
- Hunt out and enjoy crepes and hot chocolate at the many Parisian cafes.
- Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, the antiques flea market. This is a must see if you are in Paris on a Sunday. It is wonderful – you can find anything from whimsical deco lights and furniture to antique door knobs and hinges. It is tricky to find. Catch the Line 4(purple) metro all the way to Porte de Clignancourt and then walk well past the cars … ignore the cheap market stuff and get to the antiques section as that is a day in itself and really cool. You will find a main road with several sub sections each called a Marche or ‘department store’. Serpette and Paul Bert are probably best but stop off at Marche Biron and Vernaison on the way as they have smaller goods and are also cool. On Sundays the markets are open from 10:00 to around 5:00pm. Whilst the shops are supposedly open on a Saturday or Monday I suggest going on Sunday when they are ALL open so that you are not disappointed. I highly recommend lunch at Paul Bert, the restaurant there. Definitely the best way to spend a Sunday in Paris.
- Marlie Dekker. 24 rue du roi de Sicile in the 4th is the shop of a famous Dutch lingerie designer who has achieved international success as pioneer of the trend ‘innerwear as outerwear’. She changed the world of lingerie with her inspiring designs and personal philosophy inspired by her own vision on life, and her desire to give women more self confidence. Visit the store to hear the story, admire the lingerie, try it on and if you can, spoil yourself by buying something special.
- Le Marais is an area with a wonderful collection of fashion boutiques – both the more well known international stores as well as the up and coming local designers. Whilst you can shop there any time, Sundays are probably the most interesting as all Paris comes to be seen.
- Galerie Vivienne built in 1823 near Palais Royale is one of the original iconic covered arcades with unique and unusual shops, where you can window-shop and have tea or lunch.
- If you wish to buy art or look, I recommend Gallerie W at 44 Rue Lepic in Montmartre or the many small galleries close to the National School of Fine Arts in Rue de Buci, Rue de Seine and Rue des Beaux Arts on the Left Bank. If you are an artist yourself it is also worth a look to see the innovative art being produced today. I find the prices of art in Paris very competitive and a lot lower than Australia for quality pieces.
Food and Drink
- My daughter, Bianca, has superb taste. Check out her Blog for special spots by arrondissement, Bianca’s Blog.
- Bertillion Sorbet founded in 1954, has become synonymous with the Île St. Louis. If you walk past Nôtre Dame and across the bridge that links the Île de la Cité to the Île St. Louis, you’ll see a line at the original store at 29-31 Rue Saint-Louis. One of the great joys of Paris is eating my sorbet on the banks of the river watching the city go by.
- Best coffee in Paris is at Cafe Verlet, 256 Rue St Honore – near the Palais Royale/Louvre end. Note they only open at 10:00am.
- Did you know the French are really into tea and most afternoons around 5:00pm the doyennes of society will be enjoying the French Art of Tea? Mariage Frères have been involved in tea since the seventeenth century when King Louis XIV sent Nicholas Mariage to the East Indies. After trading tea for a century, the Mariage Frères tea company was founded in Rue Bourg-Tibourg, Paris in 1854. Today it sells more than 500 high quality teas. You can still sample this beautiful tea in Rue Bourg-Tibourg in Le Marais and buy some to bring home for yourself or friends – a must if you like a good cup of tea. My favourite tea is the French Breakfast, quite unlike English Breakfast – a lot more subtle with just a taste of vanilla through it. Outside of Mariage Frères I also like to experience the French Art of Tea at La Duree, Costes, or l’Hotel(see below).
- In the 6th arrondisement on the Left Bank, take a short detour to have tea or a drink at L’Hotel, 13 Rue des Beaux Arts – a secret hideaway filled with French charm and glamour. It was Oscar Wilde’s last home and the heart of Parisian society in the swinging sixties.
- Have brunch or lunch (beautiful Quiche and Salad plus the best cake for dessert or afternoon tea) at Le Loire in Rue Des Rosiers, Marais area
- Cheesecake and/or Falafel in Rue Pavee just off Rue de Rivoli in Les Marais. Just join the line with the folks in their yarmulkes.
- Lunch at the Paul Bert restaurant at the back of the Paul Bert Marche, Les Puces, for a very French and inexpensive meal. The restaurant does get very crowded particularly on a Sunday so try to go early or late. Check opening days before going.
- Have a drink at sunset at Café Marly, Louvre
- Dinner at Costes, Rue St Honore – Booking is essential and don’t go before 9:00pm. Dress up – the place to be seen.
Where to Stay
Rent an apartment and experience local life in an interesting area like Ille St Louis, Le Marais or the up and coming 10th
Splash out in a luxury hotel selected for location and traditional charm like:
- St James Albany, Rue de Rivoli across the road from the Tuileries with its gracious olde world décor and quirky rooms is central to all the traditional Parisian iconic sights.
- Paviilon de la Reine, Place des Vosges, Le Marais
- L’Hotel, 13 Rue des Beaux Arts, St Germain du Pres.
Paris is about fashion and fitting in with the locals requires one to make some effort with your appearance. You can still be a comfortable tourist in jeans but add a good jacket, a classic handbag, quality shoes and perhaps a scarf or a hat for a little chic.
I find the shop assistants wherever you go have in depth knowledge of their products, a sense of style, and the ability to recommend just the right product to make you look a million dollars. Take advantage and keep asking for assistance wherever you go.
Paris’s Official Tourist Website
Check out Bianca’s Blog for special restaurant idels by arrondissement, Bianca’s Blog.
Discovering Paris through walks – Paris Walks and Discovering Paris Walks
Antique markets, Les Puces
Facials at Jeanne Gatineau