What is it about Paris that no other city can quite attain? Skip the text book French quote for anything indescribably good, anyone in a sick love affair with the city will tell you it's all about the delectable contrasts that permeate the city life. I was enamoured with flow of energy in Paris way before I knew what that meant. This sometimes throws off first time visitors, they find the city perplexing with its strong attitude. I find the city cheeky, it plays with you; but as long as you play back with a little bit of smarts it’s a very interesting ride. The thing I struggled with the most was getting my walking/browsing/shopping pace up to scratch. Dawdle and you’ll spend eight hours getting slapped by bags and getting stepped on. Not really the right vibe for browsing the sites or giving away your hard earned euros at Lafayette. Walking with a purpose and standing out of the way helped like nothing else. Oh and make sure you underpack yourself a suitcase of all black everything to ease yourself into streets. But by the time I found all that out I was on my fourth trip over.
To an outsider, and as friends living in Paris have told me, you forever will be if you didn’t grow up there; life seems a lot more curated yet simple. Everything feels meticulously thought through but not excessive. It’s forever a sartorial and cultural reference point. Start walking everywhere and take the metro once your legs have had enough, eat (three meals a day as you’ll soon find really isn’t enough to try all the cheeses), carefully edit your fashion buys, pack picnics, enjoy the outdoors and view art, arm yourself with a bottle of wine and make sure it’s full at all stages of discovering the city. Or simply become Baudelaire’s flaneur, the detached observer trawling the city with an inquisitive mind if you have a soft spot for French literature. Paris is really all about collective experiences of the city. There’s no easier way to obtain these than with a lack of responsibilities you have on holidays. You’ll probably find that you’ll pick up and take some of these new habits home with you, I know I’m forever eating cheese.
STAY In hotels such as the Ritz, Hotel D'aubusson or Pigalle's infamous Hotel Amour if fresh linen is your thing and hotels are your budget. After several months of renting during a stay, Airbnb has become a favourite. Neighbourhoods like Montmartre and Batignolles have a nice bohemian feel and are ideal for longer term visits as apartments there are generally bigger and the neighbourhoods quitter than their city counterparts. On my last trip I stayed near Filles Du Calvaire, just a stone throw from Saint Paul and the Marais so I was able to pack a lot into a short trip.
SHOP Whether you’re shopping or doing the window variety, visit the French flagships for a serious lesson in styling. Paris is the mecca of all things fashion meets art and the boutiques on Rue du Faubourg St Honoré will keep you occupied for a full day. Hermes, Givenchy, Goyard, Balenciaga and Lanvin have the most breathtaking visual merchandising displays. Paris also does high-street exceptionally well, probably something to do with being surrounded by all the fashion heavy weights and that good old Parisian attention to quality. APC, Sandro, Maje and IRO are perennial favourites. Le Labo's Paris boutique is worth a visit if you like artisan perfumes. Concept stores like Colette and Merci are abuzz with locals and are great for people watching. With a focus on stocking lifestyle goods, use them for stocking up on souvenirs of the non tacky variety. For vintage take Metro Line 4 to Porte de Clignancourt for Les Puce Marche, the largest flea market of antiques and clothing. Catherine B is a tunnel wonderland of vintage Chanel and Hermes. My favourite all round vintage store is Come on Eileen near Bastile. The store itself is multi levelled with the bulk of its goods being downstairs, housing a rail of Burberry trench coats I eye off at every visit. I've snagged vintage YSL and Celine here for around 50 euros. Bring a friend to hold you back from buying everything in your size.
EAT It's really hard to find a bad meal in Paris, even when what you’re eating doesn’t constitute an actual meal ie. piece of cheese between a piece of bread for any time of the day. I've attempted to make ravioli by pouring water from a kettle into a bowl of pasta, decanting the water into a bathroom sink and repeating the process until kinda cooked, which was still better than a number of pasta haunts in Sydney. It's also the reason I don't stay in hotels when visiting Paris. But I digress; my food choices have become a little smarter since then.
Fresh produce markets on Rue des Dames are a big hit for me. I stocked up on my weeks groceries here and cleaned up big at the stalls selling chanterelle mushrooms. Grab a few different cheeses to try. Lafayette Gourmet Food Hall is the holy grail of delis. Head here for all your cheese and meat picnic or fancy dinner supplies. Try not to breathe heavily into the glass cabinets, its near impossible to count the variety of cheese that Lafayette stocks. They have an impressive wine library (I lost my travel companions here) but remember a 2 euro bottle of wine is still, French wine. As for restaurants, you really don't need to go expensive to get something amazing. Petite Perigourdine has a sickeningly awesome ratio of cheese to potato in their mash and this is place to try a steak tartare if you've never been game. I discovered Le Bouledogue by accident on my last trip. I spent most of my time swooning at pictures of frenchies and playing with a neighbours bulldog rather than eating, but the duck here was ace and so were the numerous Kir Royals that accompanied it. If you're not a big fan of duck I recommend ordering some cheese. L'as du Fallafel makes for a perfect night cap and sunday brunch in the Marais. If you like a good cheese crepes Little Breizh does both the sweet and savory kind. The Rose Bakery has made its way into every trendy Paris guide with their carrot cake and cool interiors. The best croissant? Is the one you buy at your closest boulangerie, freshness trumps any butter to pastry ratio here. And if you find yourself in a less than favourable eating situation, it probably has something to do with the lack of cheese included.
VISIT Musee d'Orsay, Musee Rodin, Arts Décoratifs, Pompidou and Louvre for everything from classic to contemporary art. For the best picnic spots try Jardin Luxembourg, Jardin des Tuileries and Champ de Mars. Make sure you walk your way to all the usual suspects like Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur and Pont Alexandre because the best of the city is in the streets.
NOTEABLE MENTIONS Laurent Garnier's Rex Club for nocturnal music adventures, Le Crazy Horse for cabaret done right, Les Etages for happy hour and every other spare hour.
WEAR Saint Laurent brogues, Theory silk boyfriend blazer, T by Alexander Wang tshirt, J Brand leather pants, Anthony Vaccarello belt. Keep it dark, tailored and simple.
Any personal travel tips and recommendations welcome in comments!
Special thanks to Lara Elisa Chiarot for being my Paris insider throughout the years!
tour eiffel on bastile day,
interiors at crazy horse,
l'art du basic store near the marais,
goyard flagship on rue du faubourg st honoré,
endless supply of fat and sugar at laduree,
cheese, meat and liquour count as a meal,
les etages in the marais.
pack your language guides and maps, it's easier to get out of a tricky situation if you can at least speak some broken french. monthly prepaid metro cards are worth the spend on longer stays. some museums are closed on tuesdays and most stores are closed on sundays.