ERNEST HEMINGWAY WROTE, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” Indeed, no matter which arrondissement you find yourself in, you’re bound to discover a delightful and delicious repast. Paris is a city that abounds with beauty. It surrounds visitors with grand architecture and regal monuments of the past, while boasting some of the most revolutionary innovations of the present. The computerized Minitel network existed long before many of us ever heard of the Internet, and the 100-year-old métro speeds passengers underground with an efficiency that’s still the envy of most cities today. Paris has grown quite a bit from its beginning as a small island in the Seine, the Île de la Cité. But it retains the feel of a large village, a mélange of small neighborhoods dotted with lively cafés with no shortage of Gallic characters. As you crisscross the city, from the bookish Latin Quarter to the bustling Place de la Madeleine, you’ll discover a place rich in culture and history. You’ll find Parisians fascinated, some say obsessed, with appearances. While you don’t need to don a beret and puff Gauloises to blend in, manners and appreciation go a long way. Parisians are justifiably proud of their city and are pleased when visitors demonstrate a similar appreciation. What’s not to like? So come along on a moveable feast through Paris, and for three perfect days, you’ll find an abundance of memorable experiences, perhaps enough to enrich the rest of your life.
Author David Lebovitz Photography Mirjam Bleeker
DAY ONE / Pull back the curtain at Le Meurice and marvel at the Tuileries, the splendid garden originally created for Catherine de’Medici. Have breakfast downstairs under the glass-domed Le Jardin d’Hiver, sampling the haute cuisine of super-chef Yannick Alléno.
Afterward, wander across the Seine via the Pont Neuf, which, in spite of its name, is the city’s oldest bridge. Follow the towering spire of Sainte Chapelle that majestically tops the 13th-century chapel. Ascend the Gothic staircase and find yourself surrounded by the most jaw-dropping stained-glass windows in Paris. In spite of its beauty, during the Revolution this holy space became a warehouse for storing flour.
Next up is a visit to La Conciergerie, a former prison whose most famous inmate was Marie Antoinette. You can see she was given a far more comfortable space for her final days than less-fortunate inhabitants, who waited in squalid dungeons before meeting their fate.
Cross the Pont St-Louis to the Île St-Louis. In recent years, the island has regained lost luster and is now one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town. But eclecticism survives, and you’ll find its streets lined with unusual shops including Clair de Rêve, selling hand-made marionettes, and colorful objets de maison at Pylones. The perforated church tower that presides over the island gained its unusually large gaping holes to prevent it from being toppled during fierce winds.
Pull up a seat at Mon Vieil Ami, one of the city’s hottest baby bistros. On chef Frédérick Crochet’s market-based menu you might find braised beef from Salers smothered with caramelized garlic baked under cloudlike whipped potatoes or baby beets with herb-flecked halibut cheeks.
Although desserts at Mon Vieil Ami may be tempting, queue up at Berthillon for the best ice cream in the world. Try a scoop of bittersweet chocolat paired with caramel beurre salé, a flavor inspired by the salted butter of Brittany.
If you’re wondering how French women and men always manage to look smooth and polished, it’s because they’ve perfected the art of relaxation. Taxi to Les Bains du Marais, where it’s ridiculously easy to melt away in the steamy vapeur of the tiled hamman. Opt for a massage; finish with gommage, where an attendant scruffs your skin, buffing you to a rosy glow.
Float outside and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the Marais, one of the most diverse arrondissements in Paris. Promenade down the rue des Francs Bourgeois toward the Musée Carnavalet, a Renaissance mansion showcasing the history of Paris. Madame de Sévigné, the town gossip, lived here and wrote prolifically to family and friends, allowing present-day historians to eavesdrop on everyday life in 17th-century Paris.
Nearby in the symmetrical Place des Vosges, snag a table outdoors under the arches at Ma Bourgogne, overlooking the stunning square. Start with a slab of silky foie gras or a garlicky salad of frisée tossed with chunks of crisp bacon and blue-veined Forme d’Ambert. The waiters are happy to divide an expertly grilled côte de boeuf, a slab so enormous that you’re expected to share. (Parisians like their meat nearly raw, or bleu. Specify saignant for rare, a point for medium.) True to the restaurant name, the menu offers quaffable Burgundy wines en carafe.