Paris is known for its exquisite cuisine, extraordinary shops and dizzying array of museums and cafés. But to really enjoy Europe’s most sublime city, do what the locals do: Keep it simple.
AUTHOR SARAH HORNE PHOTOGRAPHS BRUNO FERT / PICTURETANK
PARIS, THE DIVINE CITY OF LIGHT, elicits passionate reactions from visitors, and for good reason: Its streets and architecture are aglow with captivating light at all hours; its cuisine is widely imitated (though never replicated) in nearly every corner of the globe; and its sidewalk cafés are so redolent with romance that Hollywood has tried for decades to bottle the magic. Some visitors arrive in Paris with return tickets and are so completely seduced they simply never leave. Others depart reluctantly, only to remember their time here for the rest of their lives.
And then there’s a third group, who find the maze of narrow streets overwhelming, the language a roadblock and the pressure to make the most of the mind-boggling selection of historical sights enough to provoke a major meltdown in the shadow of Notre Dame. The trick? When in Paris, do as the Parisians do: Hardcore lovers of culture, the locals would never try to visit half a dozen museums in a day. Committed food fanatics, they cheerfully let lunch stretch to three hours whenever possible. And when a server seems brusque, they never, ever take it personally.
The most important secret to enjoying Paris? Don’t fret if you get lost. Sometimes a wrong turn is the fastest route to that perfect little shop or picturesque wine bar. A sprawling, heartbreakingly beautiful city, Paris is ripe for those who appreciate serendipity.
So take a deep breath, and off you go.
Image – Bruno Fert / Picturetank
DAY ONE Stretch indulgently as you open your eyes at the Hôtel Particulier (1), a Montmartre mansion that once belonged to the Hermès family. Descend to the mod salon for a taste of perfection served on a silver tray: a warm chocolate croissant, slices of airy, chewy baguette with butter and jam, and a steaming pot of coffee, all proffered by a demure serveuse clad in a proper French maid’s uniform.
Outside, wend your way down majestic Avenue Junot, admiring the grand Haussmann-era homes that French film stars like Fanny Ardant call home. A well-heeled dame shuffles past, off to do her provisioning at the local boulangerie Le Grenier à Pain (2), which was awarded the prize for best baguette in Paris earlier this year (and is therefore duty-bound to supply President Sarkozy and Carla Bruni’s daily loaves).
After getting lost on the crowded stairways of Montmartre—made famous by Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso—you happen upon the Lamarck-Caulaincourt metro stop, where you’ll say goodbye to this arty enclave and make for the center of the city.
At the St-Michel stop, avoid the noisy bustle of the Latin Quarter and turn toward the river, wandering down the Quai des Grands Augustins and browsing through the bouquinistes’ stalls of vintage books before crossing the Seine on the Pont des Arts (3). Here, on the wooden span of the bridge, you’ll find a bench at which to pause and take in the Ile de la Cité and much of medieval Paris arrayed before you. Suddenly you feel a touch of vertigo, but relax, it’s just a little sensory overload. The best antidote is lunch.
Dancing in Montmartre
Image – Bruno Fert / Picturetank
Thankfully, you’ve booked ahead at La Régalade Saint-Honoré (4), one of Paris’ most highly regarded “neo-bistros,” set just behind the Louvre. Take respite in the unadorned dining room and kick things off with a rustic pot of chicken pâté served with delectable mini cornichons. The prix-fixe menu, concocted by chef Bruno Doucet, is exactly the initiation into French dining that you’ve been yearning for, all the simple joys of foodie Paris on three no-frills white plates.
Sated, you decide to walk off this feast in the Jardin des Tuileries (5), beginning at the glass pyramid of the Louvre and sauntering west, marveling at the precisely pruned gardens first laid out for the delight of Louis XIV in 1664. Once filled with courtiers, the Tuileries are now packed with chic sunbathers who lounge on green metal chairs wearing ballet flats and ultrashort shorts, small dogs napping in the shade under their legs.
You extract yourself from the bliss of people watching for a healthy dose of culture at the Musée de l’Orangerie (6), the French monarchs’ former greenhouse just off the Place de la Concorde. You are transported by the room full of Claude Monet’s water lilies and feel your blood pressure lowering as you settle into the rhythm of Parisian life.
Next, hop the metro back to the hotel and slip upstairs for a late afternoon nap before primping for a fashionably late dinner. You’ve made reservations in cool- again Pigalle, where you dine on the back patio at Hôtel Amour (7) among the very young and the very thin. Order some French comfort fare and raise a glass to your exceptionally tired feet.