La Vie est Belle en Paris

This one’s for Miss Julia Ralston, a talented writer that I used to work with and the witty voice behind Once Upon a Blog, where even I’m almost inspired to add some color to my life. When we went to Italy and Paris a year ago, Julia was kind enough to lend us her GPS for the rental car, which I’m pretty sure saved our marriage. As it is, we nearly drove down a staircase in Siena. So, when Julia asked for tips for an upcoming trip to Paris, I figured it was the least I could do. When we weren’t diligently taste-testing croissants and chocolates, here’s where we went…

eiffel

View of the sparkling lights at midnight from Palais de Tokyo.

eat & drink

Classic bistros, bakeries and chocolate shops are probably what come to mind first, but Paris is also increasingly home to international cuisine and foodie trends. Reservations are generally recommended and are much easier to get on short notice than in cities like NYC or SF. Plus, calling ahead to make sure they’ll be open is a smart move. Especially check for public holidays, then assume that restaurants might use that as an excuse to close for several days before and after, and then don’t assume that they’ll put that on their website. I learned quickly to have a plan b…and c and d.

breizh

I’m still craving Breizh’s buckwheat galettes.

  • Breizh Café:  Incredibly delicious buckwheat galettes (similar to crêpes) in a small and always-packed wood-paneled space in the Marais.
  • Cinq-Mars: A low-key bistro in the 7th, that I first heard about on Goop, and a total local gem where the standout, despite the slightly unappealing name, was Runny Omelettes.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon served up the biggest asparagus I’ve ever seen.

  • L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon: I generally don’t like super fancy restaurants, but this high-end spot in Saint-Germain-des-Prés was hands-down the best dining experience I have ever had—expensive, but so worth it. Creative, artistically-presented dishes are served in an open kitchen concept with counter seating that make it feel more fun than fussy.
  • Le Comptoir du Relais: Not far from L’Atelier, this charming, bustling brasserie feels like the epitome of Paris, but with a modern twist. Dinner reservations are actually needed here way in advance, but you can line up before they open for the one-seating only lunch, which is what we did. You’ll wait for a bit and hopefully get in, but the simple dishes heightened by fresh ingredients are a regret-free reward.
comptoir

Cheers to successfully waiting in line for lunch at Le Comptoir.

  • Le Dauphin: From the owners of the more upscale Le Chateaubriand next door, a hipster wine bar with a marble design in the 11th for small-plates and natural wine.
  • Poilâne: There’s no shortage of delicious bakeries, but this one’s beloved for its sourdough loaves, fresh jams and friendly staff, not to mention the generous portions when you dine-in.
poilane

A simple order of bread & jam at Poilâne exceeds expectations (and my appetite).

restaurants for next time

We definitely fell victim to the random closings restaurants seem to take and we just ran out of days, so all of these highly recommended spots are still on the list:

stay

paris

Room with a view—out our window at Hotel Montalembert.

Paris has many grand hotels, with familiar names, but we prefer boutique hotels with a more intimate feel. After a lot of research, we narrowed it down to three:

  • Hotel Montalembert: Another tip from Goop, this small, stylish spot in Saint-Germain-des-Prés felt Parisian, but in a modern way with clean lines and a neutral palette. Tablet warned of  tiny, nickel-plated bathrooms with lots of reflections, but it didn’t bother me at all. Maybe I was too smitten with the easy walking distance to shops and restaurants, the uber-friendly staff and the outdoor terrace for evening cocktails. Either way, next time I’ll skip the research and just book a room here.
  • Mon Hotel: Our friends stayed at this contemporary find near the Arc de Triomphe and absolutely raved about it. In the end, we wanted to be more central, but this was a close runner-up.
  • Jules & Jim: This hip hotel in the Marais caught my eye for its affordable rooms and high design.

see

Of course, there are all of the standard sights such as the Eiffel Tower, the Seine, Notre-Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre and the Louvre, but, in recent years, I’ve loved just meandering through the picture-perfect parks and visiting some of the other museums. Similar to restaurants, it’s best to check if museums are open before planning a day around them and many are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays.

centrep

The funky facade of Centre Pompidou.

  • Centre Pompidou: An ultra-modern complex that’s home to the Musée National d’Art Moderne and the Kandinsky Library with expansive city views from the top.
  • The Rodin Museum: With two sites and an extensive garden, see the sculptor’s masterpieces, like The Thinker, in a stunning setting.
  • Musée de l’Orangerie: In the Tuileries Gardens (worth a visit alone, along with the Luxembourg Gardens), this gallery’s famous for Monet’s Water Lilies.
  • Musée d’Orsay: In a former grand railway station, see impressionist and post-impressionist pieces from Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and more.
  • Palais de Tokyo: A disruptive center for contemporary art and events that’s open until midnight, offering an ideal vantage point to see the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower at night.
palais

We were lucky enough to see the 2013 No.5 Culture Chanel exhibition here.

shop

I talked a big talk about all of the shopping that I was going to do in Paris, but some of my favorite French brands like Maje, Sandro and Comptoir des Cotonniers now have boutiques in the U.S, so the exchange rate doesn’t always make sense. That said, I still managed to splurge a bit in Paris’ famous concept stores and I definitely stocked up on products like Caudalie and NUXE Reve de Miel at the countless pharmacies.

merci

A whimsical welcome as you enter Merci.

  • Merci: In a historic wallpaper factory, this multi-floor concept store in the Marais is eye-candy for everything from furniture to clothing, with a literary café and a canteen.
  • Colette: Another multi-floor concept store with a cult following where you’ll find apparel, toys, magazines and a water bar.
  • Chanel: While this was just window-shopping, I had to see the legendary boutique where Coco Chanel also had her apartment (though she notoriously slept at the Ritz) and workshop.
chanel

31 Rue Cambon.

  • Quatrehomme: I’d give anything to have this fromagerie, full of specialties and even a shelf for foreign cheeses (rare in France), in my neighborhood.
quatrehomme

I bought more fromage than fit in my carry-on.

  • La Grande Epicerie de Paris: On the bottom floor of Le Bon Marché (Paris’ oldest department store) is this gourmet food hall with butchers, a cheese shop and an international section. Simultaneously funny and depressing, we found the “U.S.A.” aisle where teenage boys were happily stockpiling a stash of sugar.
usa

Our country’s culinary offerings at La Grande Epicerie de Paris.

tips & resources

  • David Lebovitz, the acclaimed pastry chef and author, writes a blog about living in Paris that will make your mouth water and his “My Paris” is a great glossary of food favorites.
  • Paris neighborhoods are called arrondissements and are numbered, spiraling out from the center. Here’s a wonderful breakdown of the character and sights in each from Ella Coquine, courtesy of Young Adventuress. My favorites are the 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th.
  • If you plan to visit several museums and monuments, check out the Paris Museum Pass. We grabbed the 2-day pass and front-loaded our sightseeing.
  • I’ve personally never found the French to be rude, especially if you make an effort to speak their language. “Parlez-vous anglais?” = “Do you speak English?” That alone goes a long way to show you’re trying and usually they do.
park

A grand promenade, typical of parks in Paris.

Bon Voyage to Julia! And a huge thanks to my good friend, Bronwen, who shared her scoop (and an insane spreadsheet) with me before our trip. One of the talents behind Belcampo—farms, butcher shops and restaurants —I fully trust her opinion on all things food, wine and travel, and Quatrehomme alone shows why. À la prochaine.