Let’s have a little tete-a-tete about one of the chicest cities in the world
This story is for the women—and the men who love them. Paris has been many things through the centuries: the birthplace of human liberty, the erudite clubhouse of beloved twentieth-century artists and the enduring center of the fashion world.
Every little girl is raised on the Champagne-soaked fantasy of Paris, from Madeleine and her two straight lines to Emily and her awkwardly on-the-nose American-in-Paris life. Many go to Paris; few truly experience it. Here’s my best advice on becoming the French
girl of your dreams, if only for a weekend.
It all starts, as everything should, with the shoes. Paris is a walking city. If you are speeding from monument to monument via taxi or Uber, you’ll see it all and yet, experience none. Whether you have a month, a week or only a weekend, start in the Marais, the oldest section of Paris but also the most avant-garde. Wear your walking shoes, because the streets are all cobblestone. Or plan to shop at one of the tiny boutiques along the Rue de Rennes, offering you the chance to tell everyone, “Oh, these? I got them at this little shop in Paris.”
The Place de Vosges, in the Marais, was the first square in Paris, the first park to open to the public and the blueprint for every European court to come after. Do a quick lap around the Louvre and skip the over-touristed cafés like Le Deux Magots, and grab a babka and coffee from Babka Zana at 8 rue du Pas de la Mule.
Begin with a visit to Maison Victor Hugo in the Place de Vosges. Hugo penned the French classics Les Miserables and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He was notoriously exiled for a period due to his vocal dissidence regarding Napoleon III’s anti-democratic power play. No need for a reservation or ticket. The museum is open every day except Monday and is free to enter. Hugo was an early adopter of the standing desk, and the museum also includes over 500 love letters he wrote to his mistress Juliette and pieces of furniture from her home, where he spent time in exile. What’s more French than including the mistress in the historical record?
Nearby, you can visit the massive Centre Pompidou and its contemporary art collection or the Musee Picasso. Reservations and tickets are recommended for both. Other treasures in the Marais include Breizh Café for a proper non-street cart crepe and La Belle Hortense for a glass of wine and a good book. If you left your reading at home to save space for shoes, don’t worry—you can borrow one from the well-stocked wooden shelves while enjoying an excellent selection from the sommelier.
Insider shopping tip
Take your passport with you. You’ll need it to get a store to provide you with a VAT refund form. In most European countries, they add a tax that tourists don’t technically have to pay. In France, it’s 20 percent. You’re entitled to a refund, but the process can be challenging. Research it and plan to arrive at the airport early when you depart to process your documents.
If you have a choice of timing, allow us to suggest a visit during “Les Soldes,” the government-mandated retail sales season. Summer sales begin on the last Wednesday of June, while the winter sales start on the second Wednesday in January. If wandering from shop to shop sounds overwhelming, head to the newest old department store in the city,
La Samaritaine. The grand dame of department stores facing the River Seine and the Pont Neuf initially opened in 1870. It recently re-opened after a glow-up thanks to its new owner, the LVMH group. Fans of
Emily in Paris will recognize the spot as the scene where her lawless friend absconds with a luxury handbag. There are over 600 brands, a Cinq Mondes spa, personal shopping services in a swanky space called L’Appartement and more.
Where to Stay
st germain-de-prés: relais christine
The ultimate pied-à-terre for the aspiring Francophile is a hidden gem tucked behind a leafy passageway in the St Germain-de-Prés: Relais Christine. Book a Garden Suite with a private terrace where you can sip your morning tea sweetened with honey collected from bees that frequent the hotel garden. Borrow a bicycle or the hotel’s convertible Fiat for an afternoon excursion (you’ll never be mistaken for a mere tourist). There’s no full-service restaurant, but there is an honor bar, and isn’t that all we need? And at under 500 euros per night in low season, you’ll have extra cash for the aforementioned shopping.
chateau des flors
The newest hotel in the city is Relais Christine’s sister property, Chateau des Fleurs. Never heard of it? That’s by design; all press was embargoed until recently. This thirty-seven-room boutique hotel is a nod to the Belle Epoque era and conveniently located on a small street off the Champs Elysees. If Adriana from Midnight in Paris were to choose a modern hotel, this would be it. Built to feel like you’re at your own home, guests are encouraged to leave their old-fashioned key on a leather ring at the reception desk every time they step out. Velvet banquettes, slipper chairs with fringe and Murano glass lighting fill the shared living spaces. The vibe is modern art nouveau and—with starting rates under 500 euros—affordable.
To feel like a true Parisian, skip the obligatory café and create a DIY picnic with a view instead. Head to the Rue Cler market near the Ecole Militaire Metro stop. Bring a blanket and a bag, and start at Davoli-La Maison du Jambon, then stop at cheese heaven Fromagerie and finish by snagging a bottle of wine at NYSA-Vins et Spiritueux. (If you ask, they’ll cube the cheese and cork the wine for you.) Find a grassy spot in the Champs de Mars park with a view of the Eiffel Tower for an afternoon of joie de vivre. As Audrey Hepburn famously said, “Paris is always a good idea.”