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The Lowdown | Paris

Paris, Eternally refined, Forever beautiful Words by Alexandra Marshall

Where France

Quick Quote $1,000 per day (for 2 people)

Best Season Late Spring, Early Summer

Thinking of Romance, fashion, food, architecture

Best Portrayed in Charade, Before Sunrise

It’s hard to think of a city more idolized for its beauty and refinement than Paris. The lacy pale stone architecture on those wide boulevards, the dappled light bouncing off the river Seine, the soaring churches, gilt-tipped palaces and leisurely cafés. So fixated is the world on Paris’s best-known signifiers that it’s easy to forget it’s also a thriving modern metropolis.

As much as Parisians complain they feel they’re living in a museum, it’s here that global fashion gets pushed forward, food and wine and design trends are launched, ecological initiatives tried out and even tech startups spread their wings to change the world. (Say merci if you’ve ever participated in an online flash sale or used an app to hitch a ride in a carpool.) Even the city’s impossible-to-find taxis and their crotchety drivers are loosening up. More English is spoken, and politeness, traditionally that rarest of Parisian attributes, is even on the up. There’s never a bad time to visit, either: springtime rain is but an excuse to cut a chic figure in a trench, and when the winter sun gets scarce, the City of Lights glimmers that much more beautifully.

Worth Including in your Visit

For something edgy, it’s the Palais de Tokyo, dedicated to contemporary art and considered an important springboard for young talents. For the unexpected (and probably few lines), the quirky and bite-sized, Musée de la Chasse et La Nature is like a Technicolor love letter to the hunt and its prey, with a confidently eclectic interior design, and rotating exhibitions with contemporary flair. The Musée Rodin reopened late in 2015 with a cleaned-up, expanded collection of the sculptor’s most iconic works and it now includes companion pieces by his lover, the equally brilliant Camille Claudel. A bonus: The gardens are still vast and serene. 

”The iconic Parisian sidewalk café is great for passing time, but please don’t think you can eat or drink anything other than warmed-over industrial grub and shockingly bad coffee at one of them”

The Palais, of the Palais Royal, is itself is closed to the public, but its compound includes Daniel Buren’s whimsical striped colonnade, the theater of the ComédieFrançaise, and some of the best shopping in Paris. There is no sitting on the grass at the Jardin de Luxembourg, and sandal-wearers may not love the gravel, but everyone loves the discreet alleys, riotous flowerbeds, and garlands of ivy that seem to kiss the water of the Medici Fountain. Inside Saint-Chappelle there are fifteen stunning stained glass windows and richly pigmented frescoes, all painstakingly restored (most recently in 2014), making this small Gothic church a jewel box. 

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Words by Alexandra Marshall Paris Editor

Alexandra Marshall has been covering travel, fashion, design, and food for 20 years and counting (the last 11 from Paris) for WSJ magazine, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, W, Harper’s Bazaar, and Town & Country, among others. Before all is said and done, it is her goal to drive every back road in France; she is making excellent progress.

Some tips to navigate the crowds

The problem with icons like the Eiffel Tower is everyone wants to experience them. So it’s worth planning your visits accordingly, either going close to opening times, or with the expectation of a line. Book tickets ahead whenever possible. And if you do get stuck in a line, while you wait, just look around. There aren’t many ugly neighborhoods, and even those are fascinating.

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Where to Stay

No other classic Paris hotel so earns the “Palace” designation than the Four Seasons Hotel George V. Be sure to indulge in a spa treatment in between outings. The Hotel Particulier in Montmartre is pure originality, from the rambling garden to the maximalist cocktail bar to how each eccentric-luxe room, nook, and salon has a different look and feel. For creativity and rebellion, the Philippe Starck designed, Royal Monceau, is spot on, with an impressive contemporary art collection and bookshop. The Pavillon de la Reine is a genteel boutique hotel offering tranquility, comfort, and sedate luxury in the heart of the buzzing Marais.

Where to Eat

L’Arpege: For one so often spoken about in worshipful tones, Alain Passard’s distinction is the simplicity of his food. (His own farm serves the restaurant; heirloom fruits and vegetables, a short train ride away, never see the inside of a refrigerator.) Tucked away in the 11th, Le Servan, by two talented sisters of Filipino origin, is very happening and very relaxed. A former neighborhood dive once frequented by Toulouse-Lautrec, Clown Bar was totally revamped in 2014 and is led by a talented Japanese chef, Sota Atsumi. Enjoy the sizable portions at the deeply bourgeois Josephine Chez Dumonet, where everything is rigorously traditional and of the highest quality. Caffé Stern is serving exceptionally creative—gasp—Italian! To fuel your morning walk, pop into Telescope Café for raw milk cappuccinos and house made granola.

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