Paris travel guide - Citimarks
 

Paris

“What was this Paris like? What a vague name! She repeated it [...] for the mere pleasure of it; it rang in her ears like a great cathedral bell; it shone before her eyes, even on labels of her pomade-pots.”

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, Michel Lévy, 1857.

Dear Paris. I owe you what I am.

Rediscover Paris:
3 golden tips

Scratch the surface.

There is one mistake that travelers keep making with Paris. They stop at the first two pages of their search results.

How many visitors of the Eiffel Tower think of checking-out the nearby Palais de Tokyo of contemporary art? How many of them do they know that the most stunning public library in town, the BNF Richelieu Library, is just a few blocks away from the Louvre? At dinner time, they will rightly search for the finest French restaurants, but chances are that they won’t look for a more authentic dining experience.

Maurizio Cattelan, enfant terrible of the modern art, at the Monnaie de Paris, 2016. © Monnaie de Paris. Source: Slash.

The Richelieu Library of the National Library of France (BNF). Source: Quora.

Exhibition « Prince/sses des villes » at the Palais de Tokyo, 2019. © Palais de Tokyo. Source: Palais de Tokyo.

So, the next time you go to Paris, save some of your time to visit less promoted -but nonetheless interesting- cultural centers, such as the Fondation Cartier, the Monnaie de Paris, the Palais de Tokyo and the Fondation Louis Vuitton: These are places where you can discover contemporary artistic creation in its latest forms of expression. There are also museums worth exploring for the mere beauty of their edifices, such as the Musée Nissim de Camondo and Musée Jacquemart-André. The latter, set in an astounding 19th-century Parisian mansion that has kept all its original furniture intact, offers visitors a real-time travel to the elegant Belle Époque.

Detail from the dining room at the Jacquemart-André Museum.

Detail from the spectacular double staircase at the Jacquemart-André Museum.

The magnificent hall of the Nissim de Camondo Museum. © MAD Paris. Source: MAD Paris.

Scratch Paris’ glamorous surface and you will find beauty in its unpretentious places too. Like the Marché aux Puces, one of the biggest flea markets in Europe. In this city within a city, where you need a map to wind through its endless alleys, you will feel like a modern Indiana Jones, hunting treasures in the most trivial objects (yet, so pretty at times!).

If you want to upscale your scavenger’s hunt experience, then head to the Covered Passages of Paris. This early form of shopping arcade, dating back to the 19th century, is a precious architectural heritage of the city of Paris. I often visit my two favorite Passages, the Galéries Vivienne and Vero-Dodat, to find art books in rare editions and old city engravings. Try to visit them on a sunny day to watch how beautifully the morning sunlight washes their glass roofs and precious wooden storefronts.

The Passage Jouffroy, one of Paris’ historic covered walkways.

Detail from the Passage Jouffroy.

Old bookstore storefront at the Passage Jouffroy.

Naturally, you will spend time to savor the traditional French cuisine with its array of cheese types, its exotic snails and raw meats, its pastries, and fantastic wines. But if you are up for mingling with the locals, why don’t you book a table for a private dinner at a Parisian flat? You will feel the coziness of an authentic Parisian apartment with its typical wooden floors, its elegant wall moldings and marble chimneys, all wrapped in a tasteful decoration. In most of these reconverted spaces, there is a living room where you can chill out with a French aperitif; enjoy a friendly chat with the owners and other guests; and toast “Santé !” with your new friends, while the cook prepares a bistronomic diner for you, the trendiest culinary movement in Paris right now. Take my word for it: you cannot get an experience more authentic and more updated than this one.

Graffiti-covered walls at Les Frigos, an artist residence, originally served as a cold store. Source: Street Art Scenik.

Emilie Suzanne, ex-journalist converted into a passionate cook, is the brilliant chef of The Office. Source: Dailyhappynet.

The chef transformed her father’s photo studio into the cosiest guesthouse restaurant.

Detail from Les Frigos. © eosworlds. Source: Newsimages.

Read the cityscape.

Spending time in the museums makes us sometimes forget that the city itself is an open-air museum. As we discuss in an article below, the architecture of Paris, its lines, rhythm, and sense of adornment speaks volumes of how the French perceive the world: it is a mirror reflecting their collective spirit, values, and lifestyles evolving through the centuries. Exploring the Parisian cityscape offers visitors a key to understanding those who have created it.

The city has served as a backdrop for a long line of architectural styles. Book an architecture city tour and start from the Ile de la Cité, where Parisii, the first Parisians, settled around 300 BC; continue with the medieval area of Marais, or the gothic Quartier-Latin to realize the influence of the Catholic Church long before France becomes secular. The sobriety of the French Baroque, as one can notice visiting the ostentatious Invalides and the Sorbonne chapel, reveals the attachment of the locals to the ideals of order, serenity and symmetry: values that they didn’t manage to leave behind when the bombastic Baroque came along to sweep the rigor of the Renaissance. Order and serenity lived on, two centuries later, in the rectilinear shape of the boulevards and the uniformity of the facades. Baron Haussmann, mastermind of 19th-century Paris, added thick layers of marble and gold to capture the love of the French for the grandiose, the magnificent: a visit to the splendid edifice of the Opéra Garnier will convince you. Don’t leave out the Art Nouveau style, epitomized with Hector Guimard’s iconic metro stations, and the modernist buildings of Robert Mallet-Stevens at the 16th arrondissement that search for beauty within usefulness and minimalism.

Les Invalides, by 17th-century architects Liberal Bruant and Jules Hardouin-Mansart. © David Santaolla from Leon, Spain. Source: Wikipedia.

The entrance of the Porte Dauphine metro station by the eminent art nouveau designer Hector Guimard. © Bellomonte. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Villa Martel, designed by the talented modernist architect Robert Mallet-Stevens. © Rory Hide. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Absorbed as you might be looking up to the facades and rooftops of this city, try not to fall into its traps down the ground. Paris has many busy touristic centers and unexploited peripheries.

For example, at the Opéra district, you may want to skip the noisy avenues around the department stores and consider walking further up north, where the heart of the 9th arrondissement is beating: a picturesque neighborhood packed with lovely squares and cafés, like the Place Saint-George. In Montmartre, get past the crowded Place Tertre and look for its rustic alleys, its hidden stairways, its scenic dead-ends: Villa Léandre is a short alley lined with picture-perfect cottages that make you forget you are in a metropolis (and watch out for cameras, for they may shoot for a new movie). Get yourself lost in the trendy streets of Northern Marais and do not resist the charm of their apparel and design stores, venerated by hipster Parisians. The concept of this guide is to give you inside information and take you to places that locals love to hang around. Check-out the “City Map” section at the end of each article to find our favorite architectural itineraries.

The pink house, or La Maison Rose, in Montmartre, Paris.
Spend time doing nothing.

This is the most important piece of advice. If there is one thing the French know best, it’s how to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. And this means eating well, choosing your wine, and taking the time to enjoy your meal. Take a look around you. See any Parisians on their way to work with coffee cups in their hands? No Madam. Their coffee time, just like their lunch break, is sacred.

As with every sacred event, there is a ritual: as soon as they are done from work, they will head to a café -preferably with a large terrace-, pick a good observation spot and ask for a glass of wine. As soon as they have checked around for any known faces, they will light up a cigarette and plunge into their book -with one eye into the pages, the other to observe the passers-by. This can last for quite some time, until they bump into a friend and invite them to their table. Take my word for it – there is no better way to feel the heartbeat of this city than from the terrace of a café. So, when in Paris, do as the Parisians do. And for Serge Gainsbourg’s sake, put away your smartphone. It is not chic to let the city wait for you on the other line.

Man sleeping on a balustrade, Place de la Concorde, Paris.

Citinotes

window shop of Louis Vuitton

The art of display

A scarf embracing the neck of a statue; A shop front glowing with drops of crystal; Cherry cakes glossier than lip-gloss. Paris is a master in the art of display.

The café

A place to debate or philosophize, to seduce or break-up, to spread rumors or write a book…The Parisian café is everything but a coffee shop.

The seducer

From Cyrano de Bergerac to Juliette Greco and from Alain Delon to my neighbor next-door, the city is full of seducers, real masters of their art.

Interviews

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