When your boyfriend has to be in the most romantic city on earth for a very un-romantic work conference, what do you do? You insist that you’re joining, of course.
The week before the COP21 Global Climate Change Conference, during which my other half was running about like a headless chicken, I was casually strolling the beautiful avenues of Paris, happy as a vacationing clam.
I had not visited the City of Light since I was a teenager. In fact, I distinctly remember walking the length of the Champs de Mars with Eminem’s angry lyrics blasting in my angry teenage ears. As you can imagine, visiting as an adult is an entirely different, rather wine-fueled experience.
Unfortunately, it was also a vastly different Parisian experience than we expected, as we were there the week following the atrocious terrorist attacks on the Bataclan and restaurants around the city. That, along with the COP21 conference, had Paris on high alert.
While the streets were relatively quiet and the restaurants a bit empty—despite the proclaimed Tous au Bistrot—we felt very safe, consistently watched by soldiers everywhere and checked over and body-scanned before entering any establishment, train station, museum, or shop.
Paris will—has already, in fact—overcome the terror. The French are resilient. They did, after all, survive two World Wars and a Nazi occupation. The always-classy Parisians will continue to live their best life, no matter the adversity. And what a beautiful, charming life that is.
We spent a week walking the length and width of Paris, exploring its nooks and crannies—think the lesser-known Musée Rodin rather than the Louvre, the crêperie in down the cobblestone alley rather than the café on the Champs-Elysees. We even nipped out of town for a few day trips. That’s how we do.
Here’s a Bitch’s guide to conquer Paris in style, sans the touristy clichés.
Airbnb is scary and inconsistent in Europe, and I tend to steer clear. Instead, for a longer stay, go for a private rental company. We vetted a few, and after a recommendation, scored a beautiful, cozy love nest right in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés through Paris Perfect.
Paris for Rent is equally highly recommended, and they offer a different selection of apartments and neighborhoods.
After some deliberating over the value of the balcony versus the bed size, we settled on a gorgeous studio. A representative met me right at the door as I staggered from my Uber, eight-hours-of-trans-Atlantic-flight exhausted. She got me settled and even had the apartment stocked with pâté, espresso, and wine.
The apartment was gorgeous, comfortable, and so central. But the company has a big selection of hand-curated private apartments that it brokers and maintains for guests. It is 100 percent the way to go, and if you’re staying for a significant amount of time, it is definitely better value for your money.
Get off the tourist track and head to La Marlotte, a cozy restaurant that is true Parisian, right down to the scruffy, testy waiters who really had no patience for our poor French.
As we were shuffled into our tiny table, a chalkboard of specials was set alongside us, to which we pointed at various things and ended up having a warm, hearty, perfect French meal. The ambiance is cozy French, and the food is equally comforting.
55 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris, France
For a dining experience that isn’t over-the-top expensive but is definitely a treat, head to Bouillon Racine. It is straight out of a Paris poster, with its teal painted walls, fretted woodwork, beveled mirrors, and opaline glasswork. It’s so Gatsby-esque, in fact, that I was sad I didn’t don my flapper dress.
The restaurant is over 100 years old, famous as a soup kitchen, the ancestor of Parisian brasseries. The Art Nouveau has been painstakingly maintained, but it’s not just the ambiance that seals the deal. The food was lovely, too, with some of the recipes carefully curated and still present on the menu for decades.
3 Rue Racine, 75006 Paris, France
On the Go
For a quick pit-stop or lunch on the go, don’t get suckered in by the crêpe trucks in the squares. They are generally greasy and over-priced. Get a bit off the beaten track and reap the rewards. Places like La Crêperie des Canettes are Instagram-worthy charming and equally delicious, with sweet and savory crepes, and even more imaginative ones with ingredients you would never think to combine.
While I’m a usually a chocolate or Nutella go-to girl, I fell hard for caramel-and-sea-salt crêpes this trip. Like a giant, carby candy bar. Who can say no to that?
10 Rue des Canettes, 75006 Paris, France
For a Sweet Treat
Similarly, if the café you’re having lunch or dinner at serves Berthillon ice cream, do not hesitate. Berthillon is a French institution and while its main location at Saint-Louis en l’Île tends to be packed with lines out the door, most restaurants serving it will (very proudly) display it outside.
One of our favorites was La Maison in Place Saint-Ferdinand, a watering hole for ex-pats, which paired the ice cream with a fantastic caramel crème brûlée.
28 Place Saint-Ferdinand, 75017 Paris, France
In Need of Coffee
If you’re touristing around hot spots like the Eiffel Tower or Les Invalides, I have a nearby hidden gem for you. Le Boulanger des Invalides Jocteur, just around the corner from Napoleon himself, is the most charming of cafés and boulangeries.
The walls are pink and covered in gilded mirrors. The hot chocolate bar painted like something in a museum, and the pastry selection is so perfect I didn’t think it was real when I walked in. I had a hot chocolat and a pain au chocolat (because, I will have all of the chocolate, thank you very much), and I felt as if I were sitting in the powder room of a scene in a Wes Anderson film.
14 Avenue de Villars, 75007 Paris, France
Shop Your Heart Out
As a New Yorker, I found the shopping in Paris tempting, but much the same. Saint-Germain-des-Prés is lined with the Pradas, Celines, and Ferragamos of most major cities. So I was hesitant to stock up, lest I go over my suitcase weight limit (a common occurrence).
I did, however, go bananas with perfumes and beauty products. Paris is known for its fragrance labs, after all. There was one shop, in particular, that I spent an afternoon raiding: Buly 1803.
The perfumery and skincare company looks like an old apothecary, taking you back to 20th century Paris, with bookshelves lined jars of ingredients and powders, and drawers and drawers of hidden secrets (hand-made boars-hair toothbrushes, anyone?).
But while the products themselves are gorgeous—all natural, all hand-made with exotic oils and plants—the packaging and care is what makes them truly special. Each product is gorgeously illustrated, and boxes are hand-calligraphed to personalize them just for you (or your lucky recipient).
6 rue Bonaparte, Paris
Drink Champagne in Champagne
When in France, drink the wine. And if you have the chance, head to wine country. We rented a car for a day and bopped down the highway an hour to Epernay, a tiny little town in the hills of Champagne. There, Moët & Chandon has its headquarters and cellars. For me, this was like a pilgrimage to a holy temple.
If you book ahead, you can secure a tour of the labyrinth of cellars—18 miles of them, in fact, and maybe even a private tasting of their latest hand-turned vintage (it’s 2006 right now, and it is glorious). A religious experience, truly.
The cellars date back to the mid 1800s, and there are bottles down there that Napoleon himself corked. It’s an incredible journey into the history of bubbles, and will leave you with deep respect (moment of silence, please) every time you pop a bottle.
20 Avenue de Champagne, 51200 Épernay, France
Inhale all of the Art
Skip the lines at the Louvre and the Musée D’Orsay and head to Centre Pompidou, Paris’ modern and contemporary mecca. The building architecture is unlike anything else in the city, and from the top floor you have a panoramic view of Paris. Even the surrounding neighborhood is covered in stunning street art.
The art itself is quite the collection. The top floors have Modern masterpieces, but the bottom floors have rotating contemporary collections that span from brilliant to ridiculous (ah, how I love crazy contemporary art). While I was there, the COP21 inspired a massive international exhibition on climate change and globalization, told through art. Truly powerful.
Act Like a Tourist
This is touristy, but worth it: Take a day to get to Versailles. It’s easy peasy via train from Paris and a quick walk from the station. The palace is unlike anything I’ve ever seen—and I grew up in England, the land of castles.
Its staggering opulence is, well, breathtaking. And if it’s a nice day you can spend it exploring the buildings, the gardens, the canal, even Marie Antoinette’s estate, which is complete with its own English Garden.
For added value, watch Sophia Coppola’s film before you go (or after, like we did), and you’ll understand why the French were upset enough at their royal court to want to behead them all. We spent over an hour just gaping at the Hall of Mirrors. Go.