5 years, 8 months ago
This post by Ryan Levitt, seasoned city explorer and PR Director for HouseTrip.
The first time I went to Paris, I was ten years old and my family went to the City of Lights on a two-day weekend that involved a rocky ferry trip across the Channel, a stay in a B&B on the Rue du Temple that had obviously seen better days and a trip through the Louvre that was so quick that the Mona Lisa barely cracked a smile before I was whisked off to my next destination.
Fast forward two (OK, really three) decades and I now have the pleasure in saying that Paris is a second home. OK, not literally, but it often feels that way.
In my role as PR Director for HouseTrip, business hops to Paris are a frequent need. And while the locals might laugh at my funny French (I am Canadian, after all), I still adore their passions, affectations, foibles and quirks. I love exploring this most romantic of towns and uncovering things along the way.
So without further ado, consider my top five list of Parisian locales – some obvious and some less so. It is not intended as a guide to secret finds, merely a guide to my secret finds. And what is secret to me might be blindly obvious to you. But this is my list… So my list, my rules. Allez avec moi!
CHEZ PRUNE, 36 Rue Beaurepaire, 10e
Ask any hipster where to go in the achingly fashionable tenth and chances are they will point you here. The food isn’t amazing (think warmed, over-veggie lasagna) and the interiors have certainly seen better days, but that’s simply part of its charm, n’est ce pas? Once a no-go area of down and outs, the Canal St Martin received an injection of interest after it made a stunning appearance in the film Amelie. This body of water saw Amelie’s stones skip on the surface after she flicked them from atop the famous bridge that straddles its banks. For many Parisians, the film shone this starlet back into their affections like an old lover rediscovered after a decade-long parting. Chez Prune opened to capitalize on this newfound interest in the district and is now the spot for models to hover over drinks and pick at salads, bad boys to pretend they are the new Belmondo and everyone to pout magnificently. Order something suitably unique and sit down for the evening. This is all about the long haul and not the short sip.
SHAKESPEARE & CO, 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 5e
I know this one really isn’t secret at all, but Paris’ most famous English-language bookstore is too often glossed over by the guides. A good friend of mine once worked at this store and regaled me with salacious stories about the hippie founder and his coterie of young ex- and current female lovers. Still clinging to its 60s roots, aimless bibliophiles can still negotiate the opportunity to spend the night inside in return for a day filing the stacks or filling order forms. Those benches you see stacked high with weighty tomes? Well, someone’s head was on it in the wee hours reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald by the light of the interior incandescents. If all you want is a quick purchase of a Parisian souvenir book, it makes for an easy stop situated, as it is, near Notre Dame. But if you want tales of intellectual fervor – and maybe a romance or two, befriend the team who work here and listen to the tales they tell.
RUE DES ROSIERS, 3e
Paris is dead on Sundays. The streets are empty. The shops are shut. This can be a blessing or a curse depending on your travel preferences. As for me, I like a little buzz and the Rue des Rosiers is where you can find it on a traditionally slow Sunday afternoon. This is the heart of the Jewish community – home to deli, bagels, falafel and, of course, a synagogue or two. But I come here mainly for the meat – smoked meat. Chez Marianne, Sacha Finkelstahjn, L’as du Felafel – it’s all good. Just look for the long queues and follow the scent of heaven. The best part of the day is swapping stories and making new friends with the other food lovers around you. After all, it’s not just about the sandwiches. (OK, it’s mostly about the sandwiches, but the experience is great too).
LE BON MARCHÉ, 24 Rue de Sèvres, 7e
Everyone knows the grand department stores of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. But my favourite salute to copious consumption is found on the Left Bank in Paris’ oldest department store, Le Bon Marché. Now owned by the Louis Vuitton group, this shop lays claim to being the oldest department store in the world. The building was built, in part, by Gustave Eiffel and even has a novel by Emile Zola – Au Bonheur des Dames – that uses the shop as its setting. I love it because it combines Left Bank uniqueness with Right Bank class and sophistication. You get far fewer tourists out to make a purchase of a branded bag or souvenir mug here. This might brand me a snob, but I am far from being at that class level – I just like to pretend it once in a while.
PARC DES BUTTES-CHAUMONT, 19e
I’ve given you places to shop and sup. Now, it’s time for a locale to get away from it all. While there are other parks with more famous names (I’m looking at you the Bois de Boulogne, Tuileries and Luxembourg), but this park has them beat. Because it is a little out of the way, first-time visitors to Paris tend to avoid it. But, they are missing out on something rather special. Opened in time for the 1867 Universal Exhibition, the Buttes-Chaumont is the most rustic of Paris’ greenspaces. You won’t find manicured lawns, or ordered symmetrical pathways like you do in other French parks. Instead, it’s a place of meandering paths, waterfalls and faux-rustic strolls complete with a temple. Bring a book and a baguette and you’ll be set for the afternoon.