Elizabeth Meryment gives the lowdown on where to stay, shop, dine and drink in style in the super-cool French capital
THE cab crawls past the Stade de France en route from Charles de Gaulle airport and inches through the streets of Paris on a cold, clear morning. It’s early and the traffic is atrocious, which is not such a bad thing when you want a good look at a place with excited if tired eyes.
It is all here: so startlingly familiar. The Concorde obelisk glistens in the sunlight, the Champs-Elysees bustles with cars, the gardens of the Tuileries gleam green.
And here are the zig-zagging white apartment blocks with their carved cornices and the sprouting boxes of geraniums, the cafes spilling on to cobbledstoned streets, the ethereal beech trees, the shops, so sparkly and glamorous, and the Parisians themselves, so chic, so stylish, so blase.
For all its eternal beauty, Paris is a place of magical transformation. Even from the cab I sense an energy that was absent on my previous visit three years ago. There has been an election. Fresh fashions are in store, galleries have opened, restaurants have closed, others have sprung up. There is so much that is cool and hip, there’s no need to revisit old territory. From hotels to bars and museums, the French capital is alive and jumping. HOTELS It wasn’t so long ago that Parisian accommodation was often a nightmare of failed plumbing, peeling wallpaper and Fawlty Towers service.
But these days Paris has an increasing number of exceptionally lovely hotels: the trend is for petite properties where the focus is on individual, if sometimes eccentric, touches.
Hotel Particulier de Montmartre: This gorgeously restored 1930s townhouse was reborn last June as a microhotel. Secreted behind heavy black doors and down an unmarked laneway, it has only five suites, each uniquely decorated (flea market classics mixed with luxurious linens and original artworks). Best are the roomy apartments that face heritage gardens. From j390 ($636) a night. 23 avenue Junot, 75018. www.hotel-particuliermontmartre.com.
Five Hotel: For those who value chic above all else, this Saint Germain des Pres venue is just the thing. Each of the five ultra-modern rooms (think LCD television screens, wifi and fibre-optic lighting) is decorated in a different colour (orange, black, green, prune or beige, and count me out of those last two) and has its own fragrance (absolutely not kidding). From j190. 3 rue Flatters, 75005. www.thefivehotel.com.
Murano Urban Resort: This Marais property lays claim to the resort tag because of the improbable existence of a heated swimming pool within its confines. Also improbable is the decor: strictly white, with splashes of fluorescent colours. Recommended for fashion tragics. From j350. 13 boulevard du Temple, 75003. www.muranoresort.com.
Jays Paris: A charming six-suite hotel near the Arc de Triomphe, Jays last year received a makeover and now has lovely modern French decor (freshly covered Louis XIV chairs and white-painted armoires). Owned by Australian Judy Braham, it is sure to please exacting visitors from Down Under. From j390. 6 rue Copernic, 75116. www.jaysparis.com.
Hotel Amour: In the formerly sleazy Pigalle district, this shabby-chic establishment has become uberfashionable following its renovation. Luxuries such as phones and minibars are nonexistent but the rooms are painted lipstick red and have a swinging 1970s feel. Cool. From j90. 8 rue Navarin, 75009. www.hotelamour.com.
Trocadero Dokhan: My favourite Paris hotel is at once quirky and classical. Owned by a wealthy French family but run by the omnipresent Sofitel chain, each of the Dokhan’s rooms is wildly and lavishly different. The top-floor suites have views of the Eiffel Tower, while the lift is a converted antique Louis Vuitton suitcase. A champagne bar, two real Picassos and a Matisse make the Dokhan very special indeed. From j300. 117 rue Lauriston, 75116. www.sofitel.com.
RESTAURANTS, BARS AND CLUBS
Ever since celebrated French chef Joel Robuchon retired from silver service and opened his madly popular (and still very hot) L’Atelier, others of his ilk have followed suit.
Now the city is dotted with a plethora of bistro-style establishments headed by leading chefs. Innovative French cuisine is thriving in Paris, and chefs are finding edgy spaces in which to showcase their culinary skills.
Atelier Maitre Albert: Surprisingly, a favourite French dish is poulet frites: chicken and chips. Now one of France’s most lauded chefs, Guy Savoy, has opened a ‘‘ contemporary rotisserie’’ in a super-cool space on the touristy Left Bank. The interior — all black paint, drop lights and exposed sandstone — is tres chic, and the menu does indeed feature rotisserie favourites. The spitroasted free-range chicken with whipped potatoes is delicious and affordable: our dinner for four costs j300. 1 rue Maitre Albert, 75005. www.ateliermaitrealbert.com.
Gaya Rive Gauche: Fellow celebchef Pierre Gagnaire runs this informal eatery with a menu dedicated entirely to seafood (fish in particular). 44 rue du Bac, 75007. www.pierre-gagnaire.com.
Spring: An American chef winning rave reviews in Paris? It has happened for Daniel Rose who, in a tiny space, prepares a set four-course, j39 daily menu based on market produce. Book ahead: there’s a three-month waiting list. 28 rue de la Tour d’Auvergne, 75009. www.springparis.blogspot.com.
Hotel du Nord: This ultra-swish restaurant and bar inhabits the building made famous by the 1938 film of the same name. This is where the beautiful crowd drinks and dines and there is some interesting cooking (think EastWest flourishes) and a sexy, ’ 30s-inspired fitout. 102 quai de Jemmapes, 75010. www.hoteldunord.org.
Cafe les Philosophes: For a classic Parisian dining experience, this popular Marais venue is always a winner. Fight to get an outside table, enjoy a carafe of wine, eat tomato tarte tatin and feel very Parisian. 28 rue Vieille du Temple, 75004. + 33 1 4887 4964.
Le Paris Paris: This tiny, secretive nightclub in the Opera district of town is the in-the-know place for the super-fashionable. There’s no entry fee but to get in you have to be ‘‘ on the list’’, which means you have to contact the website beforehand for a password. Drinks aren’t outrageously overpriced, the vibe is up and there’s good music. 5 ave de l’Opera, 75001. www.leparisparis.com.
The proposition that Paris has the best shopping in the world is irrefutable, especially for fashion.
The city has everything from classic design at extravagant couture shops to cheeky bargains at emerging boutiques and flea markets.
Good chain stores such as Gap and Zara, as well as specialist labels Noa Noa, Paul & Joe, Agnes B and Comme
des Garcons have fantastic and affordable collections. For upper-end fashion — Christian Dior, Gianni Versace, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Guy Laroche, Lanvin, Yves St Laurent Rive Gauche, Hermes, Prada and more — head to the perennially happening rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore.
Merely window shopping in this fashion mecca is enough to leave me breathless. Warning: if you see something you like, buy it, as you may never find it again.
On Boulevard Haussmann, department stores Galeries Lafayette and Le Printemps are treasure troves of great clothes and shoes in all price ranges, and the underwear and cosmetic sections are amazing. Go also for homewares, manchester, toys and babywear. (Galeries Lafayette has an excellent sushi restaurant, Le Cafe Sushi.)
Even if you have no children, it is almost impossible not to buy a stack of baby clothes in France. The French put so much effort into children’s wear that it’s little wonder their kids look so cute.
The best ranges are at Petit Bateau, which has a two-level shop on the Champs-Elysees stacked with classic bodysuits; du Pareil au Meme (shops everywhere) for funky, inexpensive designs; Baby Gap and Zara Child for hip and durable gear; and the incomparable Bonpoint, housed in an amazing chateau at 6 rue de Tournon, for extraordinary creations for perfect bourgeois bebes.
Here are some other funky stores, for all shapes and sizes.
Manoush: With pink wallpaper, a brassy chandelier and gold lurex shopping bags, Manoush may seem garish but its designs are turning on cool Parisians and visiting celebrities alike (Paris Hilton is a fan, but don’t be deterred). With only a few examples of each item, these creations are deliciously imaginative. 75 rue Vieille du Temple, 75003. www.manoush.com.
Colette: This uber department store is so cool it doesn’t even have a name on the door, just two large blue dots signifying its existence. Go for the experience, if not the shopping (there’s a water bar for refreshments) or pick up art books or designer shoes (say, black ballet flats with hot-pink bows). 213 rue Saint-Honore, 75001. www.colette.fr.
Bonton: There are cool kids’ shops in Paris and then there is Bonton. The little dresses are so hip — this season’s colours include taupe, teal, plum and khaki; no baby pinks or blues here — that you may wish you were seven again. Funky gear for boys, too. 82 rue de Grenelle, 75007. www.bonton.fr.
Fragonard: French bath products and candles are deluxe. Divine soaps start at j3 and candles from about j10. Unbeatable. Also look for gorgeous linen and bedroom knickknacks. 196 boulevard Saint-Germain, 75007. www.fragonard.com.
Princesse Tam-Tam: Pick up some girlie underwear at this affordable French lingerie store. 23 boulevard des Capucines, 75002. www.princessetam-tam.com.
Bike riding: Paris is on the move, by bicycle, that is, courtesy of an initiative from the socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe. About 10,500 bikes have been installed at 750 stations around the city, encouraging people to cycle rather than use cars. So far the initiative has been popular, especially due to its convenience and cost: you simply pick up a bike at one station, put a credit card into a machine and return the bike to another station that suits. The cost? An unbeatable a day. www.en.velib.paris.fr.
Smoking: Incredibly, France’s smokechoked bars, restaurants and cafes went cigarette-free on January 1. Hard to believe, but mercifully true.
Musee Guimet: If you reckon you have thoroughly done Paris’s museums, try this just-reopened institution dedicated to Asian art. About 3000 pieces are displayed in a beautiful 19th-century building that has been renovated over five years. 6 place d’Iena, 75116. www.museeguimet.fr.
Musee du quai Branly: The Australian Aboriginal art exhibition, opened last year, is already a popular part of this museum dedicated to tribal arts. 37 quai Branly, 75007. www.quaibranly.fr.
Images of elegance: Clockwise, from top left, soak up the atmosphere, not to mention coffee and wine, at one of the many cafe-bars that spill outdoors; Galeries Lafayette department store; plenty of room by the fire in the Murano Urban Resort foyer; the Australian wing of the Musee du quai Branly; Hotel Particulier de Montmartre (centre)
Sexy symbol: The soaring Eiffel Tower