TRES CHIC

El­iz­a­beth Mery­ment gives the low­down on where to stay, shop, dine and drink in style in the su­per-cool French cap­i­tal

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

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.

SHOP­PING

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.

POT POURRI

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.

www.franceguide.com

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

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