Fortune graced me with the opportunity to spend two weeks in Paris in early December. It wasn’t my first trip so there was no need to play tourist bingo. Instead, I had the luxury of seeking out a few alternative highlights. Here are some of my favourite discoveries.
1. Serious art in a space-age destination: Fondation Louis Vuitton
I visited an incredible exhibition at Fondation Louis Vuitton called “Icons of Modern Art: the Shchukin Collection“. It featured stunning works of art I’d never seen before from world famous artists including Matisse, Gaugin and Picasso. The experience was a little marred by the enormous crowds of fellow visitors. (We waited in line for over 40 minutes). But at least we had a chance to admire the eccentric glass building that housed this amazing treasure trove.
2. Tea time: Mariage Frères
Being English, I don’t typically associate France with great tea, (I like mine in a proper mug with milk, thank you). But Mariage Frères proved to me that there are some French tea producers who know their onions when it comes to tea drinking. Their shop tucked away in the Marais is like Harry Potter’s wand shop but for tea drinkers. Stacked high on old fashioned shelves there are hundreds of blends to choose from. These are best sampled in the elegant tea room behind the shop. The prices might make you stew but the luxurious experience is a memorable one, I promise.
3. My dream boots: La Botte Gardiane
The French for window shopping is lèche–vitrine, which literally translates as licking the windows. I was certainly drooling a lot of the time when I wondered through the Marais’s treasure trove of delightful boutiques (while trying to avert my eyes from the price tags). La Botte Gardiane was my favourite shop, selling the coolest range of boots made in France, originally designed for French cowboys in the Camargue (I didn’t know France had cowboys either). My pair were over 200 euros but I’m told they’ll last forever.
4. My favourite bistrot: Les Philosophes
In the Marais, we were spoilt for choice for dining options but, slightly embarrassingly, we ended up in the same bistrot almost every night; Les Philosophes. Here’s why:
- Its delicious menu featured veggie options and the city’s best tarte tatin
- Its commitment to responsibly sourced food (the owner is a famous campaigner on this)
- Its prices: dish of the day came in at 12 euros and was always delicious
- The jovial waiters, who, although constantly busy, were never anything other than charming and helpful
- The characters we met there. One lady told us she dined there most nights and that the cafe had been a beacon for her when she was feeling depressed
5. A calm haven: Eglise Saint-Sulpice
City breaks tend to leave me a bit frazzled from all the walking and people so any chance to escape the crowds is welcome. I found my respite at the Eglise Saint-Sulpice. Our guide book described this church as stark but to me it was the opposite: abundant in space, decor and beauty. There is an incredible Madonna statue set back from the alter with a Delacroix mural overhead. Although I’m not Catholic, I lit a candle and enjoyed a few moments of calm contemplation.