Monday, Nov. 09, 2009


For all the talk of its fêted spring, Paris is truly a perennial city. In fall and winter, when tourist crowds are sparse, the city's cafés still hum and the streets throng with natives — well-dressed, portfolio-armed and back to work, refreshed from their own summer escapes. Running on equal parts pride and panache, this everyday Paris — found in sidewalk cafés or in the bookstalls lining the Seine — is equally exciting as any of the city's grand monuments. The soaring Eiffel Tower, the mammoth Louvre Museum, the cathedral of Notre-Dame — these are all worth seeing, to be sure, but even at street-level, Paris rises above its own hype.

1. Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe stands at the center of Place de l'Étoile, the hub from which 12 grand avenues — including the idyllic pedestrian mall, the Champs Élysées — radiate to form the star for which the Place de l'Étoile is named. Climb to the Arc's panoramic viewing terrace and gaze down each avenue into the city. It's the best place to admire the taut geometry of Paris's urban plan, devised by Napoleon III's prefect Baron Georges-Eugène Hausmann, who razed the city's medieval slums to lay down broad boulevards. Rows of neatly trimmed plane trees line each avenue, heightening the effect. You can also see the Eiffel Tower in its entirety from here — it's close enough for you to marvel at its construction. Yes, the traffic around the Arc is mayhem, and it's crawling with tourists. Don't be deterred — the Arc still thrills.

2. Le Fumoir

Any restaurant-bar located near the Louvre Museum should be a tourist trap or overpriced. Remarkably, the consistently excellent Le Fumoir is neither. Under head chef Henrick Andersson, Le Fumoir serves brunch and dinner daily, and stays open late for a fine martini — or three. Try the stand-out appetizer, herrings marinated in xérès (sherry) with creamed cucumber on spiced bread. The restaurant's decor is discreet, clubby chic, with dark leather and smooth lacquer, and the book-lined rear dining room is wonderfully intimate. With Wi-Fi and a generous spread of international newspapers and magazines, it's also the ideal place to lay your plans for attacking the city's sights, many of which lie within striking distance (the front door of the Louvre is steps away).

3. Musée de l'Orangerie

As much as it delights first-timers, the Orangerie is ripe for repeat visits. The gallery's appeal lies in part in a pleasing sense of scale — it doesn't crowd too much together, but gives the works on offer their due. That offering includes Claude Monet's masterworks, the Nymphéas (Water Lilies), painted in the artist's garden at Giverny and donated to the French state. Monet stipulated that the monumental panels be displayed precisely as they are seen today, in twin oval rooms that surround enraptured viewers with his vision. The gallery also houses, in its specially built subterranean section, the superb Walter-Guillaume collection of post-impressionist works — keep an eye out for Modigliani's portrayal of the fedora-topped collector Paul Guillaume as modern art's Nova Pilota (New Helmsman). Afterward, let impressions settle with a walk through the Tuileries gardens, or feed the pigeons from a perch on the promenade.

4. Shakespeare and Company Bookshop

Time has not sundered the love-in between literature and Paris's Left Bank. The Shakespeare and Company bookstore, has long been a fixture of the affair. The original shop, which doubled as a library, publisher and boarding house for aspiring writers, was opened by American Sylvia Beach and was featured in Ernest Hemingway's memoir, A Moveable Feast. The store closed during World War II, and was reopened in its current incarnation in 1951 by George Whitman, whose daughter, Sylvia (named after Beach), runs things today. Out front, bookstands surround an ornate drinking fountain, erected in the 19th century to service the area's poor. Inside, there's an extensive stock of second-hand books. When you're done browsing, retire with reading matter to the nearby restaurant Le Procope. Once the haunt of luminaries like Voltaire, Rousseau and Verlaine, its walls are adorned with author-signed title pages, addressed like so many love letters to "Le Procope." The sumptuous set menu (€46 for three courses) is dubbed "The Philosophes."

5. Institut du Monde Arabe

An estimated 4 to 7 million of France's 62 million residents possess Arabic roots (figures are inexact because the government shrinks from collecting ethnic data on its populace), so it's fitting that the country, together with 22 Arabic nations, founded the Arab World Institute. What's unexpected, however, is the Institute's building, one of Paris's most beautiful contemporary constructions. On its southern exterior, architect Jean Nouvel designed an intricate lattice of photosensitive apertures, which open and close to modulate the light that enters — a modern take on the traditional Moorish screen. Inside, there's a permanent collection that spans millennia of Arabic art, invention and design. Recent temporary exhibitions, including a survey of modern Palestinian art, indicate that the Institute's programming may be acquiring a contemporary edge.

6. Centre Pompidou

Three decades into its life, it's clear that the Centre Pompidou has succeeded in its aim of being both art gallery and cultural hub. Its modern and contemporary art collection, with over 50,000 works and multiple temporary exhibitions, is one of Europe's most significant, and its public library and performance spaces throng with life — more than 6 million visit the Pompidou each year. The landmark building, designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, wears its skeleton on the outside, with tubes and structures color-coded to denote their function — blue for air conditioning, green for plumbing, yellow for electricity, red for elevators. (Piano, who championed the revitalization of the Pompidou's environs, has his workshop a stone's throw away in the Marais.)

7. Paris After Dark

Cap a visit to the Pompidou with a twilight session at its rooftop bar and restaurant, Georges. If you're equipped to pay for the privilege, digest the sweeping views with champagne (bottles start from €70) and duck foie gras (€25 to sufficiently feed two). Too lofty? Then try the nearby Restaurant Derrière, an eclectically decorated lounge with a Ping-Pong table and a concealed smoking room, on the fringe of the Marais. Tucked inside a once grand villa, behind cult cocktail bar Andy Wahloo and the Moroccan restaurant Le 404, Derrière was opened in 2008 by the same team that created the other two establishments. A common outdoor courtyard and kooky sense of cool unite the three ventures.

If old-guard opulence is more your fancy, call on Le Bar at the Four Seasons George V Hotel for a cognac. Or order a cocktail from world-famous barman Colin Field at the Bar Hemingway in the Ritz Hotel — the dizzyingly expensive Ritz Side Car is a byword for Paris luxe. Finally, for unabashed dance floor fun, the venerable club Queen is still Paris's best party, unsurpassed for disco ball sparkle and driving pop anthems. Nominally a gay venue, it's open to all, but club-ready threads help for getting past the bouncers.

8. Piscine Josephine Baker

Alluring as the Seine River is, it's hardly fit for a swim — there's a reason why the man-made Paris Plage (Paris Beach) is a purely cosmetic shore. But for those of you who demand a dip in central Paris, you can swim on the river. The Piscine Josephine Baker is a glass-walled swimming pool built on a barge that is permanently moored just below the Bastille. Its modular design seems inspired by the Jetsons; its snazzy retractable glass roof opens to the sky in summer months, but also affords protection from inclement weather. The pool's 25 meters leave little room for Olympian efforts, but there's enough space on the deck to claim a spot in the sun.

9. Montmartre Walk

At first blush, Paris's Montmartre neighborhood might seem little more than a sad neon strip, lined with peddlers of souvenir windmills. But idle away a few hours in its intricate back streets and you'll likely find more local color than you would in the center of Paris. Trace the maple-dappled paths of Montmartre Cemetery to the resting places of the old avant garde — Edgar Degas, Gustave Moreau and Francis Picabia lie here, amongst the more obscure departed. Climb or ride the cable car up the hill to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre. Built to cure the country's spiritual ills in the face of military defeat at the hands of Germany, the basilica expresses a singular faith in beauty's power to move. From the steps outside, amidst hawkers and buskers, the city succumbs to countless daubs of gray in the dusk.

10. Shopping in the Marais

A marsh until the 12th century, the Marais has led many lives — parade of grand villas, Jewish district, gay nightspot. It's also a famous shopping precinct, its boutiques and ateliers supplying Paris's yen for simple things done beautifully. Stock up here on smart staples for your wardrobe, writing desk and larder. Ashen knits and dove-colored cottons are on offer at Loft Design By, a company founded in Paris in 1989 by Patrick Frèche. Next, select some fresh-minted stationery from one of the many papeteries on rue du Pont Louis-Philippe — the original, Papier+, has been setting a high bar since 1976. Then sample some organic olive oils and goodies at the newly opened Premiere Pression Provence — the shop has dozens of oils, but we recommend beginning with the award-winning Domaine Les Bastidettes. The candy-pink sidewalk table bears seasonal specials.