We'll Always Have Paris: 5 Tips for Your Next Trip
Inspired by Condé Nast Traveler's August story "Bargain Hunting in Europe", Dinda Elliott decided to get away to Paris a couple weeks ago. Below, find five things she learned during her travels in case you want to do the same:
1. Go with someone you really like a lot
Paris is a very romantic town, so it's a waste if you don't. My husband has a new job in Boston, and I work and live in New York with our three sons. We needed a weekend together, far from the pressures of children and work. Corny as it may sound, we have been married for 24 years, but my husband still makes me laugh. I suggest you pick someone like him to travel with.
2. Go by word of mouth
Guidebooks are great, but from the lists of hotels and restaurants, it's almost impossible to know which ones are right for you. I asked two well-traveled colleagues at Condé Nast Traveler for hotel recommendations. Remarkably, they both came up with the same place: Duc de Saint Simon. Smack in the middle of one of Paris's most charming neighborhoods in the 7th arrondissement, it is a small inn, happily planted in the "old Europe." The rooms' wallpaper matches the cotton bedspreads, and the soft linen sheets are embroidered with the hotel's name--no mod duvets here. We stayed in Room 36, with pink-swirled decor that reminded me of my grandmother's perfumed apartment. The woman at the reception desk was just a bit sniffy: perfect!
Restaurant recommendations came from friends, too. Like Bistrot d'a Côté-flaubert, one of a food critic friend's favorites, which we went to with close buddies who have lived in Paris for years (10 rue Gustave Flaubert). The parfait of tomato coulis and poached egg with crunchy vegetables was scrumptious. The chicken "grilled like a frog" had a delicious crunchy skin. The lamb was disappointing; but the molten chocolate cake made up for it. We sat at a table on the sidewalk, talking and laughing for four glorious hours.
Our best meal was at Les Ombres, on the roof of the Quai Branly Museum of African art, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. When, on the hour, the tower started sparkling with hundreds of lights, my husband and I ran outside like a couple of kids and, giggling, took a goofy picture with our cell phone. Dinner was a fortune ($350 for two!) but worth it for a big splurge. The $100 bottle of pinot noir broke the bank.
Paris is a town built on a human scale--walking is the best way to get to know the city. One great route: start at the Tuileries (lots of couples necking), cross the Seine at the Alexander III bridge, see Les Invalides and Napoleon's tomb, then follow rue Grenelle all the way toward the chic little boutiques of the 6th arrondissement. Along the way, we discovered how much friendlier Parisians have become. Shopkeepers either politely endured our high-school French without flinching, or gamely jumped into English, eager to help out. What happened to snooty old Paris? Could it be the Obama factor?
Don't try to hit all the museums. There are way too many, so if you have only a few days, be selective. We visited the Musee d'Orsay, once a train station, and took in the breathtaking collection of Impressionists. (I had never seen Whistler's mother in the flesh--what a thrill.)
4. Ride the metro
Our friends suggested a walk through a grittier part of town for a dose of reality. We rode the metro to Pigalle, the old red-light district, then emerged at the Stalingrad station. The ride itself was revelatory: the further out we got, the more the population shifted from bourgeois old Parisians in cardigans and brooches to the new Parisians: Africans and Muslim women in headscarves. At Place Stalingrad, we found bustling commerce--falafel restaurants, halal butchers, supermarkets selling enormous sacks of rice, and Africans in traditional robes. The contrast between the entrepreneurial energy here and the staid center of Paris was stunning.
5. For God's sake, don't forget to shop
We hit Paris right in the middle of the once-a-year sales, called "soldes," which take place every July. My husband, who can't stand shopping, indulged me. I fell in love with the clothing shops in the Marais. Galeries Lafayette and Le Bon Marché were madhouses, but the shoe departments were worth the scramble.
We came home restored, well fed, exercised. I have five new pairs of shoes to show for my efforts. Oh, yes: bring lots and lots of money.
* Luxury for Less: A taste of the high life is much more affordable thanks to rare deals at some of Europe's finest hotels (CNT, August 2009)
* What Recession? It's business as usual at several of Europe's iconic hotels. G.Y. Dryansky talks to the Continent's top hoteliers to find out where the big spenders are staying (CNT, August 2009)
* Dinda's Dispatches from Hong Kong (it's partying and turning red) and Shanghai ("At Home in Shanghai" and the city's World Expo transformation)