Best of Paris

Best of Paris

Joanna Van Mulder A Carla Tolemeo-designed chair at the Hôtel Meurice on Rue de Rivoli. Joanna Van Mulder
Joanna Van Mulder A Carla Tolemeo-designed chair at the Hôtel Meurice on Rue de Rivoli.
Joanna Van Mulder
Looking for the ultimate guide to the capital of French style? Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni has done the legwork so you can hit the ground running.

Paris has been my home for the past 16 years. My first job here, in 1989, was working for Karl Lagerfeld in the Chanel design studio. Next came W magazine, and then Harper's Bazaar. Consequently, I'm always being called upon for advice—where to go, where to eat, what to do. Delighted as I am to help, such questions are a lot to take on, because Paris is a different place for everyone. For some, Paris is about throwing all caloric caution to the wind. For others, Paris is where you can dress up in Lanvin or Balenciaga, layer on the chicest accessories, and don the highest of Christian Louboutin heels. For still others, Paris is about sightseeing and checking out the latest exhibitions.

One key to understanding the capital is knowing that its denizens take their politics as seriously as they do the quality of their daily tartine (buttered baguette) and tasse de café. The 2007 presidential elections, for example, have already been seized on by le tout Paris. The big buzz is the rivalry between Dominique de Villepin, the devastatingly good-looking conservative prime minister, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the diminutive but charismatic interior minister. The potential candidates are wildly different, both more than 20 years younger than the current president, Jacques Chirac, and are the subject of passionate arguments. They're just part of the general excitement and optimism of Paris these days.

Suddenly, the City of Light is smoldering again. After years of being mocked for being too traditional and taking its civic pride too seriously, Paris—with its unique mix of the old and the new—is proving to be the perfect antidote to globalization. Where else could you find popular boutiques specializing in ribbons, walking canes, dollhouse furniture, and taxidermy? On the other hand, any of Paris's 20 arrondissements (really a cluster of little villages) can dramatically metamorphose from one year to the next. For instance, when the Canal St.-Martin area became the new place to live, the 10th was transformed. When renowned art galleries such as Emmanuel Perrotin moved to Rue Louise-Weiss, the 13th Arrondissement became le "it" neighborhood. The once sleepy First Arrondissement, where my husband and I moved back in 1997, was turned into a destination when the trendsetting store Colette opened on Rue St.-Honoré. Sometimes, I pine for our old diner with its cracked-leather banquettes, for a time when I could slip out to buy fresh croissants in the mornings with just my coat on over my PJ's.

However, adapting is essential to life in Paris. As is being in the know. So, I've dug deep into my little black book and badgered all my stylish Parisian friends for this exhaustive guide to a town of a thousand faces. Just remember: Come with an open heart, don't forget to say "Bonjour" when you enter a shop or to hold the door when exiting the Métro. That, and the following recommendations, should put you on the right track.

Where to Stay

SIX TO BANK ON Choosing a hotel in Paris presents a delectable dilemma. Do you opt for the grand hotels of the Right Bank—the George V, the Bristol, the Plaza Athénée—for their excellent service, or do you cross the Seine for the historic charm of Left Bank establishments such as L'Hôtel Duc de Saint-Simon? There's no question that there's plenty to choose from, but the following list focuses on the Rive Droite, where new hotels have been popping up quicker than you can say room service. Christophe Pillet, who cut his teeth working for Philippe Starck, has designed Shahé Kalaidjian's new 27-chambre Hotel Sezz (6 Ave. Frémiet, 16th Arr.; 33-1/56-75-26-26;; doubles from $370) in a bachelor loft-meets-Blade Runner style. Platform beds in the center of guest rooms and the latest state-of-the-art bathrooms, which can be seen through a glass wall, give an impression of a loft-like space. All direct-dial room telephones are mobile—a thoughtful detail, so you can take business calls from the U.S. as you have your petit déjeuner downstairs.

If slate-gray walls sound too familiar or too masculine, Hôtel du Petit Moulin (29/31 Rue de Poitou, Third Arr.; 33-1/42-74-10-10;; doubles from $220), in the heart of the Haut Marais, is the perfect alternative. The rooms, dreamed up by Christian Lacroix, are both comfortable and a riot of color, much like the designer's clothes. Walls are adorned with vast carnations, carpets are polka-dotted, curtains get a style infusion with Marimekko patterns.

Discerning travelers looking for a central location should head to the Hôtel Meurice (228 Rue de Rivoli, First Arr.; 33-1/44-58-10-10;; doubles from $732). Loyal guests, including actor Rupert Everett, have been staying here since the early nineties. The classic rooms are well-padded and quiet, a bonus for light sleepers. Ask for a room overlooking the Tuileries gardens, bliss out in the spa, and, at night, chill out with a vodka martini in a leather armchair at the Bar Fontainebleau.

Many American highfliers swear by Ed Tuttle's Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme (5 Rue de la Paix, Second Arr.; 33-1/58-71-12-34;; doubles from $712). The glass conservatory dining room's natural lighting, elegant but easy mahogany chairs, and stunning display of potted orchids alongside works by contemporary artists such as Llyn Foulkes and Ed Paschke set the tone at this modern palace hotel.

Been yearning for a pied-à-terre of your own? Designer Azzedine Alaïa has done all the hard work with 3 Rooms (5 Rue de Moussy, Fourth Arr.; 33-1/44-78-92-00;; doubles from $550). The interiors are a study in understated perfection, with white walls, flattering lighting, and furnishings by Marc Newson, Arne Jacobsen, and Jean Nouvel. And since Alaïa insists on crisp, starched linens, the sheets practically crack when you climb into bed.

Though Le Relais St.-Honoré (308 Rue St.-Honoré, First Arr.; 33-1/42-96-06-06;; doubles from $228) stands opposite the über-hip boutique Colette, it feels like a quaint manor house in the Normandy countryside. Each of its 13 rooms and two suites has oversized bathrooms and is furnished with painted beams and charmingly cozy floral chintz.

Where to Eat

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK These days, the de rigueur dress code for an evening out is a pair of designer jeans (like the French brand Notify), so it stands to reason that casual restaurants are all the rage. Though they vary in ambience, these meat-and-potatoes places always have quality and authentic charm on the menu. With unadorned wooden tables, naïve painted murals, and a sound track of seagull cries, you might as well be in a simple fish shack in Brittany as at L'Écume St.-Honoré (6 Rue du Marché-St.-Honoré, First Arr.; 33-1/42-61-93-87; dinner for two $55). That's what owner Jacques Godin, who was raised in Normandy, had in mind. Order a dozen oysters (they have endless varieties), served with sliced rye bread and creamy French butter, or try the signature plateau de fruits de mer.

For a delightful lunch on the Rive Gauche, Le Comptoir (9 Carrefour de l'Odéon, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/44-27-07-97; lunch for two $48), run by Claudine and Yves Camdeborde, is unbeatable. This thirties-style bistro (complete with mirrored walls) seats just 20 inside and—in warmer months—another 16 on the sidewalk, and doesn't accept lunch reservations. But take this from a veteran: it's worth the hassle of waiting and not taking non for an answer. Order the grilled tuna, which comes with the crispest vegetables, or opt for succulent souris de gigot (lamb knuckle) served with semolina. Round out your meal with an indulgent cheese plate or double-sized pots de crème au chocolat.

For an affordable alternative to Le Voltaire (27 Quai  Voltaire, Seventh Arr.; 33-1/42-61-17-49; dinner for two $160), which parfumeur Frédéric Malle calls "the most grown-up jet-set bistro in Paris," head next door to the restaurant's café, "Le Petit Voltaire" (lunch for two $60). Aim for a corner table by the door and order the excellent, creamy vegetable soup and fluffy omelettes filled with morels and Swiss cheese.

Penelope Cruz has declared that Ferdi (32 Rue du Mont-Thabor, First Arr.; 33-1/42-60-82-52; lunch for two $75) serves "the best cheeseburger in Paris." The tartare-worthy ground sirloin, cooked medium-rare and topped with a thick layer of cheddar and Cheshire cheese, is available only at lunch, but don't worry if you don't make it till after sunset. In the evenings, the fashion-heavy crowd returns, its attention focused on Ferdi's tapas-style small plates and potent mojitos and margaritas.

Isabelle Adjani and Inès de la Fressange make a beeline for Farnesina (9 Rue Boissy d'Angla s, Eighth Arr.; 33-1/42-66-65-57; lunch for two $100) for excellent Italian food (think risotto with heaps of shaved truffles). The mozzarella di buffala is flown in from Naples every Monday and then ferried to town in a chauffeur-driven car.

HAUTE CUISINE, REINVENTED This city has always had a host of heavyweight restaurants: Taillevent, L'Arpège, L'Ambroisie, Le Grand Vé four. But a new breed of chef is rethinking the genre and has all of Paris talking. Dining at the Hôtel Crillon's Les Ambassadeurs (10 Place de la Concorde, Eighth Arr.; 33-1/44-71-16-16; dinner for two $490) is one of those flawless experiences. First, the 18th-century dining room feels otherworldly with its generous helpings of marble and gilt, flattering candlelight, and exquisitely laid-out silverware. Then there's the discreet service and the lavish array of delicious frothed-up sauces by chef Jean-François Piège. The cold and hot foie gras, served with peach compote or infused with hot peach tisane, is a winter must.

The tiny chocolate-covered ice creams served just before dessert are enough to melt even the most dyed-in-the-wool luxury-phobes.

Its caramel-and-muted gold décor gives Joël Robuchon's La Table (16 Ave. Bugeaud, 16th Arr.; 33-1/56-28-16-16; dinner for two $300) a Zen-like atmosphere. As at L'Atelier, his jam-packed tapas-style restaurant on Rue de Montalembert, portions here are small and ideal for the curious "I want to try everything" foodie. Thankfully, unlike L'Atelier, his newest offering takes reservations. Order the silky gazpacho of tomato, fresh almonds, and croutons topped with basil oil, or the succulent langoustines en papillote.

Making a reservation at Pascal Barbot's Astrance (4 Rue Beethoven, 16th Arr.; 33-1/40-50-84-40; dinner for two $360) needs to be done months in advance; the chef who earned his stripes at L'Arpège is that hot. Barbot takes the simplest ingredients and coaxes out their natural flavors with staggering results. A zucchini-and-feta tart becomes unforgettable, a dish of crab "ravioli" is deconstructed: paper-thin slices of avocado sandwich pristine crabmeat dressed with ginger and almond oil. And who would ever have thought that a combination of sweet clams with guinea hen could be such a triumph?

CLASSIC BISTROS: FIVE NOT TO MISS Retro-seventies red banquettes, brass lamps—what is it about the look of the traditional Paris bistro that makes you want to eat food that's hazardous to your health? This list of favorites covers everything from foie gras to steak frites to croque monsieur. Josephine Chez Dumonet (117 Rue du Cherche-Midi, ­Sixth Arr.; 33-1/45-48-52-40; dinner for two $120) is the place for seared escalope de foie gras cooked with white grapes and served with creamy mashed potatoes; the crispest confit de canard; and delicious desserts, such as the unctuous chocolate mousse and extraordinary Grand Marnier soufflé. The fluorescent lighting is not for the vain, but the food never disappoints.

Don't be deceived by the décor at Le Duc (243 Blvd. Raspail, 14th Arr.; 33-1/43-22-59-59; dinner for two $200), which resembles the interior of a badly lit boat. Start with the delicate tartare of sea bass and salmon, followed by fresh langoustines served with ginger and fennel gratin, and finish with light-as-air île flottante. It's easy to see why this was President Mitterrand's favorite restaurant and why it continues to have a power-broker atmosphere, attracting regulars like French tycoon François Pinault and designer Diane von Furstenberg (a.k.a. Mrs. Barry Diller).

Christian Louboutin raves about the sophisticated cuisine at Petrelle (34 Rue Petrelle, Ninth Arr.; 33-1/42-82-11-02; dinner for two $130), such as ravioli stuffed with crayfish. Perhaps he's also drawn to the charming Victorian furnishings, age-defying light, and that just-stepped-into-a-château ambience.

La Coupe d'Or (330 Rue St.-Honoré, First Arr.; 33-1/42-60-43-26; drinks for two $18), bang opposite Colette, is the place to hang out, eat croque monsieurs made with Poilâne bread, drink café, and watch droves of gazelle-like fashionistas. Make them envious: order a scoop (or two) of the cult-status Berthillon ice cream.

In the Canal St.-Martin area, La Marine (55 Quai de Valmy, 10th Arr.; 33-1/42-39-69-81; dinner for two $75) turns on the charm: attractive turn-of-the-century interiors and a drop-dead gorgeous clientele. Try the red-mullet and baby vegetable mille-feuilles or the hearty, garlic-infused fish stew in white butter sauce.

POST-MUSEUM NIBBLES Lunch is the first thing to suffer in any museum-packed itinerary of Paris. Here, five restaurants to remember so you can avoid tourist traps serving last week's steak at next year's prices. The family-run Little Italy Trattoria (13 Rue Rambuteau, Fourth Arr.; 33-1/42-74-32-46; lunch for two $55) is across the street from the Centre Pompidou and an affordable alternative to the museum's Georges restaurant. Order the spaghetti carbonara or the orecchiette alla siciliana (zucchini, capers, and garlic in a creamy sauce) and be prepared to share: portions are generous. Hip regulars include Rochas hotshot Olivier Theyskens and the new favorite designer of the ladies who lunch, Andrew Gn.

Savy (23 Rue Bayard, Eighth Arr.; 33-1/47-23-46-98; lunch for two $62), a traditional bistro a few minutes from the Grand Palais, is the perfect destination for stick-to-your-ribs lentils and lardons, veal served with shoestring fries topped with the meat's jus, and the darkest chocolate mousse. Those in the know request the front room.

For an inexpensive choice within minutes of the Musée d'Orsay, try Le 20 (20 Rue de Bellechasse, Seventh Arr.; 33-1/47-05-11-11; lunch for two $55). The daily, market-based menu (steak tartare or decadently buttery sole meunière) is written on a blackboard. Cigarette-haters beware: Sit near the door.

Lunch at L'Épi d'Or (25 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, First Arr.; 33-1/42-36-38-12; lunch for two $70) is a terrific reward after a grand tour at the Louvre (only five minutes away). Try Christian Louboutin's favorite lamb, cooked for seven hours, or kidney served with skinny french fries.

Chez Gramond (5 Rue de Fleurus, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/42-22-28-89; lunch for two $96) is ideal after a visit to see the Phillips family's private collection of Cézannes, Picassos, and Hoppers at the Musée du Luxembourg. Order the house specialty, roasted squab, and catch a glimpse of chef Jean-Claude Gramond working the room in his signature clogs.

After admiring the more than 250 sculptures at the Musée Rodin, it's time for the ultimate French lunch: entrecôte with frites or mashed potatoes and a carafe of vin rouge, followed by crème brûlée, at Café Varenne (36 Rue de Varenne, Seventh Arr.; 33-1/45-48-62-72; lunch for two $74).

What to Do

GALLERIES AND BOOKSHOPS Just as visiting museums is essential to understanding Paris, so is grazing in the rare­fied atmosphere of the antiques stores and bookshops. Antiquarian Pierre Passebon, the curator of Galerie du Passage (20–22 Galerie Véro-Dodat, First Arr.; 33-1/42-36-01-13;, has impeccable taste and stocks the best 20th-century French furniture, made by the likes of Jean ­Royère and Emilio Terry, as well as works by contemporary artists such as Wendy Artin.

Karl Lagerfeld devours books at a daily rate. The tomes at Librairie 7L (7 Rue de Lille, Seventh Arr.; 33-1/42-92-03-58) are mostly photographic and are laid out like jewels on browse-friendly tables. The designer glibly describes the selection as "artistic Left Bank," but it's much more cosmopolitan than that. Recommended titles, many unavailable outside of France, include Raphaëlle Saint-Pierre's Villas 50 en France, Paris by the thirties photographer Moï Ver, and Inughuit, photographs of Eskimo by Tiina Itkonen.

Palais de Tokyo (13 Ave. du Président-Wilson, 16th Arr.; 33-1/47-23-38-86;, across the Seine from the Tour Eiffel, is a huge space with mile-high ceilings that exhibits the works of artists such as Vanessa Beecroft, Jeff Koons, and Kara Walker. Other highlights include a bookshop and BlackBlock, the groovy boutique.

Galerie J. Kugel (25 Quai Anatole-France, Seventh Arr.; 33-1/42-60-86-23;, in the Palladian Hôtel Collot, is run by brothers Nicolas and Alexis Kugel, whose clients include countless Rothschilds, Hubert de Givenchy, and Henry Kravis. The mansion's four floors are full of superb antiques, among them mirrors from the throne room of the 18th-century Saxon king Augustus II (the Strong) and an eye-­popping collection of Renaissance jewelry.

Where to Shop

PRÊT-À-PORTER No need to limit your buying strictly to Saint Laurent, Vuitton, and Louboutin. These boutiques stock a well-edited selection of lesser-known and equally bright talents. The stylish Mona Blonde picks only the crème de la crème of the latest collections for her eponymous store Mona (17 Rue Bonaparte, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/44-07-07-27). You'll find trousers by Chloé's Phoebe Philo, skirts by Lanvin's Alber Elbaz, suits by Alexander McQueen, and shoes by Marc Jacobs.

Madame André (34 Rue du Mont-Thabor, First Arr.; 33-1/42-96-27-24) sells the Gilles Dufour collection plus a mix of inexpensive items, such as perky underwear by I. C. Pearl and colorful bangles from India, displayed in a candy-pink interior.

If you're heading to Paris to fill your trousseau, look no further than Fifi Chachnil (231 Rue St.-Honoré, First Arr.; 33-1/42-61-21-83). Fans of the lingerie designer's fifties-pinup style (push-up bras, marabou trimmings, lacy negligees) include Victoire de Castellane, Christian Dior's fine-jewelry designer.

Follow the lead of savvy Parisians to L'Habilleur (44 Rue de Poitou, Third Arr.; 33-1/48-87-77-12) for last season's designer clothes—both men's and women's—at exceptional prices.

Inès de la Fressange calls Calesta Kidstore (23 Rue Debelleyme, Third Arr.; 33-1/42-72-15-59) the Colette for kids. This sparse concept store sells the trendiest European accessories and clothes, including T-shirts by London's No Added Sugar and hippie pieces by Belgian designer Pilar.

SHOES, HANDBAGS, AND JEWELRY Accessories can make or break an outfit, especially in Paris, where ethnic baubles from Africa and India are currently all the rage. To find the season's status-symbol shoe, go to Roger Vivier (29 Rue du Faubourg-St.-Honoré, Eighth Arr.; 33-1/53-43-00-85). Parisiennes are smitten with la Belle Vivier, a high-heeled black satin court shoe with an oversized silver pilgrim buckle. You can while away an afternoon in the pampering atmosphere of this airy boutique.

20 Sur 20 (3 Rue des Lavandières St.-Opportune, First Arr.; 33-1/45-08-44-94) is every chic local's secret weapon. Bakelite charm necklaces jingling with cherries, along with other costume jewelry dating from the forties to the sixties, can be had at serious bargain prices.

One of those rare gems for which the Left Bank is famous is Adelline (54 Rue Jacob, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/47-03-07-18), where Adeline Roussel creates understated and infinitely wearable neck­laces, bracelets, and dangling earrings out of unpolished gold set with opaque ruby, smoky topaz, and lemon quartz from Brazil.

Find sumptuous estate pieces—necklaces made of enamel pansies, intricate diamond rings, chunky gold bracelets—at Lydia Courteille (231 Rue St.- Honoré, First Arr.; 33-1/42-61-11-71).

It is hard to resist the jewel-colored wallets, belts, watchstraps, and agendas in ostrich, crocodile, and shagreen at Atelier du Bracelet Parisien (7 Rue St.-Hyacinthe; First Arr.; 33-1/42-86-13-70; Everything is handcrafted and remains in pristine condition, even after years of use. Having artisans sur place means quick turnaround for bespoke orders for out-of-towners.

Channel your inner Jackie O. or Kate Moss and check out the sunglasses at the celebrated E. B. Meyrowitz Opticiens (5 Rue de Castiglione, First Arr.; 33-1/42-60-63-64; www. Although they carry plenty of fabulous designer frames, ask for the more exclusive Meyrowitz line.

PRESENT PERFECT: PERFUMES, GIFTS, AND FLOWERS A gift from Paris has magical connotations—as does a ravishing bouquet hand-delivered to your hotel. Here's an essential list that guarantees each and every cadeau you send will be well received. The flagship Guerlain (68 Ave. des Champs-Élysées, Eighth Arr.; 33-1/45-62-52-57; boutique has been superbly spruced up by style arbiter Andrée Putman. Take the gold mosaicked stairs, designed by Maxime D'Angeac, to the first floor for unfettered access to the house's more than 70 scents.

Editions de ­Parfums (21 Rue du Mont-Thabor, First Arr.; 33-1/42-22-77-22) is renowned for putting sultriness back into scent: Frédéric Malle's brand-new space and most recent creation, Carnal Flower, lives up to that expectation.

Talmaris (61 Ave. ­Mozart, 16th Arr.; 33-1/42-88-20-20) is the destination of choice for Dior's de Castellane and YSL's Stefano Pilati for their engraved personal stationery. Heavy stock is available in virtually every color of the rainbow. Owner Alain-Paul Ruzé also has an unbeatable selection of china, glassware, photograph frames, and children's toys.

For a truly one-of-a-kind gift, visit Claude Nature (32 Blvd. St.-Germain, Fifth Arr.; 33-1/44-07-30-79;, a taxidermist's treasure trove of pink flamingos, foxes, and deer's heads. The spare boutique's glass cabinets display exotic shells, framed butterflies, scarabs, and the deadliest of scorpions.

Fashion insider Amanda Ross recommends Papier+ (9 Rue du Pont-Louis-Philippe, Fourth Arr.; 33-1/42-77-70-49; and never leaves Paris without stocking up on lavender diaries, simple blue note­cards, a stash of colored pencils, and photo albums.

The packaging at Fouquet (22 Rue François 1er, Eighth Arr.; 33-1/47-23-30-36;—glass jars with dark brown-and-white labels—makes for an amazing presentation of this store's very expensive (and addictive) bonbons, caramels, and truffles.

For a great selection of coffees, teas, tisanes, and housemade jams, Comptoir Richard (145 Rue St.-Dominique, Seventh Arr.; 33-1/53-59-99-18) is a sure bet. Two must-have items: the licorice-flavored Anis-Réglisse tisane and wild strawberry confiture.

Nouez-Moi (8 Rue Clément-Marot, Eighth Arr.; 33-1/47-20-60-26) is the only place from which renowned hostess Comtesse Jackie de Ravenel buys her sheets. The shop will embroider your initials on petite pillows, bathrobes, and towels.

For the past several years, Odorantes (9 Rue Madame, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/42-84-03-00) has cornered the market on roses and other flowers known for their alluring scents. Each bouquet is wrapped with a poem tucked inside. Clients include Catherine Deneuve and the fashion houses Chanel, Givenchy, Gaultier, and Céline.

Vanessa Elia sells the best orchids in town at Au Nom de l'Orchidée (67–69 Ave. Paul- Doumer, 16th Arr.; 33-1/40-50-08-08). The exotic beauties are delivered in plain white vases nestled in tissue paper and purple-and-lime green bags.

NATASHA FRASER-VACASSONI is based in Paris and is the author of Sam Spiegel, a biography of the Hollywood film producer.

Promoted Stories
Explore More
More from T+L