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Best of Paris

Joanna Van Mulder A Carla Tolemeo-designed chair at the Hôtel Meurice on Rue de Rivoli.

Photo: Joanna Van Mulder

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; www.hotelsezz.com; 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; www.hoteldupetitmoulin.com; 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; www.hotelmeurice.com; 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; www.paris.vendome.hyatt.com; 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; www.3rooms-10corsocomo.com; 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; www.relaissainthonore.com; 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.


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