Paris can be insufferable in a heat wave, but these tips will help you get by.
Heat waves in France are their own special hell. While I’ve never experienced worse weather on a more consistent basis than in the 12 years I lived in New York City, functioning in the heat in Paris—a city almost entirely without air conditioning—is a challenge unlike any other.
I’ve had ten years to work out how to survive the occasional canicule, as they’re called here. To anyone headed to Paris this week or next, which will see temperatures hovering in the 90s without much of a break, I offer the following advice—all of it learned the hard way.
• Buttes-Chaumont park in the northeast of the city is almost always about 4 degrees C cooler than anywhere else, thanks to its high concentration of dense, shady trees. Forest-parks like the Bois de Boulogne and Parc de Vincennes come a close second.
• You’re probably going to be riding the metro, and it’s going to be unpleasant. Do whatever you can to sit in the middle section of the car, where seats are arranged in banks of four. The areas near the doors may look breezier, but only the seats in banks near the middle have a breeze coming through the open louver windows. Trust me, it’s a breeze worth having.
• Anytime you can be near the water, you’re better off. The Canal Saint-Martin is lined with shade-giving trees and has good open seating—and is near the excellent Anglo-style café Ten Belles, whose fantastic chocolate chip cookies and sausage sandwiches are available to go. Getting by the water on the Seine is a little trickier, and a lot less protected from the sun.
• Cafes don’t routinely serve drinks with ice, so be sure to insist on a small bucket alongside anything you order. Plop several cubes in your glass of rosé—the only way they drink it down south, where the wine comes from.
• A folding fan and the pocket-sized Evian mister (the latter available at most pharmacies in town) work wonders. No one wears much makeup in Paris anyway, so don’t worry about yours sliding off.
• Supermarkets in Paris are one of the few places you can be sure of some air conditioning. They’re also the only source of a properly refrigerated soda, mineral water or bottle of juice. Small bodega refrigerators and metro vending machines spit out warm drinks. I don’t know about you, but facing down a hot Perrier while surrounded by deodorant-optional crowds is enough to get me on the first plane back home.
Alexandra Marshall is a contributing editor and the Paris correspondent at Travel & Leisure. Food, design, architecture and fashion are her specialties, which means, living in Paris, that she is very busy. You can follow her on Twitter at @alexmabroad and on Instagram @alexandra3465,