Courtesy of Isabel Marant
Isabel Marant has been on a mission to push French style beyond the trench coat, one embroidered peasant blouse at a time. Already wildly popular among France’s art and fashion elite, the designer’s signature aesthetic of classic silhouettes mixed with ethnic embellishment is spreading globally as women around the world discover her two lines, Isabel Marant and Etoile. Such cosmopolitanism is fitting, perhaps, for a Parisian whose mother is German and stepmother is from Martinique. Today, Marant lives in Paris’s melting-pot Belleville district: “It’s one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods, with Vietnamese, Chinese, and North African people residing together.” Despite France’s reputation for parochialism, Marant says her neighborhood is a microcosm of the city. “Paris has always been this way, with the influx of African, Portuguese, and Spanish immigrants that began before World War I and continues to this day.” And while she recognizes the tensions that sometimes arise from such cross-pollination, Marant says it’s unavoidable—indeed, essential: “Today, we’re all connected.” —Alexandra Marshall
Le Balajo Dance Hall “My studio is in the area between the Bastille and République, which used to be the center of furniture and metal craftsmanship. Trendy people have moved in, but you can still find this old-fashioned, working-class dance hall where my father used to go.”
Marché des Enfants Rouges “This is a great covered market near my newest shop, in the Marais. I love to bring my boyfriend and son here; we can order couscous, pizza, and Japanese all in one place.”
Known for his boundary-pushing novels, Javier Calvo has always had a hybrid identity as both a Spaniard and a Catalan. And then there’s the matter of language. “Writing in Spanish, you’re in the same category as a Chilean or Mexican writer,” he explains. Ultimately, though, he’s a lifelong resident of Barcelona, the city at the center of the noirish Wonderful World (HarperCollins, $28), Calvo’s first novel to be translated into English. “Barcelona is traditional in that everything is determined by social class. I wanted to explore the gap between the bourgeois uptown and the working-class downtown areas. It’s almost two different cities.” As for his own rapidly gentrifying El Raval neighborhood, Calvo sees it as something of a bittersweet case study. “El Raval has a history of freedom, nightlife, and anarchism, but that legacy is sadly disappearing. This seems to be happening around the world as differences are slowly being erased.” —Sarah Wildman
L’Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau “This Gothic former hospital holds a library, language institute, art school, café, and many mysterious corners to discover, such as a gorgeous 18th-century operating room.”
Carrer de Joaquín Costa “Once infamous—a notorious serial killer lived here—this street is now lined with El Raval’s best bars. My favorite is the ‘Berlin-style’ (dark and industrial) Benidorm Bar.”
Before she turned a garden center–café in suburban surrey into the hardest reservation to score south of the Thames and penned a pair of hot cookbooks, A Year in My Kitchen and My Favourite Ingredients (Quadrille Publishing), Skye Gyngell was a restless Aussie. “I always felt like I was born in the wrong country,” says the chef, who left Sydney at 19 to travel Europe, later settling in London, where she has lived for nearly 20 years. “You do feel like things happen here first—London is historical, but it’s a modern city, too.” Her restaurant at Petersham Nurseries Café (lunch for two $145) straddles both a physical and a metaphorical line between city and country (note the borlotti beans straight from the kitchen garden). “But my food has an urban heartbeat,” she says. “It’s influenced by the Lebanese shops in my neighborhood, the Brick Lane Indian restaurants, the two Portuguese guys who grill fish outside on Golborne Road.” —Nathalie Jordi
John Sandoe Books “The staff knows every single title in here. They recently led me to a gorgeous Robert Polidori photography book.”
Ida “I sometimes eat two bowls of their hand-rolled pasta, especially the pappardelle with goat cheese and honey.” Dinner for two $80.
Marylebone Farmers’ Market “I’ll start my Sunday here with breakfast at La Fromagerie and then a walk around the market; I might pick up fresh eggs, sausages from the Ginger Pig, and maybe some flowers.” Cramer St., off Marylebone High St.
It’s nearly impossible to get past ballet dancer Roberto Bolle’s staggering good looks and focus on his talent (go on, just look at that photo), but talent is his, in spades. A child prodigy, Bolle was just 11 when he began training at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. Almost 2 1/2 decades and a glittering roster of plum roles as one of La Scala’s étoiles (stars) later, this season Bolle becomes a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre (May 18–July 11; 212/362-6000; abt.org) in New York. But Milan, with its mix of patrician quarters and gritty corners, retains a firm hold on his heart. “It’s not the most beautiful, or even the most appealing, city in this country. What Milan has instead is the modern human dimension—it’s a città vivante,” he explains. “The architects, artists, and dancers who live and work here are creating a vibrant Milanese culture.” —Maria Shollenbarger
Brera District “It’s still the best place to go for an aperitivo and be in the middle of things. It’s youthful and vibrant, frequentatissimo by the art students—though they can’t possibly afford to actually live here anymore, of course.”
Café Victoria “This is invariably where I meet friends for a late dinner after performances. It’s just a two-minute walk from La Scala, and has reliably good food—Milanese basics, always fresh. Plus, it’s great looking inside.” Dinner for two $102.
Chocolat “I tend to watch wha