France: Paris: Introduction: Just Back From: Paris Je T'Aime
Paris Je T'Aime
I realize that it’s not original to profess a love for Paris. When I tell people that I used to live in the French capital, most people’s eyes glaze over and they erupt into goofy smiles, never mind that it was a decade ago and that getting settled was, at times, less than rosy. The City of Light casts an unshakable spell—whether it’s your first or fiftieth visit—which, I believe, has something to do with the city’s mix of unique discovery and utter familiarity (the latter, thanks to countless books, films and songs). Every time I return, I feel like I’m back home and as though I’m experiencing the magic for the first time.
My most recent trip took me back to the city for the first time in four years, and the details that make Paris so special rushed back to me immediately. I remembered how much I love the massive boulevards and how one always underestimates how long it will take to walk around a grand place like Concorde; I love how the posters in the Métro advertise some haute cultural event—theater, music, dance, opera—with no Housewife or Idol in sight; I love how the workers at Pierre Hermé treat their job bagging colorful macarons like brain surgery; I love how you can return to a trusted staple like La Palette and see the same waiters and clientele as years ago; I love how the most serious-looking businessmen will complete their lunch with a creamy dessert, digging into it with the delight of a child on Christmas morning.
As much as I adore returning to my trusted staples, as an editor for Indagare, I am also always on the hunt for the new hot spots Parisians are talking about. This time, the buzz was clearly centered on the hotel world. The Le Royal Monceau, Raffles Paris, one of the city’s most venerable palace properties, had reopened to much fanfare—and local approval—after a massive gut renovation headed by uber-designer Philippe Starck. I’ve never been a huge fan of Starck’s hotel projects, but the Royal Monceau won me over quickly and completely (the fact that Pierre Hermé is in charge of the pastries, his first hotel collaboration, helped). At the Royal Monceau, Starck has managed to spin his trademark whimsy and innovation into a truly comfortable setting. The hotel’s relaxed but refined lobby lounge, for example, was busy morning to night with stylish Parisians and hotel guests mingling over power breakfast, gourmet lunch, Champagne cocktails and, bien sur, excellent people-watching. Read a review of this exciting newcomer.
The other big-news hotel to open is the Shangri-La, the Asian company’s first foray into Europe. Occupying a restored mansion that was built by a descendent of Napoléon Bonaparte, the hotel is close to the Trocadéro. It’s removed from the central sights, shops and restaurants, but has the best views of the Eiffel Tower of any property in the city. From one of the river-facing rooms, the tour looks close enough to touch, especially at night, when the famous monument begins to glitter (every hour, on the hour). The hotel also scored renowned chef Philippe Labbé to head its gastronomic restaurant (meals here have garnered rave reviews from the city’s toughest critics), so if it’s a great view and great cuisine you’re after, the Shangri-La just became one of your top hotel options. Foodie and design aficionados who don’t need the white-glove pampering of the Shangri-La will also love the fifteen newly opened rooms above venerable Thoumieux brasserie. Conceived by Thierry Costes and acclaimed chef Jean-François Piège, who also heads a new fine dining venture on the first floor, the restaurant-hostelry is located in one of Paris’ most charming Left Bank neighborhoods and the tiny but stylish rooms were designed by India Mahdavi.
A dear friend of mine once compared New York to a husband (loyal, beautiful, loving), Berlin to a good friend (reliable, low-key, fun) and Paris to the passion of your life that wins and breaks your heart time and again. It’s true that there are moments when the French capital can be cold, moody and lethargic, but this is not one of these times. The city is thrilled to show off its new openings, which besides the hotels also include a number of excellent restaurants, shops and a formerly gritty neighborhood transformed with art, commerce and food. It’s a great time to rediscover how to say, Paris, je t’aime — and really mean it.
In the coming weeks, we will post many more Paris reviews, including restaurants and boutiques. Contact our bookings department if you are planning a spring trip to the city.
Buy Mapped Out, Indagare’s family friendly three-day-map itinerary to Paris— Simone Girner 04/06/2011