I am in love with Paris. I feel that I lived there in another life and sometimes I wish I lived there in this one. When we hit upon the idea of our faux Orient Express trip, of course we started in Paris. But what if you’re a Paris newbie? Inspired by The Telegraph’s ‘My Kind of Town’ set of questions, here are my thoughts on Paris for the lucky ones who’ve yet to discover it all.
For the architecture. (Nobody does modern architecture like the French). For the art. (Any artist who’s any artist has lived there). For the river. For the food. (That one is a challenge. Those supercilious French waiters can be intimidating). For that certain je ne sais quoi.
The best place to stay?
For us, always an Airbnb. Sure, as I heard some Americans discussing the other day, there are none of the niceties of staying in a hotel, and less security, but an Airbnb has it’s perks. This time we stayed in the bijou apartment of a travelling classical musician. Up five flights of wooden spiral stairs, into a perfectly packaged apartment, a jewel in the art of tiny living. Beautiful use of hooks and shelves, movable, stow-a-way furniture, mirrors and windows, made the place light and loved. We were in Montmartre – just; it was Kinshasa, with a dash of Serbian spice, and a soupçon of French thrown into the mix. There were two boulangeries in our street. Every morning Jim would fetch our croissant and pain au chocolat. ‘I feel like a local, I love it’, he said. ‘Past the Serbian church, and the playground. There’s no-one on the street, just me and the smell of the boulangerie’.
What’s the first thing you should do?
Raymond Blanc drinks a glass of champagne and John McEnroe orders a steak. Whatever your pocket, it’s food and terrace related. Sit and watch those Parisians strut their stuff. Notice how many of them walk around carrying a baguette, or count the dents in their cars. Admire their style, sit away from their cigarette smoke and then plunge in.
Where to go?
Walk or take a boat trip along the river. Every building of note is on or not far from the banks of the Seine. Don’t be afraid of Montmartre. Many warn against pick-pockets and yes, it’s touristy and crass. It’s also full of charm. The view from outside the Sacre Coeur is wonderful (and free). There are always buskers (if you’re lucky you’ll see the free-style footballer Iya Traoré’s antics aloft one of Montmartre’s lamp-posts) and everyone’s having a good time. Whatever you do walk often. That’s how you’ll discover delicious fromageries, hidden parks, sweet pavement cafes and some of the idiosyncracies of Parisian life.
What to avoid?
I love Montmartre but the Place de Tertres should be avoided at all costs. The food is no good and the drinks are overpriced.
Where to eat?
That’s a hard one. Everyone lauds French food, but this is the city where I have more trouble than anywhere else to find a place I’d like to go back to time and again. And those waiters. I remember a friend once ordered pigs trotters. ‘Non’, said the waiter with a resounding no. My friend tried again. I don’t remember his second choice, but the waiter still wouldn’t agree to serving him it. On his third attempt he picked something the waiter liked. Ma Salle á Manger features all the French classics, portions are large and the service friendly. And Place Dauphine has to be one of the prettiest squares (it’s a triangle) in Paris; leafy and green, it’s lined with cobbles and people play boules.
Ma Salle á Manger. 26, Place Dauphine, Ile de la cite.