An archive and repository of travel [travel writing and photography] notes, tips, articles and references.
Now many of you have been to Paris, so, fearful of telling you what you already know, I thought I’d write about some of the wonderful secrets I’ve discovered about this city. Several kind readers (thank you) have already emailed me their insights, which I’ll include here over the next few weeks, and if you know any more, do please drop a comment when you have time. That’s the thing about Paris. We may think we know the city like the back of our Chanel No 5s, but there’s always something new to discover. Like a lady, Paris never reveals everything at once. She doesn’t even reveal it after 500 years…
I adore this corner of the Luxembourg Gardens. I’ve pointed this quirky, curious sight out to many friends and (like me) they’ve been surprised that they’ve never noticed it before. This is the Medici Fountain in the eastern side of the gardens, commissioned around 1630 by Marie de Medici. Notice how the water looks like it’s on an angle? Clever, isn’t it. It’s the sly design. Those nifty Parisians… Always got an aesthetic trick up their sleeve…
The Cour de Rohan must be one of the most fascinating courtyards of Paris. It’s certainly one of my favourites. It’s actually a series of three enchanting, interconnecting cobblestoned medieval courtyards set off the Cour de Commerce Saint-Andre in the 6th. (Near Cafe Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris, which is another fascinating place.) Normally closed to tourists, its gates are left open each Wednesday (I think it’s some kind of Body Corporate law?), so if you time your walk right you’ll be able to wander right through. Otherwise, try early morning. The lanes date from 1600, and have barely changed since then. You can even still see part of the original city wall that protected Paris. And the ancient wooden doors are enthralling. It’s so authentic, it’s where they filmed Gigi. Balthus also had his atelier here. Oh – and the ‘gentleman’ who invented the guillotine created his gruesome machine here too. Entrance at 128 Blvd. St. Germain or on Rue St. Andre des Arts. Metro: Odeon. Note: The Gigi scene featuring Madame Alvarez’s apartment where Gigi, or Leslie Caron, lived with her Grandmamma, was filmed in the first courtyard at No 9.
Want a great view of Paris? Forget the queues of the Sacre Coeur and head across the river to L’Institut du Monde Arabe. Not only does this building feature one of the most incredible facades in the city – truly innovative architecture that reacts to the sun (see Wikipedia for full details) – it also commands a prime position for photography. And it has created a rooftop terrace just for happy snappers. Entry is free. But it’s better if you grab a coffee or lunch from the restaurant while you’re up there. Its exhibitions are great too. I saw a fabulous Hermés one here one year.
Okay, so it’s not so secret, but I think it’s still lovely. Every time you walk across the pretty pedestrian-only Pont des Arts bridge over the Seine, pause and consider all the locks. The Parisian authorities hate this because it creates a mess (SO undignified in Paris!), but it’s rather romantic all the same. Lovers leave locks here, you see, signed with their names, in the hope it will bring them love and good luck. It’s a touching gesture, I think, even if it does mess up the bridge.
Spotting Karl is a game that a fashion-loving, Paris-based friend of mine likes to play. “I caught Karl today!” he often texts me, much to my dismay. (I’d love to see him too!) This is because the famous Chanel designer is easier to spot that you might think. He tends to linger around the same places in the city, so if you’re lucky you might just glimpse him. Here’s the secret – he reportedly lives in the upper two floors of the building on the corner of Rues des Saint-Peres and Quais Malaquais, where he loves looking out over the river and the Louvre. His bookshop, 7L, is also just around the corner on Rue de Lille (much of the stock is suggested by him), and his other favourite haunt is Librarie Galignani bookstore at 224 Rue de Rivoli. You could say hello but perhaps don’t pester him. It must be painful being so famous. (As if I’d know.)
The Opera Garnier, which is also known as the Paris Opera House, is one of the most thrilling interiors you can see in this city. Astonishingly opulent, it will make you giddy with delight. Personally, I love a bit of Beaux Arts, but that’s not just why I like to visit. No. I love it because it’s built over a subterranean lake. I love that it has a 7-ton bronze and crystal chandelier (so heavy that one just one of its parts fell, it killed an audience member below). I love it that when it was built it became one of the most inspirational architectural prototypes for the following thirty years. And I love it that it was the setting for Phantom of the Opera. If you haven’t see it yet, do pay a visit. You’ll be similarly enthralled.