Unveiling the secrets to Paris is off limits to some.A list such as this can only be put together by people who really know Paris.
When she’s (yes, Paris is a dame for sure) on the mood, what she can offer on a rainy day, what she can’t put with any more 100 degrees summer days. This are the type of things that take time but to the ones that indulge themselves in this discovery, Paris is a generous mistress.
see also: MAISON ET OBJET 2015: WHO, WHAT, WHEN
See and do
This is one of my favourite Paris churches, both for its architecture, which is an endearing mix of renaissance and gothic, and as an insight into Paris’ history: it is home to the shrine of Saint Geneviève, patron saint of Paris, who saved the city from invasion by Attila the Hun in 451. Inside is a magnificent 16th-century stone rood screen, possibly designed by François 1er’s architect Philippe Delorme, and a massive baroque pulpit. The ornate neo-gothic shrine, transferred here when the adjoining abbey church of St Geneviève was demolished in 1807, is surrounded by ex-voto plaques. Combine this visit with the Panthéon on the same square.
Place Ste-Geneviève, 75005 Paris
Fondation Le Corbusier
The modernist houses and studios of the 16th arrondissement were one of my great discoveries when I first moved here. They are a reminder that for all its historic heritage, Paris is also one of the birthplaces of modern architecture. Corbusier designed these two adjoining villas in 1923-25. Here you find all of his five principles of architecture (stilts, reinforced concrete, roof terraces, strip windows, ingenious built-in furniture), with a fascinating play of volumes and a use of colour that goes far beyond the white box cliché. The foundation also runs Corbusier’s apartment-studio at 24 rue Nungesser et Coli, open on Saturdays.
10 square du Dr Blanche, 75016 Paris
Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil
Also known as “the municipal gardener”, these elaborate, late 19th-century greenhouses were built to cultivate plants for municipal parks. The ensemble is grouped around a magnificent central tropical greenhouse, filled with steamy palms, an aviary and pools of Japanese carp. Other greenhouses are devoted to orchids, azaleas, succulents and ferns, while the formal gardens contain many rare trees. Get there before the site is decimated: there are plans to demolish some of the greenhouses to allow room for more tennis courts for Roland Garros next door.
1 avenue Gordon Bennett, 75016 Paris
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Of all the parks created in the 1860s by Baron Haussmann and his engineer Jean-Charles Alphand, this is the one that I find the most Romantic with a capital R, with its lake and fake crags, bridges, waterfall, giant cedars and unlikely palm trees. There’s even a cave, with fake stalactites. Pony rides and playgrounds make it great for kids. The rolling lawns are pleasant for sunbathing or a picnic, although you can also eat at the trendy bar/restaurant/nightspot Rosa Bonheur. Climb up to the Temple de la Sybille, modelled on the temple at Tivoli, for a superb view over Paris.
6 place Paul-Painlevé, 75005 Paris
Musée Marmottan-Claude Monet
This Second Empire villa is one of Paris’s secret gems, with its wonderful array of Empire furniture and the world’s largest collection of works by Claude Monet, most of them donated by the artist’s family. Among the paintings are Monet’s Impression, Soleil Levant, which gave its name to impressionism. I adore Monet’s vibrantly coloured late canvases of his water garden at Giverny, as well as Berthe Morisot’s affectionate paintings of children. Other impressionist painters on display include Pissarro, Renoir, Manet, Degas and Caillebotte. Don’t miss the Sèvres porcelain geographical clock, either, which shows when it is midday around the world.
2 rue Louis-Boilly, 75016 Paris
This little-known museum built around Antoine Bourdelle’s studio and apartment gives an insight into Montparnasse in its artistic heyday. While not a major sculptor, Bourdelle is an interesting in art history, as he was an assistant of Rodin and teacher of Giacometti. He specialised in monumental sculptures, including the frieze for the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and an equestrian monument to Argentine general Alvear. Another gallery shows how he endlessly reworked the head of Beethoven in different moods. At the rear, a row of studios includes those of Bourdelle and Eugène Carrière, left in atmospherically dusty state. Montparnasse is still littered with artists’ studios – look out for the big north-facing windows.
18 rue Antoine-Bourdelle, 75015 Paris
While hundreds queue for the Sainte-Chapelle a few doors up, far fewer visit the Conciergerie, yet both were part of the medieval palace of the Capetian kings. With its two impressive vaulted halls, it is one of France’s finest secular gothic structures but for me it is also the sight that best evokes the French Revolution. After the monarchy moved to the Louvre, the Conciergerie became a prison and hundreds passed by here on their way to the guillotine. Refurbished prison cells show how conditions varied according to status from communal cells with straw on the floor to furnished individual cells for the privileged. The cell where Marie-Antoinette was imprisoned is now a chapel.
2 boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris
Tucked just behind the Promenade Plantée viaduct walk in the historic furniture makers’ district of the Faubourg St-Antoine, the friendly, cooperative-run L’Encrier has been one of Paris’s best-kept, budget secrets for 20 years. An essentially local crowd and a few in-the-know visitors squeeze in around its simple wooden tables, drawn by the remarkable-value menus and attractive beamed setting. The kitchen, visible behind the white counter, sends out trustworthy, no-nonsense French cuisine with southwestern touches, such as pear with roquefort, duck confit and goose magret, and virtually everyone ends with the excellent chocolate profiteroles.
55 rue Traversière, 75012
Located in the heart of Paris’s Little Japan, Michi is a tiny, canteen-like hole in the wall, indicated only by a fish and the word sushi on the facade. It was recommended by a Japanese friend, for some of the best, authentic, and least expensive, sushi and sashimi along rue Sainte-Anne. If you’re lucky, bag one of the half-a-dozen places along the counter where you can watch the chef at work, otherwise you’ll be squashed into the tiny cellar. There are good-value formules, but go à la carte if you want rarer offerings such as sea urchin and eel.
58 bis rue Sainte-Anne, 75002
Reopened after a lengthy restoration of the 17th-century building, this is one of my favourite bistros. I like it for its reliable cuisine, relaxed chatty atmosphere and eclectic Left Bank clientele. Sylvain Danière was part of La Régalade clan in the days of Yves Camdeborde, and he keeps up the credo of revisited regional cuisine, produced from a tiny kitchen spied through a wooden dresser at the rear. Fresh fish delivered daily from Brittany and seasonal game in autumn are particularly good, and there are also plenty of fans for the delicious chocolately desserts.
92 rue Broca, 75013
Bistrot du Peintre
This listed, art nouveau café-bistro has a gorgeous 1902 décor of sinuous woodwork and tiled, allegorical figures of spring and summer. It is much loved by a laidback Bastille crowd for its satisfying, inexpensive cuisine. The choice goes from utterly trad snails or oeuf meurette ((egg poached in red wine), steak tartare and some southwestern French touches – my daughter’s a fan of the confit de canard – to inventive salads and creative tomato Tatin with red pepper sorbet, so there’s sure to be something to suit different tastes. All-day service is very useful when you’re on holiday. Try to be seated on the more atmospheric ground floor rather than upstairs.
116 avenue Ledru-Rollin, 75011
Marché Place Monge
Paris has over 80 outdoor food markets but this is my favourite, especially on Sunday when it’s a busy local rendezvous. Several stalls where you can buy direct from producers remind that the Ile de France and nearby Picardy are still market gardening regions. Specialists sell organic (biologique) salads and vegetables, apples and potatoes, and there are also excellent cheese stalls, fresh fish from Boulogne and Dieppe, and a few other options – DVDs, saucepans and Turkish jeweller Mr Saygi. There’s all you need for a picnic in the nearby Jardin des Arènes (the ruins of Paris’s Roman arena), including roast chickens, Lebanese snacks and a charcuterie stall that does steaming choucroute.
place Monge, 75005
Aligre is actually three markets in one. The outdoor fruit and veg market, famed for the lowest prices in Paris, is an experience all of its own for its crowded, noisy atmosphere and the cries and banter of rival stallholders. Produce, including exotic hot peppers and mounds of coriander, often gets cheaper as the morning progresses, and the crowds are almost suffocating on Sunday. The covered Marché Beauvau is a more upmarket affair with good butchers, a wine stall and Italian deli. There’s also a small and very shabby flea market on the square, mainly a source of second-hand books, household china and piles of old clothes.
rue d’Aligre, 75012
The legendary kitchen emporium has been supplying professional chefs and keen amateur cooks for nearly two centuries, a relic of the days when cooks came to buy their supplies at the nearby Les Halles wholesale market. Inside, wooden shelves are stacked high with every imaginable pan and utensil, spatulas and ladles, obscure paring knives, moulds and truffle graters, and items come in every size, whether you are cooking for one or for five hundred. Experienced staff can lead you to exactly what you want.
18-20 rue Coquillière, 75001
Le Comptoir Général
Le Comptoir Général bills itself as a “ghetto museum”, a not-for-profit exhibition space, bookshop, bric-a-brac store and bar, all of whose takings go back to the entreprise’s charity concerns. The bar, Le Rade, is arguably the centre of attention. The “shabby chic” furniture is accompanied by African curiosities, school chairs and stuffed animals. The signature cocktail, the “Secousse,” is a secret recipe containing bissap, an infusion of hibiscus flower. Check the calendar of events on the website or ring in advance: though the bar is generally open to the public, it is often hired out for private events. It’s also worth coming in the week, as queues at the bar at weekends can be horrendous. Although drink prices are low, a donation is required on entry.
80 quai de Jemmapes, 75010