There's No Place Like (Second) Home
Where I stayed, ate, and explored in Paris, plus - musings on my return to France after a two year hiatus.
When Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz snapped her snazzy red heels three times, she dreamt of returning to Kansas. When I was a kid and saw Wizard of Oz, I snapped my heels together and said, "There's no place like Paris" three times, instead (I have the 20th Century Fox Movie, Anastasia, to thank for that).
Having lived in Paris several times, the pandemic's ban on all things travel locked away that little girl inside of me who - now knowing full well, many years later of course, that Paris is not and never was a young girl's cliché - always knew in the back of her mind she'd end up there. So this post is the story of the triumphant return.
This post is not called "French Wine Tutor's Guide to Paris" for one key reason: I really dislike Paris guides. If I'm going to Paris, it's highly unlikely I have a pre-decided programme. One of my favorite things about French culture is the widely accepted notion of the verb: flâner, which really means "to walk slowly, aimlessly, wandering". That, to me, is the epitome of my stays in this city. But it's hardly practical for a blogger to say: "Oh, just go to Paris and walk around. It'll be great!" So instead, I'm listing out some of my favorite places to help pepper your next Parisian experience. Not to define, and not to control. The purpose is to give you options - and you choose ultimately the parts of Paris you want to try.
My #1 tip, no matter when you go or for how long is truly that one: build in time to flâner. Paris will take you where you're meant to be. She always has for me.
EAT & DRINK
Ok, here's a truth bomb: Parisian "wine bars" are not like American ones. Their business can be anything from a wine shop to a restaurant and a dozen things in between. In my opinion, there's no such thing as "the best" Parisian wine bar. Instead, the question is, "Where can you drink great wine in Paris?" (And the answer is, if you love French wine, basically...anywhere. LOL!)
Le rouge et le verre (9th arrondissement)
This was the first wine bar I visited this time around, and it remains my favorite of the visit. It's a tiny place, with just a few tables outside, and is really more a wine shop than a wine bar. The inside of the little terrace is covered in these hilarious - somewhat racy - signs about wine and French wine culture. (See the little wood sign next to the name of the bar? There's easily 20 more of them on the inside.) The sommelier (who brought me a delicious Moulin-à-Vent) told me that it all started one night when one of the top graphic designers from LVMH stopped by the bar and asked if he could draw on their leftover wooden wine crates. When the sommelier on shift that night said yes, the guy invited his other friend, another top graphic designer, to stop by, and they drew all kinds of little signs all night. It was such a great little story and really set the mood for the evening!
L'Ascension (9th arrondissement)
My coworkers and I all got lunch here one day and it remains one of my favorite meals of the trip. The chef brings together the best of French culinary tradition and fuses it with Middle Eastern and South Asian flavors - and the result is absolutely delicious.
Le verre volé (10th arrondissement)
VV is somewhat of a Parisian institution for natural, organic, and biodynamic wines. they have a bistro (where I went for dinner one night), a wine shop, and a merch shop. Great portions and pricing await you here, and the wine list is HUGE. We had a delicious bottle of white wine from Corsica that really surprised me. There are both vegetarian and pescatarian options here as well so there's really something for everyone.
La Bringue (10th arrondissement)
This is one of my friend Steph's usual places, just a few blocks from her apartment at Canal St-Martin. The staff is fun and friendly and the food is DELICIOUS. I'll be the first to admit I'm not a true foodie, but everyone's meal here looked fantastic and my risotto was next level good. Their wine list is fabulous, and the Picpoul de Pinet we drank was the perfect pairing to cut through the cream in my risotto.
Aux Ours (20th arrondissement)
If you are staying the 20th, you'll notice that this café is truly in the heart of the Gambetta neighborhood. There's a two block strip on Rue des Pyrénées that has everything you could possibly want from a Parisian experience - old buildings, locals, a florist, two bakers, a butcher, and a cheesemonger - and at the end of the block is Aux Ours. It's so popular that it's basically always packed, but if you can manage to grab a table it's the best place to people watch.
Café Martin (20th arrondissement)
Real talk: there is almost nothing special about this bistro. It's just a classic bistro with a good wine list. But because I'm almost always spending time in the 20th, I stop by every time I'm in Paris. I'm obsessed with its little terrace on the rainbow street and it's easy for my friends to get to because it's literally 100 feet from the Gambetta metro stop. Watching the sunset here with a glass of wine is everything.
The Hoxton Paris (2nd arrondissement)
For a British import, this place was surprisingly full of locals. My friend Marie (truly - the textbook definition of a Parisienne, having been born and raised there) suggested it for drinks and dinner one night and I figured, well, if a real Parisian friend suggests it, can't be that touristy, right? It actually ended up being a really cool, hip, globalized experience. We went there during La fête de la musique, a music street festival, and basically people watched all night. Parisian Gen Z was out in full force, sporting crazy fashions, talking in fast slang, and trying to sneak into the concerts down the street. For people watching, there was nothing else like it during my stay. (Unexpected, right?)
This time around, my time was divided in the middle for a trip to Burgundy, so I stayed in two different neighborhoods and apartments when I was in Paris. Before I get there, though, let me show you a map of Paris:
I'm a right bank girl myself, so I always end up staying on this side of the Seine, but I'm also quite picky (and really, that's the secret of finding a good Airbnb no matter where you are). I like to stay far away from the Parisian clichés, the tourist areas (though France is not full of tourists yet - we'll get there soon I'm sure...), and areas that are kind of far from a subway. The green drawn outlines of arrondissements above - notably, the 9th, 10th, 11th, 19th, and 20th - are typically where I go when looking for places to stay. I never search in the 8th, 7th or 1st, and generally avoid the Marais (because tourists, eep). I've also stayed in the 2nd and 3rd arrondissements before and they're also nice but a bit more touristy/expected. If you're like me and you want more of a local experience, I've found that the green areas above are where you'll hear more French than English, and that's always a key selling point for me.
Paris is generally pretty safe, especially when you're staying in the périphérique (city walls, or any arrondissement), but things can get dicey toward the northern border, in the 18th, and an area called Barbès just north of Gare du Nord, which even Parisians will admit is the worst neighborhood.
Airbnb #1: The Heart of the 9th
This little apartment made my heart sing after two years away from France. Centrally located and surrounded by those iconic little blue Parisian rooftops, this one is minimalist, stunning, and gets great light during the day. It's within walking distance to just about everything you could need and then some - it's a great place to call home if you've got plans to flâner, too. You can walk from here to Canal St-Martin (trendy, hip, and oh-so-beautiful), up through the magnificent Montmartre, and even to Sacre-Coeur. It's also super close to one of my favorite museums: Musée de la vie romantique, a free Parisian museum with artifacts of life from the Romantic era in the mid-19th century (Love George Sand and Chopin? Go there and geek out. You won't regret it.)
The catch: it's up 4 flights of stairs with no escalator/elevator, there are no fans for ventilation, the kitchen is entirely devoid of day-to-day needs, and communication with the person in charge of renting the place is a bit awkward. The clothes dryer also didn't work for me (but I'm historically bad with European washer/dryer combos). If you're coming to Paris in the summer and are sensitive to heat, maybe think twice about an Airbnb and go for a hotel instead in one of the areas I've outlined above. Hotels usually have air conditioning, but most Parisian apartments do not. I was there during a weird June cold wave, so it didn't affect me much, but I was worried it might. If you're here for a short stay, it's no problem, but I wouldn't recommend it for long term.
Airbnb #2: At Home in the 20th
Every time I stay in Paris, I somehow always end up in the 20th. It's like the Upper East Side: bougie, residential, classically designed (think balconies and wrought-iron balustrades), and within walking distance to like a million parks and cemeteries (which I love - I'm telling you, the French do cemeteries right). From a New Yorker who will forever miss her little apartment on the UES, this area feels like home.
The apartment's host is kind, responsive, and funny - I think we would probably be friends if we met in real life - and her apartment is tastefully designed and functional with a well-stocked kitchen, cleaning supplies, and multiple ventilation options. It is literally around the corner from Père Lachaise and the Gambetta metro stop. There are all kinds of shops, restaurants, and boutiques in this area and you get a feel for the city here, far from the major tourist attractions. Oh also, did I mention is has three balconies, each with an amazing view?!
The only downside to the place is that it's on the 6th floor with no elevator/escalator... but damn, the view is worth it every time you make it up there.
The truth is that this last trip was for work...so if I'm being honest there wasn't much relaxing. That being said, I did make time for a few of my favorite spots to hangout, relax, and think.
I. Love. Buttes. Chaumont. It was first built in the 1870s and still retains much of the appeal of Belle Epoque Paris. It is calm, green, and full of these beautiful old bridges, overpasses, and of course, the famous little gazebo at the top of the "butte" (which is manmade, but who cares).
If you've never been to Paris, this is a must do, but strolling through it can take hours, especially if you're looking for a specific grave. To this day I still haven't seen all the ones I've wanted to see, but I just love strolling through it. The ivy, the cobblestones, and the incredible weight of history all hit me with equal measure and the feeling is unlike anywhere else in Paris.
Not only is this garden huge, but it also has a small museum with traveling art exhibitions and a zoo. Like the other places mentioned in this. guide, it's a bit far from the usual tourist attractions so I only heard French when I visited this time, which was really nice. The garden is open every day all summer until 9:30 p.m., so it's great for an afterwork stroll, too.
Now home to one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Paris, the Canal St-Martin is iconic but often overlooked. There are all kinds of hip bistros and street art exhibitions. Parisians will often just come out to the canal on the weekends with a sandwich and just chat, watch the ducks, or wait for a sightseeing boat to come by. There's an energy here that reminds me of lower Manhattan or Brooklyn - but way more chill and you know, French.
Et voilà - there you have it. This trip was short but being back at all was a privilege I didn't know we'd have so soon in a COVID (post COVID?) world. As always, if you're heading to Paris and want more advice on where to go, just send me a message! As long as you know you've got to wander and relax, I'll have an endless list of recommendations for you.
A bientôt !