I absolutely love Paris – the city of fashion and light – and had a blast living there. Even after all this time the city’s architecture, history and culture never fail to amaze me. Of course, the wonderful food might also have something to do with it! Paris is such an elegant, feminine city – and one I never tire of returning to. I’m often asked for my favourite places to visit – so here they are…
My Favourite Paris Destinations:
Musée Rodin: For anyone with even a passing interest in sculpture, this museum is a must!
Formerly Auguste Rodin’s home, this beautiful 18th century mansion opened as a museum of his work in 1919. The first time I visited, it was a warm summer day and the mansion’s windows were all open. When was the last time you walked through a museum that had all of its windows wide open? Plus the garden behind the house is lovely. www.musee-rodin.fr
Musée de l’Orangerie: This is the perfect bite-sized museum. Formerly the orangerie of the Tuileries Gardens, today it houses a small(ish) but impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. The Soutines are to die for, as well as the Cézannes and Modiglianis. And there’s a tiny Renoir I often think of. Furthermore, Monet chose to hang eight of his water lily murals here. They hang in rooms that were specially designed just for them. Fantastic! www.musee-orangerie.fr
Musée Nissim de Camondo: What the Frick Museum is to New York City, this museum is to Paris. Formerly the private mansion of an art-loving family, the house and its ravishing collection of 18th century French decorative arts, was left to France by the last living member of the family. This atmospheric home gives an intimate peek at how a rarefied segment of Parisian society used to live – a bit like stepping into a sophisticated time warp. www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr/francais/nissim-de-camondo
The Louvre: As one of the world’s largest museums it would take weeks of visiting to do the Louvre justice. But when the culture junkie in me needs a quick fix I head straight to the Four Seasons by Nicolas Poussin (they hang in their own room). Totally uplifting! www.louvre.fr
Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature: I love dogs! And was therefore delighted when I discovered this quirky little museum that is definitely off the beaten track. Housed in a gorgeous 17th century mansion, and located in the lively Marais, this museum is jam-packed with animal portraits. From Rubens to Desportes, there are dogs everywhere! www.chassenature.org
Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois: Anyone visiting Paris is spoiled for choice when it comes to chapels, churches and cathedrals. This one has special meaning for me because I lived next to it for so long. Not too big, not too small, and steeped in history – it was the parish church for the royal family when they stayed at the Louvre – it’s a perfect quickie. The enormous rose window over the entrance porch is fabulous! Find it on the Place du Louvre, across the street from the palace. The nearest Métro station is Louvre-Rivoli.
- Galignani English Book Shop: It would be no exaggeration to say that when I lived in Paris this book shop offered me a never-failing direct lifeline to book nirvana. I was in it nearly daily. It houses the best decorative arts section, elegant and quirky fiction and poetry sections, and you’ll always find some wonderful biography. They are very strong in fashion, too, and the children’s section has a super charming choice of pretty books. Plus the store, which has been tucked under the 17th century arcades lining the rue de Rivoli since 1856, looks like a book-lover’s dream. Buy something then go across the street to the Tuileries Gardens and read. Bliss! www.galignani.com
Sennelier: I often think that if Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley had an art-supply shop, it would look like this. Established in 1887, and still run by the Sennelier family, every nook and cranny of this creaky, wood-panelled shop is stocked with the prettiest, yummiest, most scrumptious collection of pastels, pencils, paper, feather quills, Japanese watercolours, exotic papers and anything else your artistic heart could possibly desire. Don’t forget to go upstairs. www.magasinsennelier.com
Berthillon: If you like ice cream, this is it. And while the weekend queues wind around the block, no worries. With a view of the Notre Dame and the Seine River swirling past, the time will fly! Located on the enchanting Ile St. Louis, take a walk around the island as you finish your ice cream. www.berthillon.fr
- Ladurée: A peek at the windows of this yummylicious patisserie alone are a treat! And while Ladurée shops now dot many cities world-wide, the original at 16, rue Royale is the one I like. Their macarons are my favourite: I find it impossible to leave Paris without a beautiful Ladurée box filled with a selection of colourful macarons. And if I’m really hungry I’ll go upstairs to their pretty little salon for tea. www.laduree.fr
Fondation Cartier: Cartier the jeweller is the sponsor of this fantastic foundation devoted to contemporary art. Housed in a light infused Jean Nouvel building, it’s like entering an eclectic urban oasis of art and glass. The exhibitions are based on either individual artists or themes and include everything from photography and painting to video and performance art. I always find their exhibitions inspiring! www.fondation.cartier.com
Favourite places to walk about:
Honestly, all of Paris is a dream to walk through. You can’t walk a hundred yards without your eye being caught by spectacular architecture or a cool shop or a mysterious hidden courtyard. Having said that, if you’re short on time the following two places will give you a good idea of what Paris is about:
- The Tuileries Gardens: As far as I’m concerned, a visit to Paris isn’t complete without a walk through the Tuileries Gardens. Either end is a good place to start. Walk all the way through, the palace courtyards included. The views, splashing fountains, and elegant design make it lovely any time of the year.
- Place des Vosges: Known as the oldest planned square in Paris, the Place de Vosges oozes history – and the prettily planted center of the square is a lovely place to catch some sun. Afterwards you can check out the apartment that Victor Hugo rented for many years, at no. 6, before his exile. Then take a stroll through the neighbouring Marais.
- Versailles: Ok. So it’s not in Paris…but still…it’s Versailles: one of the most awe-inspiring palaces and gardens in the world! You can catch an RER train out of Paris – it’s a quick and easy ride there and back – and then, if it’s a sunny day, I’d recommend renting a bicycle at the train station at Versailles. You can leave it parked while you check out the palace then ride it around the gardens all afternoon (and wave at the descendants of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s sheep as you ride past them). Don’t forget to pack a picnic lunch! www.chateauversailles.fr