An Introvert’s Perfect Paris

LONG POST ALERT! You have been warned.

Preface 1: The title of this post is a redundant phrase because Paris is basically an introvert’s paradise. The French in general are a lot more reserved and introverted than, say, Americans. But anyway, let’s carry on…

Preface 2: The places mentioned below can get packed, but I always try to travel during the shoulder season because crowds make me anxious (festivals like Coachella are my nightmare and going to Burning Man would probably kill me — not sure what came over me a decade ago when I agreed to attend Coachella two years in a row…I was predictably miserable, but I’m grateful to the friend who invited me since it allowed me to decide once and for all that I never have to go back). In other words, if you’re looking for a “WOOOO, PARIS!!” experience with lots of partying and opportunities to mingle with new people, sorry — I can’t help you. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s carry on…

Blog post begins here: Some people love Paris for its glamorous shopping and fancy streets, and for those folks, the Right Bank is probably a dream. Specifically, the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and luxe department stores such as Galeries Lafayette and the Printemps will offer endless hours of fascination and drool-worthy shopping.

Others love Paris for its epic monuments and world-famous museums and restaurants. The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and the Eiffel Tower are all showstoppers. And Paris houses so many Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon restaurants, you will leave the city with an empty wallet and a tense waistline.

But my perfect Paris is not focused on those things. My perfect Paris is small and intimate, and centers on one neighborhood in the Left Bank – specifically, a small area in the 6th arrondissement, near the Eglise Saint-Sulpice and the Jardin du Luxembourg. This area makes my heart sing.

Let’s back up for a second. If you haven’t guessed already, I’m a major Francophile. I learned my first French song in fourth grade from my teacher, Ms. DeGrandpré, and I was president of the French Club during high school. I took my first trip to Paris during college, and in a way, it felt like arriving home. The city electrified me. It still does. From my first moment there, I fell in love with the French art de vivre, how every aspect of daily life is elevated to an art form, whether it’s cooking, gardening, fashion, architecture, tea time, door knobs, underwear, etc. Paris has been through a lot of trauma over the past years, but its lovely and elegant spirit remains intact.

Anyway, after college, I lived in Paris for a year, taking classes and experiencing Life. I then went back for a year abroad during law school. Those are what I call The Beautiful Years, full of discovery, adventure and love. I spent a lot of time in the 6th arrondissement, so every time I go now, I’m reminded of the richness of The Beautiful Years when I was a young American in Paris. I try to go to Paris every other year, at least for a few days while in transit to other destinations. Why? Because Paris ignites my imagination like no other place in the world.

I give this background because my love for Paris will probably not be shared by most people. In fact, I’ve traveled through the city with fellow Americans who were not so impressed (for instance, my brother). But if you’re on your way to Paris and want to sprinkle in small, charming moments of contemplation and discovery in between selfie sessions at the famous sites, read on.

TIPS FOR AN INTROVERT’S PERFECT PARIS:

TIP #1: Focus on a small, charming neighborhood. These are my favorite parts of the city, and all are good spots to experience Paris on a more intimate level:

Left Bank:

  • 6th arrondissement, near Saint Sulpice and the Jardin du Luxembourg
  • 7th arrondissement, near the Rodin Museum and rue Cler

Right Bank:

  • 17th arrondissement, near the Parc Monceau
  • 4th arrondissement, near the Place des Vosges in the Marais

TIP #2: Stay at a small boutique hotel (or an apartment) for a more authentic experience. We’ve stayed at some of the large luxury hotels on the Right Bank in the past, but my favorite experiences have been at the smaller hotels on the Left Bank. During our most recent trip to Paris (in late Sept 2017), we stayed at the Hotel Recamier, a lovely boutique hotel right in the Place Saint Sulpice.

Bruno, the receptionist, was wonderful. After a friendly exchange in French, he upgraded us to a room near the top floor with a balcony and a fantastic view. We had a view of the gorgeous fountain, the church and the Eiffel Tower beyond Paris rooftops and treetops.

Room with a great view. All photos taken from our balcony.

Every afternoon, the hotel held tea time for its guests in its salon and outdoor veranda. A lovely presentation of tea, coffee, pastries, fruits, etc. And when we went up to our room to take a break, the afternoon light cast a beautiful honey-toned hue on the limestone buildings. You could hear the church bells ringing and kids playing soccer around the fountain. It was magical.

The Relais Christine is also a good boutique hotel on the Left Bank. It has a great restaurant.

I also love the Lutetia, which is a larger hotel on the Left Bank. We stayed there years ago, and I’d like to go back when they’re done with their renovations. The Lutetia is high class, with very elegant Art Deco touches. Their breakfast is legendary. The hotel has a wonderful history — a lot of American jazz greats played in their bar, and it was also the repatriation center for the displaced (including people returning from concentration camps) after WWII.

I haven’t tried Airbnb in Paris yet (partly because there are so many gorgeous boutique hotel options), but I’m sure there are some gems out there.

TIP #3: In the morning, do as the Parisians do. Go to the local boulangerie for bread, croissants, pain au chocolat. Poilane has several outposts in Paris, and I went every morning to buy a couple croissants and/or pain au chocolat on the nearby rue du Cherche-Midi. When you see the lines, you’ll think Paris is full of morning people. And this is true when it comes to bread. They line up for fresh bread every morning. And I love that everyone looks presentable (no sweats, no yoga pants, no flip flops), even if it’s the weekend and they plan to go right back home and lounge all day. I love the tradition and the decorum.

“Lèche-vitrine” means window shopping in French. But the literal translation is “lick the window.” And yes, I want to lick Poilane’s window. So beautiful.

For our train ride to the south of France, I made sure to get some important supplies…

TIP #4: Find a bench near the Saint Sulpice fountain and people watch (and/or enjoy a sandwich). It’s a wonderful spot to contemplate on the gift that is life. The video below was taken very early in the morning (around 7:30 am) after I made a quick run to Poilane for pain au chocolat.

TIP #5: Take a stroll or jog in the Jardin du Luxembourg in the late afternoon. Then find a chair and enjoy the splendid scene before you. Paris is such a stylish city. It seems that even the kids are wearing haute couture.

Late September afternoon in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

TIP #6: Go to a café on the Boulevard Saint Germain. The famous ones are Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore. A lot of literary giants wrote at these cafés — Sartre, Hemingway, Camus, Simone de Beauvoir. Both places are fantastic spots for taking a break. You can easily spend hours there. This last time around, we went to Les Deux Magots, where a handsome and charming waiter took care of us. When I asked for butter, he presented a small roll of gourmet butter on a tiny silver platter. That’s French elegance.

That little roll of butter in the middle arrived on its own tiny silver tray. Wish I would’ve taken a photo of the tiny tray — eeeeek!

After tea, walk over to the Place de Furstenberg and visit the old mansion and atelier of painter Eugene Delacroix. How lucky he was to own a light-filled atelier where he could paint in peace all day! He wanted to express poetry through his paintings. I think he succeeded.

Eugene (the hubalub) having a stare-down with Eugene (the painter).

TIP #7: When I lived in Paris, Angelina only had one location on a very busy patch of the Right Bank, on the rue de Rivoli. But yay! I recently learned that they have several new outposts, including one on the edge of the Luxembourg. Go there after 11 am for a splendid brunch. Their mini pain au chocolat is out of this world, better than the ones from Poilane. If you order the Angelina Brunch, you will get your choice of hot drink (I always get their famous hot chocolate), fresh-squeezed juice, a ton of pastries including three mini pain au chocolat, an omelette, fruit bowl, etc. Gorge-fest!

Part of Angelina’s brunch. I ate two of those pain au chocolat (the Geno begged me for the third, so I relented). Not pictured: the omelette + artistically-arranged fruit bowl.

TIP #8: If you must unleash your inner carnivore, there’s decent steak frites (steak & fries) in the neighborhood. Le Relais de l’Entrecote is popular among both the locals and tourists. Go right before they open so you don’t have to wait in a crazy line. When we were last there, I spoke with a little old lady dining alone next to us. She told me she’d lived in the neighborhood all her life. So if a Parisienne eats there, you know it’s legit. There’s really only one thing on the menu: steak frites. You start with a simple salad with a mustard vinaigrette, then you move on to a hefty portion of steak + fries, and then they come by again with another helping of meat + fries. The meat quality is quite good (though not to the level of American steakhouses like Maestro’s and Ruth’s Chris). And please remember, don’t ask for ketchup. There’s Dijon mustard on your table if you must dip your fries into a condiment.

After you finish off this plate, they bring you more meat and fries. That’s just how it goes.

TIP #9: Stroll the neighborhood and explore the beautiful shops. There’s a Pierre Hermé boutique with delicious macarons. I love the vanilla flavor, as well as pistachio. There’s also a gorgeous Molinard perfume shop. And nearby, you have Le Bon Marché with its fantastic food hall in the basement. There are also a number of independent book shops nearby, including English-language bookstores like Shakespeare & Co and the San Francisco Book Company. It’s a dream of mine to do a book reading/signing at one of these bookstores someday…a girl can dream!

Tea time at the hotel with some macarons from Pierre Herme.

 

Some perfumed soaps I bought from Molinard, one of the oldest perfume houses in France (around since 1849!).

Paris, je t’aime!

Oh man, I have to learn how to write shorter posts…