There’s no conversation I love more than when one of friends tells me that they’re off to Paris. OK, there is: the conversation we have when they get back full of stories from my hometown and appreciation for it. So I was thrilled when my friend Alison of Bon Vivant DC told me she was stopping in Paris in between visits to Portugal and Champagne. OK, I was jealous too… but thrilled mostly. Alison runs a wine consulting business so I knew she’d have a fabulous trip. Here’s an overview of how it went, in Alison’s own words.
WHAT BROUGHT ME TO PARIS
Paris has always been my favorite city, so when I found myself with five days between a vacation in Portugal and a weeklong industry event in Champagne, my choice of where to go in between these two stops was an easy one. Besides its proximity to Champagne, Paris was an obvious choice for my extended ‘layover’ as I have several friends and acquaintances there. Oh, and the food. (Doesn’t everyone travel for food?!)
HOW I GOT THERE
I was already in Portugal and flew I from Madeira into Paris’ Orly airport. On the way back, I took a direct flight from Charles de Gaulle to Dulles.
WHERE I STAYED
I made a return visit to the Relais St. Sulpice, a small luxury boutique hotel ideally situated in the heart of Saint Germain. It’s on a quiet street that’s easily accessed by metro and walkable to many of my favorite sites in Paris including the Latin Quarter, l’Ile de la Cité, the Jardin du Luxembourg. It’s reasonably priced, with infinitely comfortable beds, and the lobby has a charming self serve bar and small library where you can read or relax.
BEST THING I ATE
One of my favorite things about Paris truly is the food- pâté, cheese, the bread, croissants… you name it, I love it! Although I had several fancier meals, café culture is one of my favorite things about Paris, and where I had one of my most memorable meals on this trip. Café Bonaparte is in quite a touristy stretch of rue St. Germain, within a stone’s throw of the more famous Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore. While no means a bargain, it beats the prices of its more famous brethren with the same amazing people-watching this neighborhood is perfectly suited for. The atmosphere is as quintessentially Parisian as it gets! It was one of the only dinners that I ate alone, and so its convenience to my hotel was paramount. Big thanks to Cécile of The Worldly Bite for this great suggestion!
I also adored having crêpes and Britany cider out of traditional ceramic bowls with Laetitia’s mom at Breizh Café, right behind the Picasso Museum in the Marais! It’s a place I can imagine returning again and again to try different combinations.
Lastly, I had a lovely time picnicking along the Seine with my dear friend Tanisha of Girl Meets Glass. We picked up everything we needed at the local Monoprix and were loaded down with an astounding array of cheeses, tapenade, fruit, bread, charcuterie and a few bottles of wine for less than 30€! As we made our way over to a quai on the Seine, the fading sun cast beautiful light and shadows over the city. After pulling the cork on a bottle of Provençal rosé we watched the lights illuminate Notre Dame across the river – which is perhaps most impressive seen at night.
BEST FREE ACTIVITY
Though pretty touristy, taking in the Eiffel Tower at night tops this list. Feel free to take a bottle of wine and settle in for the light show, which takes place at the top of every hour.
I also adore wandering around the jardin du Luxembourg. It’s one of the loveliest spots in Paris, particularly in the spring, when thousands of tulips are in bloom.
Finally not technically free but at 3.30€, practically: the gardens at the Rodin Museum. Skip the pricier interior to take in the sculptor’s most famous works set amidst a beautiful park devoid of the crowds and tour groups that throng most large museums. This has to be one of the most under-rated sites in Paris!
WORTH THE SPLURGE
I was in France to attend the industry only Printemps des Champagnes series of tastings as I prepare to host DC’s first Champagne Week, which will take place in early November. What most people don’t realize is how very easy it is to visit Champagne as a day trip from Paris. The TGV train will get you from Gare du Nord to the center of Reims in a mere 40 minutes. From there, it’s easy to visit the stunning Cathedral of Reims and pop into a few of the notable champagne houses. Taittinger has spectacular tours and beautiful cellars. Travelers who venture a bit further into the countryside (which does require a car) are rewarded with beautiful scenery and small, grower champagne houses. Just be sure to make an appointment!
MY TIPS IF YOU’RE HEADED TO PARIS
1) Don’t over schedule! Remember to schedule time to relax, peruse the charming shops, explore hidden courtyards, and lounge in any number of the lovely parks. Take time to soak in the city while relaxing at a picturesque cafe over a mid afternoon pastry.
2) If it’s your first trip to Paris, pick a few sites that are most important to see and really spend some time enjoying them. My own “Top 5 Must Sees” are the Sainte Chapelle, hidden inside France’s Palais de Justice, the light show at the Eiffel Tower, the Rodin Sculpture Gardens, the Musée D’Orsay, and the Jardin du Luxembourg.
3) Dress up and learn a few French words. There are a few things that can help you blend in a bit and not stand out as an American (or as a tourist) really. We typically dress more casually than our Parisian counterparts so like to trade tennis shoes for driving loafers and throw on a blazer over jeans. Though you may not be mistaken for a local, dressing up just a bit commands respect and you won’t look the part of the dreaded “Ugly American.” Also, even though my French is abysmal, I’ve mastered a few key phrases like “thank you” (merci), “excuse me” (pardon), “please” (s’il vous plaît), “hello” (bonjour.) Parisians really appreciate the effort and you’ll find that many are actually eager to practice their english with you too!
Though I’ve been to Paris many times, there are still sites that I’ve never made it to- and that’s OK! Part of the charm of this beautiful city is embracing the Parisian joie de vivre, luxuriating in the experiences you DO choose to enjoy. I can’t wait to visit the flea markets, more museums, and perhaps the Catacombes or nearby Giverny on my next visit, but you can bet I’ll still find plenty of time to enjoy a glass of champagne, pâté, and people watching – which will always top my list of favorite things to do in Paris!
Have you been to Paris recently and would like your trip featured on French Twist DC? Drop me a line at FrenchTwistDC@gmail.com
About the author: Alison and I met through mutual friends and a common love of of all things vino. She runs her own wine consultancy Bon Vivant DC and is currently hard at work planning the city’s first Champagne Week, with a Grand Tasting planned on November 9th. There will also be a champagne pairing dinner held at Ripple, and custom flights of champagne around town. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.dcchampagneweek.com. Yep, that’s the week of the election and the perfect opportunity to celebrate your candidate’s victory — or plot your theoretical move to Paris over the world’s finest bubbles.