An Insider's Guide To Paris

Ah Paris, Je T'Aime. But with so much to see and do, you could be forgiven for not making the most of your trip. Here's our guide for making sure you hit all the best spots in The City of Light, from a man who's seen it all.
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Ah Paris, Je T'Aime. But with so much to see and do, you could be forgiven for not making the most of your trip. Here's our guide for making sure you hit all the best spots in The City of Light, from a man who's seen it all.

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What's the French for 'electricity bill'?

I first visited Paris as a rambunctious 18 year old youth accompanied by five like minded others. And did everything wrong. We unwittingly stayed in a hotel that doubled as a brothel and had our belongings stolen. We were overcharged at all the wrong restaurants, given counterfeit change and misunderstanding the Parisian nightclub ethic had a go at the snooty bar man and were promptly ejected. Since I have visited Paris some 40 times or more and have, via the auspices of Paris nightclub supremo, DJ Albert de Paname, got to know the ins, outs and in betweens of the City of Lights and now fully understand that to enjoy Paris, one really has to get inside.

Where To Stay.
As a rule Paris hotels are first rate and one might book blind and still get a great hotel but the selection is enormous.

Hotel du 7e art- Even though the rooms are small this budget hotel now dedicated to fifties film stars, is located on rue St.Paul just between Les Halles and Le Marais and could not be more convenient. Each room has white walls, exposed ceiling beams with movie posters on the walls while the bar is dazzlingly unpretentious.

Hotel Mansart - A quite beautiful hotel that, not unreasonably priced, is perfectly situated on the corner of Place Vendome, a few minutes walking distance from rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the centre of Paris fashion and a short walk from the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens and the Champs Elysee. If that isn’t enough the rooms have ridiculously high ceilings and are about 15 square metres in size.

Louisiane - Even though it is slightly seedy, I love this hotel. Bang in the centre of St.Germain on the rue de Seine the rooms are clean and inexpensive. A favourite hotel for visiting US jazz giants after the World War II, the hotel was the meeting place and home of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Chet Baker while their fans, Jean Paul Sartre and Juliette Gréco waited in the upstairs lobby.

Hotel Costes - A fabulously luxurious establishment that, styled in the classic Napoleon III style with purple and gold rooms, is more stately residence than hotel and boasts a wonderful indoor swimming pool, a superb restaurant and friendly staff. At the weekend the bar is full to bursting with beautiful gals and stylish guys.

Hotel Raphael - When the French do abstemious luxury they do it with dazzling aplomb and nowhere illustrates this more than this magnificently baroque hotel. Built at the turn of the 20th century the massive rooms and suites are more like large inner city apartments.

The hotel was the meeting place and home of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Chet Baker.

Things To Do.

Les Puces De Vanves - The smallest and gentlest flea market in Paris that runs on Saturday and Sunday mornings till 1pm this is where the locals go in search of old books, old furniture and antiques far removed from the overwhelming bustle of Porte de Clignancourt. A great good place to pick up some interesting and typically French souvenirs to take back home.

The Church of St.Germain - Even though I am a devout atheist, I still believe that at times there is nothing better to do in Paris than duck out of the madding crowd and find solace in the pews of this the oldest church in Paris. Built in the 6th Century by Childebert I of Spain it was destroyed and rebuilt in the 11th century and partly burnt in the French revolution. On the weekends they have choral and organ recitals, which are simply a joy to behold before one hits the hot spots.

The Musee Rodin - Even though the staff are stroppy one can visit this wonderful museum - that is more like a house full of statues - marvel at the magnificent Rodin sculptures and have a picnic in the garden. Funnily as with all Parisian museums the best time to visit to avoid the crowds is at 2 or 3 in the afternoon as the mornings are completely oversubscribed.

On the weekends they have choral and organ recitals, which are simply a joy to behold before one hits the hot spots.

Where To Eat.

Being a gourmet culture the food in Paris is generally good pretty much everywhere but one word of advice, keep away from restaurants with pictures of the food outside.

Casa Olympe - Named after its chef, Olympe Versini who was the first women to win a Michelin star, this is one of Paris’ finest restaurants. Much of the fare is served up in the pans it was cooked in, as were my wild mushrooms, which were the finest I have ever encountered. Don’t leave without trying the chef’s home made sorbet.

La Palette - This bar/restaurant offers up the same fare as it has since the days of Braque and Picasso while it’s interior features an abundance of original 1930’s murals. Pernod, Ricard and Vin Rouge are de rigueur while the food is simply a croque monsieur and mixed salads or the reliable, plat du jour, which at €16 might be beef, fish, lamb or whatever, but is always superb.

Laduree - You’ll never pass this legendary salon de the, built in 1862, and not see a queue of mainly locals waiting to partake of the finest macaroons in the world. Once inside one might view the frescos depicting angelic pastry chefs and voluptuous ladies and partake of tea and sandwiches. Open Monday to Saturday, 8.30am to 7pm & Sunday, 10am to 7pm.

La Fumoir - A tiny little restaurant bar with a library at the back this fashionable, but unpretentious, haunt is just a minute or two from the Louvre and serves modern international cooking with massive flair.

La Petit Zinc - This St.Germain institution, whilst retaining it’s thoroughly impressive art nouveau interior and exterior, still manages to provide a thoroughly top notch traditional Parisian dining experience with all the frills that it’s interior suggests. A treat by any other name.

Krung Thep - Serving the finest Thai food I have ever tasted - in or out of Asia - it is worth a trip to Paris just to visit here. Tucked away in a tiny street in Belleville the interior features dragons, an aquarium and high tables while the food is simply mind blowing. A meal for 2 with wine will cost approx €60 but you really must book.

Le Souk - If one visits Paris then one must partake of at least one Moroccan meal and the best restaurant the city offers is Le Souk. A luscious assault on the senses, as one enters the smell of fresh spices hits you as you pass jars full of North Africa’s finest, while the menu proffers pigeon-stuffed pastry, fluffy couscous, available with chicken, lamb, sausage, or vegetable and moth watering tagines.

Much of the fare is served up in the pans it was cooked in, as were my wild mushrooms, which were the finest I have ever encountered.

Where To Drink.

Paris is full of bars – posh bars, trendy bars, glam bars and all offer something different. But my advice if want a good drink is to plot up in a local bar full of middle aged Frenchmen. The wine will be great, the beer superb and it won’t cost you a fortune. But for those wanting a little more:

Café Charbon - A magnificently refurbished 19th Century coal merchants, it was Café Charbon, in the 1990’s that kick started of the rejuvenation of Oberkampf, an area whose streets are packed with funky young kids every weekend, and as such is main focus of Parisian nightlife night life. Reasonably priced food and drink and effortlessly relaxed.

Le Mecano Bar - With its neo red velvet chairs and banquet seating offset industrial décor. Distinctly groovy, the DJ plays classic soul and funk to a crowd of casually dressed hipsters who shake their booties before they hit the streets nightspots.

La Fourmi - Near to Pigalle, the cities red light district and at the foot of Montmartre this busy bar bistro overlooks the busy street from huge floor to ceiling windows. Young bohemian locals pack the place each night to standing room only.

Café Cheri - Situated on the perimeter of Belleville - the rather rough but eminently multi cultural district where Piaf first plied her trade - this bar is dirt cheap but is always full of hip young things whose next port of call is the nearby Oberkampf.

An area whose streets are packed with funky young kids every weekend, and as such is main focus of Parisian nightlife night life.

Nightclubs.

There are all sorts of clubs in Paris and generally the one’s that don’t charge one at the door will certainly get you at the bar with drinks priced that could cause a riot.

Le Baron - An exclusive Paris nightclub par excellence, Le Baron, is a former strip joint that, featuring private tables, plush velvet couches and a dance floor that lights up was once the favoured haunt of Russian Mafioso and high class hookers. It now plays host to the young rich hep cats of Paris and VIP’s including Sofia Coppola, Marc Newson, Björk, Johnny Depp and Kate Moss.

Le Cabaret - If you can get past the rather severe doormen you’ll see a club (known as le cab) that caters to the beautiful people of Paris and is as hot as a blacksmith’s poker. With its coloured lights, plush couches, and mirrored alcoves the club is also a restaurant which offers the visitor the easiest way in – have dinner and stay. The music is funky house (think St Germain) and the drinks are expensive (€15 a vodka and tonic) but you won’t see this anywhere else in the world.

La Nouveau Casino - Situated in a former movie theatre adjacent to Café Charbon, this large dance hall come live venue features bands nightly between 8 pm and 1 am while the party continues till dawn with some of the cities finest DJ’s. Regarded as the centre of young Paris counterculture this, according to many, is the only place to be.

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