Lots of people have emailed about Paris, both this week and over the past few years, asking for ideas and travel tips. I never know how to reply because people, of course, are very different, and everyone likes doing different things. I love gardens, fabric stores, vintage fairs and fashion boutiques, and unusual museums, but others may want to see les grands magasins (the famous department stores), before ticking off the the most iconic buildings, the most idyllic side streets and the prettiest photo opportunities.
Whatever our preferences there is no doubt that Paris charms, beguiles and delights us all. As my next book on Paris is likely to be my last it will cover places I've never written about before; places I've tended to keep close to my chest (and heart). I'm also doing maps and illustrations to help readers locate all the places. If you have any suggestions for places to see or go, do let me know. I always love hearing about new destinations.
Here are a few tips for people travelling to Paris this summer or indeed in the future. (I can't give too much away or my publisher will admonish me.) If you are heading off soon, I hope you have a really wonderful time! And please don't hesitate to email me if you have any questions: I'll always try and answer them.
Pack your most comfortable shoes.
This may seem obvious, but people still pack heels for day use. Paris has far more cobblestoned streets, stairs and changes of level than, say, London, and the pavers and steps will tire your feet surprisingly quickly. I wore what I thought were comfy boots this trip but still had to go and buy the ubiquitous ballet flats the third day in. Ballets aren't as comfy as proper walking shoes, but when you're desperate they'll do. The cheapest ballets are in the markets (such as Clignancourt), and in the many discount shops of the Left Bank and the Marais. One tip for buying ballets: the closer into the inner city you go the more expensive they'll be. I found lovely pairs of ballets in both Le Bon Marché and nearby Jet Set (which has very glamorous shoes) for 200 euros; similar ballets were just 10 euros a short walk around the corner down the Rue de Rennes.
Another tip: Buy up big in plasters, bandaids, foot files, etc, before you leave home. Pedicure bits and pieces are incredibly expensive in Parisian chemists – I once saw a foot file for 30 euros and bandaids/plasters are often eye-wateringly expensive. Before travelling to Paris, I always buy supplies from Boots in London, where bandaids and basic foot files are only 2 pounds.
Hotels versus apartments
Lots of travellers are jumping on the apartment bandwagon, and sites such as One Fine Stay offer truly beautiful places to bed down, but I hate paying a deposit and worrying about being charged for damage I haven't caused – which does happen with some agencies. If you're in Paris for less than 3 days a hotel is still the best option. (I'll do a post on Parisian apartments soon.)
My favourite cheap-to-middle-priced hotels are the cheap 'n' chic Hotel des Marronniers, which is right in the heart of Saint Germain-des-Pres and has a pretty garden, Hotel de Buci (above), which is slightly more expensive but has lovely interiors, and the more-expensive-again L'hôtel Récamier on Square St.-Sulpice, which is one for a special occasion. The Hôtel Abbaye Saint Germain is also a lovely place with a gorgeous rear garden and front courtyard entrance.
Try new hotels for cheap prices.
When hotels open, they usually offer a 'friendly' rate for the first 3 to 6 months and sometimes for a year. I stayed in the Hotel Paradis this past trip for just 100 euros a night, which is cheap for peak summer season. Keep an eye out on HotelChatter.com for new openings.
Try the markets for memorable fashion.
Lots of people adore shopping on the grand boulevards, but you can find equally extraordinary pieces in the markets. Try the stalls of Marché Paul Bert and the Serpette (www.marcheserpette.com) for beautiful old designer pieces from the likes of Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior and Saint Laurent.
Wander though Paris' passages.
Don't miss wandering the old passages of Paris for authentic atmosphere – and great photo ops. They're also great for avoiding the rain during showers. Try Passage Verdeau and the cluster of other charming arcades to the east of the Palais Royal.
Tracking down authentic Chanel, Hermès, and other covetable names.
Not surprisingly, one of the most popular souvenirs for women travellers visiting Paris is something from one of the grand French names. You only need to go to the flagship Hermès store to see this. However, you don't need to pay big money for your Parisian pleasures. If you want some authentic Chanel or Hermès (and don't have time to trawl the flea markets), try the resale stores, which often have brand new, never-worn items with tags still attached alongside the carefully loved clothes. Catherine B. on the Left Bank is a favourite with fashion editors but another great store is Reciproque, at 95 Rue de la Pompe in the 16th. I've found Chanel jackets in both stores for less than 1000 euros – still too much for me (I ended up buying some vintage Chanel jewellery instead) – but significantly less than in a Chanel store.
And if you do want something to remember Paris by, try finding some vintage Chanel jewellery (ie less than 1980s and preferably older). Anything old is becoming coveted among collectors, with prices are rising every year.
Always look up.
The best parts of Paris are often high above the streetscapes. This was a scene on the Seine that I captured while walking back to the hotel one evening. Bookending three otherwise ordinary Parisian apartment buildings were two remarkable penthouses with amazing conservatories. It's these sorts of scenes that make up the architectural fabric of Paris.
Don't miss the classics.
Even if you can't afford Chanel, still try to pop into the iconic Rue Cambon store. It's the flagship store and the only one that gives out white bags rather than black. The window displays are always chic, and the staff are lovely, so you won't feel intimidated. Spray some (free) Chanel No. 5 and embrace the joie of Paris.
Seek out the more unusual museums.
I love discovering Paris' secret museums, which are not only devoid of queues but often far more interesting than than their grander counterparts. My favourite is YSL's atelier (above), but you could also try the Carnavalet, the Mona Bismarck American Center, the Delacroix Museum and the Arts Decoratifs. There are many others, too, which I'll detail in the book.
Don't pack much in your luggage.
Again, this may seem obvious, but I still overpack, even after years of travelling, and then find I have no room for purchases!
And lastly, separate your clothes and other things in your luggage using the new fabric and canvas packing bags that are starting to be sold everywhere (such as this one above). They're so innovative. They keep your clothes separate from your toiletries, so that if your white talcum powder and Chanel somehow end up loose from their containers, they won't leave a heartbreaking white powder on your favourite black Armani blazer!
Lastly, if you need more room, try rolling your clothes (as the experts dictate) because it squeezes out all the air.
Of course, you could simply take a little carry-on case and then buy another bag in Paris!