#2197 What To Do On A Trip To Paris?

Magdalena Frackowiak backstage at Christian Dior Haute Couture, June 2009.

Anonymous asks: Hi Isaac I’m going to be visiting Paris during Couture Week. What are some things I must do? Places to eat and places to see, ideas on where to watch the fashion crowd and how to sneak into shows?

I remember my first Couture Week like it was yesterday… I bolted all over the city with photographer Steve Wood and spent the trip sneaking into shows, running amok backstage, holding remote lights, attempting to chat up supermodels and generally making a nuisance of myself everywhere I went. It was the most fun fashion week experience I’ve ever had. Highlights include getting backstage at Chanel and snapping photographs of Karl Lagerfeld, meeting Natasha Poly, Sasha Pivovarova and Jean Paul Gaultier backstage at his show, and pulling off the unthinkable at Christian Dior – first up, getting in (security is tighter than US border control), second, taking the above photograph of Magdalena Frackowiak with my Blackberry.

Where to watch the fashion crowd is easy: Just print out the show schedule when it goes live on Modem Online and head straight to the different venues. The addresses will all be published. Most of the shows are at the same location every season – Chanel shows at the Grand Palais, Dior at its Avenue Montaigne maison, Jean Paul Gaultier at 325 rue Saint Martin. Here’s my How To Sneak Into A Fashion Show Guide and below is a little Paris City Guide I prepared earlier.

Bon Voyage!

Photos: Katherine Lowe

1. When you’re halfway around the world from your favourite Kiwi beach and the only sign of heat is the stinky air being spewed up from the subway grates below your feet, nothing will warm the cockles of your heart like a visit to a traditional Turkish Hammam. Step off the street and into an exotic oasis where you’ll be welcomed by chain-smoking beauticians, taken to a locker to undress, scrubbed down with savoir noir (black soap) and pumice, then waltzed into a eucalyptus scented steam room to unwind. At €55-odd it’s not cheap, but you’ll come out a new person – literally. The amount of skin that is removed during the gommage (exfoliation) is frightening.

NB: Many Hammams are Muslim-owned and operated and thus cater to males and females on different days of the week, but Hammam Sauna de Paris allows couples on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

2. Besides its excellent modern art exhibitions, Palais de Tokyo is worthy of a visit for far less sophisticated reasons: its gift shop and its restaurant. The gift shop stocks a selection of clothing, collectibles, postcards and colourful, poppy presents (eg notebooks emblazoned with titles like ‘USELESS INFO’ and ‘TOTAL CRAP’); while the restaurant serves everything from coffeeses with whipped cream to crunchy french fries. Plus there’s a vintage photo booth in the lobby that prints black and white pictures a la Amelie!

Palais de Tokyo: 13, Avenue du Président Wilson – 75116 Paris.

3. This is supposed to be an off-the-beaten-track list of things to do in Paris, but no visit to the city of lights would be complete without at least glimpsing the Eiffel Tower. With that in mind, take a quick five-minute walk up Avenue du President Wilson from Palais de Tokyo and you’ll find a giant square between the semi-circular Musee l’Homme and Cite de l’architecture with the very best view of the Eiffel Tower in the city. It’s spectacular both during the day and at night.

NB: Beware the trinket-selling men. They will not take no for an answer.

4. A new addition to the Parisian retail sector is Kiwi-centric store Koko. Started by expat Catherine McMahon and stocking a selection of high-end New Zealand fashion designers (Zambesi, Trelise Cooper, Karen Walker, Kate Sylvester and WORLD, to name a few), Koko is a little slice of Antipodean joy on one of the edgier streets in Paris. Go for the clothes, but stay for the yarns – Catherine talks with the easy air of a small-town publican. And during the legendary Paris sales, you’ll find Kiwi clothing at prices you’ve never seen before… hello Zambesi at 85 per cent off!

Koko New Zealand Concept Store: 75 Rue Charlot, 75003 Paris.

5. Directly opposite Koko lies the third-best Chocolatier in Paris – according to Catherine McMahon, at least. Jacques Genin is the minimalist noughties answer to Rue de Rivoli’s old world institution Angelina, with young, clinical staff and extortionate prices to match. Famous for their caramels (€110 per kilogram), pastries (approximately €7 each) and chocolat chaud (the closest thing you’ll get to a heart attack in a mug, at €6.50 each), you’ll wait an hour for your table and still walk out with a sickly smile on your face. Believe it or not, the caramels are worth every penny, and the tart au citron is the best of its kind I’ve ever tasted – the perfect blend of sweet and tangy, smooth and crunchy. Yum!

Jacques Genin: 133 Rue de Turenne, 75003 Paris.

6. Walk 10 minutes into Le Marais, and you’ll find Rose Bakery – the organic, health-fuelled antidote to Jacques Genin’s guilty pleasures. Order tabouli salad or soupe de legumes, snack on crusty brown bread, and stare longingly at the incredibly good-looking, hipster staff or the supermodels who frequent the cafe for its no-rd-besquestions-asked servings of sliced lettuce. It’s a good time.

Rose Bakery: 30 Rue Debelleyme, 75003 Paris.

7. If Rose Bakery can’t sate your hunger for beautiful people watching, try members-only bar Le Montana, next to Cafe de Flore in Saint Germain. Owned by graffiti artist turned nightlife impresario Andre Saraiva, Le Montana is jam packed with actors, musicians, models and cool kids. Getting in can be an issue, but having beautiful, famous or rich friends surely couldn’t hurt your chances.

Le Montana: 28 Rue Saint-Benoît, 75006 Paris.

8. The French aren’t famous for their takeaway food, but Paris is a mecca for the falafel sandwich, thanks to its rather large and always loquacious Jewish food-making fraternity. A moment’s walk down the pedestrian-only Rue des Rosiers will bring you to L’As du Fallafel, quite simply, the greatest eatery of its type on the planet, where your order will be demanded at 50 paces. Eating the thing is a game of chance, so sitting inside might be advisable, but at €2 cheapb>er to dine al fresco, the economics speak for themselves. Make sure you go heavy on the red garlic sauce: it is a revelation.

L’As du Fallafel: 34 Rue des Rosiers, Le Marais, Paris.

9. For post-falafel dessert, try Le Loir Dans La Théière, a 45-second walk down Rue des Rosiers towards Rue Malher. The signs on the door advise in no uncertain terms that PC portables (laptop computers) are not welcome, but don’t let that cheery greeting hold you back – the proof of this cafe’s success is in the pudding, not the service. Set up like a student’s living room with rickety, mismatched chairs, and decades-old gig posters on the walls, Le Loir Dans La Théière boasts the tallest lemon meringue pie that I’ve ever seen – 15 centimetres high on a good day. The meringue is sweet and thick like shaving cream, the lemon curd is sharply tart, and if Jacques Genin’s hot chocolate is a heart attack in a mug, then this is a triple bypass on a plate.

NB: Attempt to speak French with the waiters and they might go easy on you, but if not, match them glare for glare. They love a good challenge.

Le Loir Dans La Théière: 3 Rue des Rosiers, Le Marais, Paris.

10. We hate to end this list on an unromantic note, but the reality is, if you’re in town for longer than a week, you’ll more than likely encounter dirty laundry and no washing machine in which to clean it. The solution is simple and sits on many a street corner – it’s your friendly neigbourhood Laverie. Operating exactly like any other laundromat, the machines are coin operated and washing powder (lessive) is available for purchase on site. Dress up nice and who knows – you might just meet an attractive local. It is Paris after all, and love is in the air. Even while enduring the most mundane of tasks.

The tube couch at Palais de Tokyo.

The Eiffel Tower – seen from a particularly lovely angle.

Jacques Genin’s creations.

Jacques Genin’s tarts.

View of the Rose Bakery in Le Marais.

L’As du Fallafel as seen from the street.

Le Loir Dans La Theiere.

Le Loir Dans La Theiere’s lemon meringue pie – it’s a triple bypass on a plate.


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  1. Marie M says

    What an awesome list!! Gives me itchy feet. If I may, I would also add to the list of sweet delicacies: Pierre Hermé’s macarons.. a tomber par terre! 

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