Virtuoso Traveler 2019 April How to Experience Paris Like a Parisian

How to Experience Paris Like a Parisian

You’ll find plenty of local flavor at Le Bon Georges.
You’ll find plenty of local flavor at Le Bon Georges.
Photo by Alex Kozlov/Getty Images 
You know you’re living like a local when breakfast becomes a version of Choose Your Own Adventure. Each morning during my family’s ten-day stay in Paris last summer, my wife, teenage son, and I would shop for ingredients at a different boulangerie, marché, or food hall. Having visited the city several times, we opted to dig deeper on this trip, basing ourselves in a gorgeous apartment arranged by our Virtuoso travel advisor in SoPi, a revitalized area south of place Pigalle. Our French is so-so, but with a few smiles, gestures, and friendly mercis, those early-morning outings served up tastes and experiences typically reserved for familiar faces. Take, for instance, the ebullient pain au chocolat vendor who knew my son by name after just two visits. It was all part of our plan to enjoy Paris the way a resident might, and the rewards stretched well beyond the day’s first delicious bites. For your next visit, here are four musts for making Paris a true home away from home.

Stay Local

A villa stay or short-term apartment rental adds a level of intimacy that immediately connects you to Parisian culture. Especially for families, booking a residential accommodation embeds you while also providing amenities that give your vacation a grounded, domestic feel. The added space lets you “stretch out, cook (or at least make breakfast), access a washer/dryer, and become part of the fabric of a neighborhood for a few days,” says Halpern. Your advisor can work with Virtuoso partners such as Luxury Retreats and Villas of Distinction to book vacation properties, from pieds-à-terre all the way up to grand homes for larger groups. With these stays, “you really get to know the local shops, characters, and rhythms,” Halpern notes, “and it never feels like a Paris cliché.”

Our airy, high-ceilinged, two-bedroom base was just south of Montmartre, in an area once renowned for its parlors of ill repute. Today, SoPi is a thriving hot spot for chic cafés, eclectic design ateliers, and homey bistros such as Le Bon Georges, with its handwritten chalkboard menu of house signatures such as white asparagus salad and steak haché with frites.

Luxury Retreats’ Eiffel Hideaway.
Luxury Retreats’ Eiffel Hideaway.
Photo by Luxury Retreats 

Get Lost 

Sometimes the best itinerary is no itinerary at all. “An open day to walk around a city like Paris gives you endless options for finding unexpected moments,” Halpern says. “When I was in Paris last time with my family, we were staying in the eighth arrondissement and came across the most wonderful little cheese shop, Fromagerie Nicole Barthélémy.”

Explore two or three neighborhoods on foot, lingering over a café au lait; for a bit of structure, pick one or two places in each as a target and meander your way there. Or taste your way through a marché without an agenda – a market day can be as captivating as time spent viewing old masterworks. Marché Bastille, right next to the Bastille monument, is a bustling spot, popular with residents, that specializes in fruit, fresh oysters, and charismatic meat mongers. Dating back to 1615, the Marais’ Marché des Enfants Rouges is the city’s oldest market, but still very much a mostly locals stop.

Gain a New – and Inside – Perspective 

To truly see Paris, it helps to view it from an unforgettable angle – and with the help of knowledgeable locals. Your travel advisor can work with Virtuoso’s on-site tour connections to provide exclusive experiences throughout the city, starting with guided bicycle or walking tours tailored to your particular interest, be it a graffiti-art survey, an architecture overview, or a Jewish heritage tour. At the Eiffel Tower, have your travel advisor arrange a behind-the-scenes visit to the military bunker, the machine room, and other highlights seen only by a fraction of visitors. Also highly suggested: Chocolatine’s private helicopter ride over Paris to Versailles, followed by a tour of the famous palace, is a thrilling way to keep adventurous teenagers entertained for an entire day. “Younger children will love a Louvre scavenger hunt,” says Virtuoso advisor Kristen Meckem. Lafayette Travel’s version has kids meeting with secret contacts and decoding messages à la The Da Vinci Code. For anyone who enjoys sweets (and who doesn’t in Paris?), Aristo’s Tours Paris offers a guided walking tour through Saint-Germain’s chocolate, pastry, and macaron shops, with plenty of samples along the way.

One evening on my family’s visit, our travel advisor booked us that most Parisian of vehicles – a vintage Citroën roadster – for a guided, ragtop-down spin from SoPi through Montmartre’s cobbled streets to shimmering Sacré-Coeur Basilica. Not only did we steer clear of the tourist crowds, but we received a few old- fashioned hat tips from older gents who clearly appreciated our choice of wheels.

The Louvre museum makes some fine points.
The Louvre museum makes some fine points.
Photo by Andrey Krav/Getty Images 

Gather in the Gardens 

In good weather, there’s nowhere better to experience Paris life than in one of
its manicured parks or gardens. They’re where citizens go to refresh, relax, flirt, play, dance, and watch the world go by – and best of all, they’re free. “Even the most-visited gardens, like Jardin des Tuileries near the Louvre, are packed with Parisians looking to add a little life to their day,” says Halpern. Families – and those who love romance – are especially enchanted by Jardin du Luxembourg, with its pony rides, remote-control boats, pétanque courts, and carousel. Jardin des Plantes, the city’s nearly 400-year-old botanical garden, has more than 10,000 species of plants, and the 12th arrondissement’s La Promenade Plantée, like New York City’s High Line, is a cultivated, strollable green space atop an abandoned viaduct. On the city’s northeastern edge, Parc de la Villette has elegantly designed postmodernist structures by Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi and lawns where cineastes watch open-air films in the summer.

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