Food and travel writer Jenny Tregoning lives in London and regularly hops on the Eurostar to visit family in Paris. Here, she shares her tips for getting off the well-beaten tourist track.
Paris: city of light, love and a thousand selfies with the Eiffel Tower. It’s a place romanticised to such an extent that it can be easy to forget it’s a living, breathing city – not some fantastical film set populated by Brigitte Bardot lookalikes waltzing down the Champs-Elysées with a Jean-Paul Sartre novel tucked under one arm.
I first visited Paris while studying French at university – lured by the grandiose Haussmannian architecture and eager to hunt out the finest macarons – and have returned countless times since, marrying a Frenchman whose family lives in the south of the city.
Once you’ve exhausted the tourist sites, to really get under the city’s skin be prepared to walk. For a waterside stroll, the Seine is the obvious choice but detour instead to Canal Saint-Martin, a formerly rundown area near République now lined with hipster cafes and traversed by Venetian-style iron bridges. Follow the canal out to Bassin de la Villette for a snapshot of real Parisian life, where locals gather waterside to cool off in the summer.
It would be remiss to visit Paris and not while away at least an hour or two in one of its many wine bars (try Septime la Cave for pét-nat and small plates), but don’t neglect the city’s burgeoning craft beer scene. At the end of Bassin de la Villette sits Paname Brewing Company, a microbrewery in an old warehouse serving crisp and hoppy IPAs to savour on its pontoon with glorious views straight back down the water.
France might be renowned for its carnivorous tendencies, but one of my favourite things to do is stop by Rue des Rosiers in the Marais to pick up some world-class falafel tucked inside pillowy pitta (L’as du Fallafel is worth the queue; send a friend to pick up lime and shiso tarts from rising star patissier Yann Couvreur opposite while you wait) then meander past independent boutiques to Place des Vosges, one of Paris’s oldest and most beautiful squares.
In the last few years a wave of hip food halls has brought new life to the city’s food scene. The cult Big Mamma restaurant group – which put London in a spin last year with the maximalist interiors and homely Italian food of Circolo Popolare and Gloria – began life in Paris. The group’s newest venue, La Felicità, is an enormous, greenery-bedecked temple to Italian cooking in a coworking space in the 13th arrondissement. For everything from Indian dosas to Tawainese salmon bowls, make a beeline for Ground Control, in a former rail depot near Gare de Lyon.
There are enough museums and galleries in Paris to keep you occupied all year, but one of the newest and most hypnotic ways to experience art is at L’Atelier des Lumières. Digital projections of works by the likes of Van Gogh, Yves Klein and Matisse swirl around the walls and floor of this 3,300-square-metre former foundry, accompanied by music – it’s a genuinely transformative way of consuming art.
And if you’ve done Versailles or simply want to escape the crowds, take the RER B south to Parc de Sceaux for exquisitely manicured gardens and a chateau that was used as a stand-in for Louis XIV’s extravagant palace in the TV series Versailles. Visit in April and you’ll be treated to a cherry blossom display to rival Japan’s.