Four days in Paris is not a lot of time, but spending a few days wandering about town, being what the French call — or used to call — a flâneur, seemed like the way to go. Not a bad stop along the way before heading south to Lyon and the Med to de-jet-lag and relax, catch up with friends, discover some new neighborhoods, and even more restaurants. And to just live life without too much stress (or too many thoughts).
Arriving from New York to our hotel, we had a restorative breakfast in a garden-adjacent salon. Luckily, the room was ready so we could change and then immediately hit the streets. As we were staying on the Left Bank, staying in the ‘hood the first day was not exactly a hardship.
I had wanted to find some beautiful and basic cotton sweaters — women’s or men’s would do. So Le Bon Marché was the first stop. Sézane is one of the hot “cool-girl” lines that is extremely popular in France. There is a branch in Nolita, too. There were shops set up for the brand on several floors. The owner started as a vintage dealer online, and then began manufacturing vintage inspired clothing; and thus her empire began. Unfortunately for me, there were no cotton sweaters anywhere in the store!
Le Bon Marché, 24, rue de Sevres
Right across the street was Comptoir des Cotonniers, and so I thought that they surely might have plain cotton sweaters. Wrong. They too had plenty of linen sweaters (this year’s “thing” in France) and cottons with fancy stitches. But no classic jerseys here. Just lots of well priced basics.
Comptoir des Cotonniers, 35, rue de Sevres, and other locations all over France
There was a large outdoor market in the Place St.-Sulpice with a little bit of everything — from clothing to brocantes, or antiques. There are tons of stores in and around this neighborhood.
American products and ideas are also a thing in France this summer. Carhartt has been busy this year. They did a collab with Marni that was a top-seller and they have also opened a Carhartt WIP store filled with more fashion-forward gear, tweaked from their more basic looks.
Carhartt WIP, 23, rue du Four
Before heading home, we hit a few more stores. Our hotel had a small but efficient pool and hammam. We’d booked a six p.m. slot and went to blow off our jet lag. It worked. Dinner was on the rue Princesse with friends. That street has totally changed. It always had crowded restaurants and bars, but three or four British style pubs have opened recently. The mostly French patrons spilled out onto the small street, filling the night air with laughter and conversation.
The next morning we headed to the Right Bank. The skies were much more overcast, and it was a bit muggy. Still the Institute de France, home of the very proper Académie Française, overlooking the Seine, is always a welcome site.
The Pont Des Arts connects the Louvre and the Institute. In past years it had been covered in “Love Locks,” and the sheer weight of them had caused a lot of damage to the pretty bridge. It was in the midst of being repaired, the locks taken off, and Plexiglass installed to prevent any new ones. Restorations and repairs are also a thing in Paris in preparation for next year’s Summer Olympics.
We were headed to the Hôtel de la Marine on the Place de la Concorde. The stunning hôtel, designed in the 18th century by Gabriel, was the warehouse (garde-meuble) for all the King’s furnishings. The hôtel housed a grand apartment for the person who controlled all the inventory (you can book a tour of the Intendants’ Apartments). There are many rooms, including this luxe bathroom that is furnished with a tub as well as a dressing table and a chaise for relaxation.
The dining room recreates a painting of the end of a dinner. The building had housed the offices of the Department of the Navy and was painstakingly renovated. When you book a tour, you receive a headset with 3D sound that takes you on a voyage back to the 18th century. Fires roar in fireplaces and dishes clank as if you’ve gone back in time.
Set in one corner is a table with the cards of a now-extinct game. Prime 18th century entertainment.
On the ground floor there is a bookstore with an extensive collection of reading matter and gifts and treats. You will also find some excellent, and very pretty, restaurants here.
Hôtel de la Marine, 2, Place de la Concorde
The Palais Royal always offers visual Valium and calm. There are plenty of outdoor tables for a luxe lunch at the historic Grand Véfour. Under the colonnade or in the garden, enjoy a gourmet treat.
Le Grand Véfour, 17, rue Beaujolais
One of the newer stores in the Palais Royale is the Jérôme Dreyfuss handbag boutique. The bags have French it-girl status. Mr. Dreyfuss is married to Isabel Marant, one of the hippest Parisian designers.
Jérôme Dreyfuss, 127 Galerie de Valois
P.A.R.O.S.H is a contemporary Italian brand for men and women that is simple and fun. The clean boutique in the Palais Royale is open and bright.
P.A.R.O.S.H, 138 Galerie de Valois
Sadly, we didn’t have time for a gourmet lunch at Véfour, so we had a light bite in the Galerie Vivienne. The Galerie Vivienne is close to the Palais Royal and is full of clothing boutiques, deco stores, booksellers, and more. Jean-Paul Gaultier was headquartered here for many years. There are more than fifteen of these covered passages in Paris, many in this neighborhood.
Nathalie Garçon has had a boutique in the Galerie for many years. Her colorful looks are inspired by foreign lands. They are Parisian favorites.
Nathalie Garçon, 15 Galerie Vivienne
We headed down the street to the Place des Victoires. There have been many changes in this area. For years it was full of cutting edge fashion boutiques, but these days chic decorating boutiques and showrooms have replaced many of them. Maison Sarah Lavoine has recently moved here. You will also find Designers Guild, AM, PM and many other doors nearby. There is a ton to explore here.
Maison Sarah Lavoine, 6, Place des Victoires
Victoire, a very Parisian boutique, was one of the pioneers along with the original Kenzo. Kenzo is now corporately owned with stores all over the map, whereas Victoire has closed its original large boutique and another smaller one. One store remains here, along with men’s and women’s boutiques in other parts of Paris. The clothing is a bit more relaxed than it used to be. But it offers sunny colors this summer. But still, no basic cotton sweaters.
Victoire, 10, Place des Victoires
La Poste du Louvre is finally finished after years of construction. The large building, which was originally a post office, was sold and gutted. While there is still a smaller post office on the ground floor, the upper floors contain the super-chic Madame Rêve Hotel. The unique property has views for days, two pretty restaurants and a roof-top sun deck. The original plans called for the building to be filled with luxury boutiques. There is still a lot of space for rent on the ground floor, but a group of mostly decor stores are open. The rue Etienne Marcel stretches into the Marais and has many contemporary and high street brands. There is still a lot to discover in this part of Paris.
La Poste du Louvre, 48, rue du Louvre
I wanted to check out the rue Saint-Honoré, too. Leclaireur offers a curated selection of designer duds. The looks have gotten a bit less cutting edge, and a bit more comme il faut. But the selection is wide. The home department is amazing and extremely tempting.
Leclaireur, 10, Boissy d’Anglas
Hermes is just up the street. I have been trying to get a certain agenda cover for well over a year now, and thought that I would give it another try. Well, that went nowhere. I guess the bags take precedence over the smaller items. I also wanted to take a look at the shoes upstairs. I was not exactly happy when I was told that I would have to put my name on a list and stand in line to even “have a look” at the shoes. Has Hermes jumped the shark? When I took this photo (above) of the Hermes employee taking names, another employee started shouting that I had to delete the photos. He threatened to call the security guards; basically chasing us around and out of the store. Sadly, shopping here is no longer a luxury experience.
After reaching the street, we stayed on the Rue Saint-Honoré and continued shopping. Dior, Fendi, Saint Laurent and more have all opened stores. In front of the Celine perfume store, the heavens opened up and there was an intense 15-minute downpour. When it finally stopped, I was interested to see that Palm Angels, a trendy Italian streetwear brand, had just opened a store down the street. The two-story, flower-filled boutique was a good find. It mixes attitude with style.
Palm Angels, 217 rue Saint-Honoré
Vivienne Westwood was one of the only boutiques with a line outside. The rue Saint-Honoré is a little bit more laid back than the Rue Royal and the Fauboug Saint-Honoré. All the late designer’s cult pieces are here, as is their Paris office and press office.
Vivienne Westwood, 175, rue Saint-Honoré
We went to dinner at the Terminus Nord. Like the classic Le Train Bleu near the Gare de Lyon, the Terminus Nord is a landmark restaurant near a station; in this case the Gare du Nord. I had been there years ago with some friends who were returning to Scotland and wanted a good dinner before leaving. The food was delicious then and the classic brasserie menu remains perfectly executed today.
Terminus Nord, 23 Rue de Dunkerque
Sunday morning we headed out for some more wandering and shopping. Allison, a local clothing store on the rue de Buci, is always filled with the clothes that are trending in Paris. Most come from the Sentier, the Parisian garment district. This season they were mostly printed and peasanty — and oversized. If you want to dress like a young local, start here.
Allison, 3, rue de Buci
We were heading to the Marais, as it was Sunday, when much of Paris is closed. Since the weather had cleared up a bit we decided to take a bus across the Seine. It was a quick, scenic trip.
One of the first boutiques we spotted was the brand new Rouje space. The brand was started by trendsetter Jeanne Damas. She opened Rouje as an online clothing company and also runs a restaurant. Rouje has opened many doors recently and there is now also a line of make-up. A New York store is coming soon. The new generation of independent designers is a welcome change from the mostly dull clothing in the cookie-cutter chains.
Rouje, 16, rue de Turenne
Close by the tiny K.Jacques was packed with sandals and customers. Everything is hand made in France, and the quality is outstanding. There are endless styles in endless colors. The shoes last for years. Many customers have a hard time choosing the pair they want.
K.Jacques, 16, Rue Pavée
La Piscine is a destockage or outlet store. I did not recognize most of the brands they carried, but it is a newish concept for Paris. Normally clothing is only allowed by law to be marked down twice a year. La Piscine knows that everyone (everywhere) loves a bargain.
La Piscine, 13, rue des Francs Bourgeois
We stopped for a relaxing lunch on the Place des Vosges. Shopping in the Marias has changed recently whereas many of the fashion forward stores that I had wanted to see are now closed on Sunday. And I did not have much interest in the high street shops. Instead, we decided to visit the Maison de Victor Hugo. The writer and his family lived in an apartment in a hotel particulier on a corner of the Place des Vosges. Paris has many interesting small museums, and this one is extremely well done.
Hugo was a complicated man, juggling his wife and family with his many mistresses. This most French of writers lived here from 1832 til 1848. When Napoleon III seized the throne, Hugo fell afoul of the new emperor and fled abroad ending up in Guernsey, a British island. This impressive Chinese flavored drawing room was designed by Hugo and was brought to Paris from his long-time mistress Juliette Drouet’s home on the same island.
Next door is a dark and heavy room that contains the bed that Hugo died in, an interesting juxtaposition of styles. The house has another floor that features many different exhibtions. There is no fee to enter the museum and there is a delightful garden cafe on the main floor that serves very good lunches and teas.
Maison de Victor Hugo, 6, Place des Vosges
As much as young Parisians dress with style, the older set mainly has a distinctive look that is not as … er … attractive. I finally discovered where some of these looks come from. If New Yorkers live in their gym clothes and sweats, Parisians buy baggy pull-on pants, oversized tees, and large lightweight shirts, both solid and printed, from Nina Kendosa and other like-minded brands. Everything is super inexpensive, and not terribly flattering.
Nina Kendosa, 23, rue des Francs Bourgeois
Dinner brought us to a gorgeous Belle-Epoque era bistro, Le Chardenoux, in the 11th. The celebrity chef, Cyril Lignac, is in charge. His “modern menu” is full of delicious fare. Just as the French have adopted some very American clothing brands, some American dishes are all the rage. Hamburgers are everywhere you look. The one here was on almost every other table, and looked huge and succulent. You will also find lobster rolls, another French obssesion. No matter, the food is amazing and also well priced.
Le Chardenoux, 1, rue Jules Vallès
Monday morning was hot, muggy and overcast. I had spent time in Montmartre at the fabric shopping destination, le Marché Saint Pierre, and enjoyed many dinners, but did not know the nabe well. There was a show of Surréalisme au Féminin at the Musee de Montmartre, so it seemed like a good idea. The streets are often steps up here.
As we climbed the hill, we spotted the Lapin Agile near the museum. French singers perform in a cabaret in the historic spot, and there are even TV Lapin performances on Zoom these days.
Au Lapin Agile, 22 rue des Saules
The museum consists of several buildings and many gardens. Utrillo, Renoir, and many other artists lived and worked here. This building houses Montmartre memorabilia; posters, paintings and memories of a way of life. On the other side of the wall is a large garden that houses the Cafe Renoir. Many locals seemed to be enjoying spending time with children and books in the open air.
There is another building that was, thankfully, air-conditioned (it’s sporadic in Paris). The Surrealism exhibit featured over 50 artists and some stunning works. Friends in Paris say that this museum always has interesting works on display. A recreated studio is also open, along with the sad bedroom of Maurice Utrillo. The Montmartre vineyard, a real working vineyard, is also nearby. Stopping for lunch in a local cafe, I discovered Thai beef tartare. A wonderful alternative to the traditional recipe.
Musée de Montmartre, 12, rue Cortot
There were a few more stores to check out. Madura is one of the best places for curtains and other textiles. We were looking for place mats and napkins, but they were out of the styles we wanted.
Madura, 6, rue Tronchet
Manfield is a few blocks away. I had never really explored the Boulevard des Capucines, which connects La Place Madelaine and the Avenue de L’Opera. There are shoes and bags galore at Manfield, all well priced and made with care. I was interested to see many other shopping options on this wide street.
Manfield, 39, Blvd des Capucines
We met friends in Montparnasse for an apero at Le Select, the storied ’20s and ’30s cafe; and still a good choice. We had reservations at the nearby La Closerie des Lilas for dinner. I hadn’t been there in many years and I was shocked when we arrived. The quiet atmosphere was gone and the tables were packed one on top of another. When dinner arrived, it was pretty inedible. The overworked waiter was not surprised when we decided to leave. We headed to a small cafe near our hotel where the food is always agreeable and enjoyed some small bites and a nightcap.
Le Pré-aux-Clercs, 30, rue Bonaparte
It was Tuesday, and time to get the car and head south. Getting the car meant a trip to the pretty overwhelming Gare de Montparnasse. We stopped for a lunch at a local landmark, La Palette. It’s a local for artists and owners of the nearby art galleries; and is pretty much always full. It was a nice end to a short stay. As always, I look forward to returning. And maybe I’ll finally find that cotton sweater.
Barbara Hodes is the owner of NYC Private Shopping Tour, offering customized tours in New York and Brooklyn.