Pale-gold shuttered buildings eyelashed by wrought-iron balconies, work-of-art bakeries, and art-of-life restaurants fill the streets of Paris. Unbowed by the terrorist attacks of November 2015, the City of Light has lost none of its sparkle, and none of its charm. We explore the flurry of new kids on the block that, coupled with some of Paris’s already appealing attractions, make the city more enticing than ever before.
A Fantastical Canopy
Paris’ central Les Halles district, for centuries filled with food markets, was dubbed the city’s ventre (belly) by nineteenth-century novelist Emile Zola. Following a €918 million ($1 billion) revamp, the area’s sunken shopping mall has gained an undulating canopy that resembles a yellow-gold, 1970s-style armadillo. The adjacent landscaped Nelson Mandela Gardens are a welcome addition, perfect for a sun-dabbled amble.
Alain Ducasse’s Champeaux
Les Halles canopy harbours Alain Ducasse’s newest venture, Champeaux, a convivial, sunlight-flooded, 180-seat, self-styled “brasserie for the 21st century” with huge plate-glass windows. It’s thoroughly modern, but nods at history — this area once had a nineteenth-century brasserie of the same name. Inside, friendly staffers exude Parisian cool, with mixologists in flat caps and bow ties, and waiters in natty black and white. Changing menu information is displayed on an eight-meter-long electronic train billboard.
Under head chef Bruno Brangea, the menu is classic, but with a twist, and specializing in soufflés and new takes on brasserie staples. One starter combines green beans with sour cream whipped with lemon juice, while another is an air-light pâté en croûte (pâté in pastry). A main of Mediterranean meagre is served with toasted quinoa and a tangy lemon-olive condiment, a creation that’s light and refreshing, yet full of substance. To finish, there are delights such as pistachio and salted butter caramel soufflé: Imagine tucking into a cloud that deflates as you pierce it with your fork, and then delving into a sensational creamy morass that’s just the right side of both sweet and salty.
Under head sommelier Gérard Margeon, the wine list is mainly European and ever-evolving. The some 70 labels may include a delicate pineapple-and-oak 2014 Domaine Thibert Chardonnay, or the dazzlingly light and crisp Champagne Brut, Selection Alain Ducasse. Cocktails are also a highlight, paying homage to Les Halles’ food-market past and use of historic local ingredients.
An Affordable Michelin Star
Young chef Julia Sedefdian is new at the helm of Michelin-starred Les Fables de la Fontaine, which has also been made-over in elegant pared-back style, with huge windows, and a small terrace. This is high-end gastronomy, but at brasserie-style prices (a tasting menu is €70/$78). Her thrillingly entertaining cooking includes a starter of smoked salmon carpaccio with crème fraîche and spring onions — simultaneously soft, smoky, smooth, and crunchy. Delicate white asparagus is paired with smoked pork as a main, and for dessert, a deconstructed lemon meringue pie zings with citrus and swooningly-perfect sorbet.
Creative Wine Tasting
The fabulously inventive Les Caves du Louvre offers a fun, creative way to learn about wine in the historic cellars of a former sommelier and candle-maker of King Louis XV. Descending into the cellars, take a self-guided tour (first downloading its Wine in Paris app) to discover the rooms, each themed by the senses. In one chamber, you try to discern the different scents in wines by matching the smell to the name. In another you can view the different types of vines and their respective terrain. Not tied to a particular region, this is an opportunity to try wines across all the major regions of France. There are also wine tastings and workshops where you can even create your own wine, right down to the label.
Louis Vuitton Museum
Another exciting addition to the Paris scene is the fabulous Fondation Louis Vuitton museum, at the edge of the lush, wooded, former royal hunting ground at Bois de Bologne. Frank Gehry designed the sail-like structure, and its white-walled galleries host impressive contemporary exhibitions featuring artists like Ai Wei Wei. An electric shuttle bus runs here from Place Charles de Gaulle, and it’s well worth the short trip. If traveling with kids, it’s (free) eclectic gardens have trampolines and a deer park.
The Sleek Ren Republique
With a funky-cool location just outside the hip Marais district, the Ren Republique hotel is a stylish revamp of a 1970s building with porthole-style windows. The rooms are small but with plenty of sex appeal, including black, red, and white-colored hallways, glass panels between bed and bathroom, balconies overlooking rooftops, and gloriously comfortable beds. There’s a cocktail bar, organic food for breakfast, and a spa. You know you’re in Paris when the minibar includes “virgile viril” capsules and massage oil.
Eurostar operates up to 21 daily services from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare Du Nord (2 hours, 15 minutes).