We caught up with Doni Belau, CEO and founder of Girls Guide to Paris, for an insider look at life in the City of Light.
On your first day here, seeing this is a must: If you are a Paris Virgin (never been before) I recommend hopping on a segway, via Segway Tours of Paris and taking their three-hour tour. You’ll cover some of the key sights in central Paris such as Invalides and the Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries with a little history thrown in. It’s a much more fun and fast way of seeing the highlights of Paris than on foot. If this is a second or third trip, then consult my must do’s list. These are my personal favorite places, locations and things to do in Paris. I am terribly happy when I’m wandering around the Place des Vosges, shopping for a book at Shakespeare & Co or visiting the Musée Rodin. Each of these evokes something that feels to me ““ quintessentially Paris.
Most people don’t know this, but to get a true taste of the local culture”… Grab a bottle of cheap rosé, head to the canal at Martin and chat with locals while you watch the sunset on a lovely summer day.
For a glimpse of daily life, I recommend this form of transportation: The bus. While the metro is typically more convenient, and a taxi most direct (and expensive) the bus allows you to look out the windows and sometimes stop unexpectedly if you see something compelling. If you’re a little bit more adventurous, renting a Vespa is great fun. I recommend Left Bank Scooters.
The meal at this local eatery had me salivating for days: Saturne. I adore this wine bar/restaurant that opened a few years ago right in the 2nd Arrondissement. It’s modern, smart and stylish and has a spectacular list of vins naturel (natural wines). I vividly remember a mushroom dish there that I had that was so fresh it felt as if I was actually in the woods while eating it. Plus their sommelier Ewen Lemoigne will absolutely steer you the right way when sampling some of their natural wines.
Best place to find artisan handicrafts: Of course Paris is the mecca for shopping, worldwide and there are so many unique, original and interesting shops that one could create a whole website around it (which we’ve done but specifically for artisan handicrafts). Visit the Artisan Monastique for honey, herbal oils, knitted items and beautiful linens all made by French monks or nuns.
I had my best night’s sleep at: Well, I’ve had many but currently I’m in love with the Citizen Hotel for hip modern design, great beds and a view of the Canal St. Martin. There is nothing as cool to me right now as the Canal neighborhood. Plus, the hotel is very affordable for Paris with many rooms under 200 euros. For a splurge, renting Oscar Wilde’s room at L’Hotel and then booking the private pool and hammam below for yourself and a lover would be a deliciously sensuous Parisian experience. I’m not sure how much sleeping one might do though! Another thing that I love to do is to rent an apartment, if I’m staying at least a week. I am a huge fan of Erica’s taste at Haven in Paris, most all of her apartment offerings are special and well decorated. An apartment stay makes you feel like a vrai Parisian for the week.
Local celebration not to be missed: Nuit Blanche, an all night art fair that is both exhausting and exhilarating. Paris literally lights up with art and people roaming the streets at 2 a.m. becoming more cultured. What could be more fun? Tips on how to do it without completely exhausting yourself here.
Favorite pastimes: Walking around Paris with no destination in mind; stopping at a café, discovering a street I’ve never walked down or a park I’ve missed; finding a museum I’ve never gone to; or getting a deal during the Soldes (sales) in January or July.
For a more bucolic/green setting I escape here: Park Floral, especially during the jazz festival.
The art/music scene is alive and well here: The art and music scene in Paris is absolutely alive. For a glimpse of artists at work head to L’Association 59 Rivoli, an artists collective and former artist squatter’s space. I think jazz is the most interesting thing to listen to in Paris because they are devoted jazz-ophiles. But all types of music can be found in Paris from Gypsy Jazz at Le Piano Vache to Opera to Indie Bands at FlÃ¨che d’Or. More on venues here.
Where the locals get tipsy: For the best bar recommendations, I turn to Forest Collins ““ aka @52Martinis. She is Paris’ unequivocal Bar & Pub diva. She has contributed to our upcoming e-book guide and I can divulge just two of her cutting edge cocktail picks. Glass is the best dive bar in town if your looking for a real rock and roll attitude and the newly opened Le Coq has more of a sexy 70’s vibe.
If I had only 24 hours to explore Paris I would: Be upset, but I’d calm myself first by sitting at a café near my hotel and ordering a café crÃ¨me and un croissant avec confiture (jam). You must order jam, it doesn’t come with it. Then I’d head out to see whatever I deemed to be the best show of the season. The Paris tourist office always has the up to date info on the exhibits. If I didn’t find anything that I liked, I head to the Rodin Museum, which is my absolute favorite. If the weather is good, I’d have lunch there outside in their garden. Then I might head over to the Bon Marché or Galleries Lafayette for a little shopping. With only 24 hours I wouldn’t be able to stroll the streets of the Marais or the 6th for door-to-door boutique shopping, which I love best. I’d head after the department store to the Marais for a spot of tea at Le Loir dan la ThériÃ¨re at #3 rue de Rosiers. If I hadn’t had lunch yet, I’d dive into a Falafel at L’as, great 5 euro street food as I’ve got no time to waste. Then I’d just roam around the Marais as dusk falls, perhaps grabbing a small glass of wine at Ma Bourgogne on the beautiful Place des Vosges. I’d retire for a casual dinner of steak on the grill at Robert & Louise and after I’d walk off my meal by walking down the rue Vieille du Temple to the Seine, crossing over the bridge and walking on the Ile St. Louis, ending up in front of Notre Dame which is beautiful when it is lit up at night. I’d jump into Shakespeare & Company (the bookstore) before it closes and then I’d head back to my hotel around midnight grateful to have been in Paris even just for one day.
About the Writer
Paris Lifestyle Expert, Doni Belau, owned an apartment in the 6th Arrondissement for years until just recently. A true Francophile at heart, she combs through every guidebook written about Paris, scours every blog and travel magazine and spends countless hours hunting down and experiencing the newest restaurants and shops in Paris. When she is not writing about the City of Light, she is counting the minutes until her next trip. Doni has traveled to Paris many times with various groups of women, as well as young girls and teens, and will certify that every girl””of any age””can have a fabulous time in her favorite city. Before travel overtook her life, Doni worked in the not-for-profit and political arena, raised kids and produced television commercials. Find more of Doni’s tips on exploring Paris at Girls Guide to Paris and check out their walking tour of the city.