Paris’s appeal is eternal. While locals like me occasionally embrace the cinematic fantasy embodied by Jean Seberg, Jane Birkin and Audrey Tautou’s Amélie, it’s just a veneer that conceals the authentic day-to-day charm of the French capital.
Beyond the central tourist beat, the city is a hive of neighbourhoods, bustling with small businesses, restaurants and cafés. It embodies the concept of the “15-minute city” co-opted by socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo but originally coined by Colombian-French urban planner Carlos Moreno to describe a walkable city in which the daily essentials, along with entertainment and culture, are all within a quarter-hour radius of your home. In Paris, even antique markets (known as brocantes) move neighbourhoods each weekend (you can find the calendar at brocabrac.fr).
Certainly, it applies to my stomping ground, the 11th arrondissement, a sizable suburb that stretches from République to Bastille and skirts the Marais – once an alluring hot spot, now a homogeneity of global fashion boutiques.
The 11th is best known as a food-lovers’ hangout, with a line-up of neo-bistros and wine bars fronted by young chefs. A few addresses stand out and are easily accessible by foot if you stay at charming Maison Bréguet, a boutique hotel with an inviting internal courtyard, which is small enough for staff to know your name. Start the day at Dreamin Man, where Japanese owner Yuichiro Sugiyama reigns as king of the café au lait, while his pastry-chef partner, Yui Matsuzaki, bakes a daily spread of sponge cakes and seasonal fruit tarts. The hole-in-the-wall spot is prime for people watching and the same can be said for Folderol, a natural wine bar that serves artisanal ice-cream in unusual flavours, including olive oil, pomelo earl grey, cold brew and apricot verbena. Show up early if you want to perch at the bar with a glass of local pét-nat; otherwise, the enjoyment spills onto the street.
When it comes to lunch – still a threecourse affair in France – Mokonuts is always top of my list. Run by Japanese-Lebanese couple Moko Hirayama and Omar Koreitem, this casuallooking, breakfast and lunch-only address serves up some of the best plates in the city. (Book lunch well in advance; it’s not open on weekends.) Each day, Koreitem conjures up concise Middle Eastern influenced dishes, such as chargrilled sardines, lemon confit and chermoula, complemented by Hirayama’s sweet creations like strawberry tart, mascarpone and thyme.
But there’s no need to forgo traditional French food. Popular newcomer Bistrot des Tournelles offers all the greatest hits, including filet de boeuf, sauce au poivre and frites. And don’t skip dessert – the tarte tatin is sticky perfection.
The best pastime in Paris is cycling and with plenty of bike-sharing companies, both electric and pedal, it now ranks among the world’s top 10 cycling cities. It’s even on track to build 180 kilometres of segregated bike lanes by 2026, following the successful pedestrianisation of the northern bank of the River Seine, which gives you a postcard view of the city’s historic bridges by two wheels or foot.
For more than two years now, Rue de Rivoli, the capital’s main artery from Place de la Bastille to Concorde, has been a bikeonly boulevard with token lanes for taxis and buses. If you take this route, drop by art museum Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection in the 1st arrondissement, a former grain exchange redesigned by Japanese architect Tadao Ando that houses French billionaire François Pinault’s impressive haul of contemporary art.
To see another side of Paris, I always recommend La Coulée Verte, an elevated, garden-lined trail (a repurposed aqueduct and train line) that takes you 4.5 kilometres from Bastille via walking paths and tunnels to the evergreen Bois de Vincennes. The promenade is at its loveliest in spring when the city emerges from the bleak winter and the climbing roses bloom – along with the collective good humour of Parisians.
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Image credit: Vincent Vanfleteren, Christophe Bielsa, Pinault Collection, Bistrot des Tournelles