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Off the beaten track in Paris

Discover some hidden gems in the City of Lights

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October 13th, 2016
Paris at night.

Paris at night.

"Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic. Nothing is more sublime.”  Victor Hugo, author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables, used these words to describe Paris.  

In so many ways, Hugo’s nineteenth-century quote is as relevant today as ever. Now as then, the lights of Paris are bright, the gardens fantastic, and the croissants sublime. Now as then, the city is also tragic—although in vastly different ways.

In Hugo’s time, the tragedy was social injustice. Today, it is terrorism. Hugo would surely fail to recognize his beloved city—a place where metal detectors and scanning machines are almost as plentiful as cafes. Where you can’t walk more than a few blocks without seeing military personnel carrying machine guns. 

These new developments would surely trouble Hugo. However, the presence of so much force helped this nervous traveler relax and enjoy “la Ville Lumière,” or “City of Lights.” Yes, there is a constant threat, but they are doing their best to mitigate it.

Like any respectable tourist, I visited the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe. They are the headliners that make Paris the most visited city in the world, but for me, the lesser-known Paris is what made my trip memorable. 

Fantastic museums

A few blocks from the Louvre is the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, whose mission is “to keep alive in France the culture of the arts which seek to make useful things beautiful.” Exhibitions here focus on fashion, graphic design, pop culture, and vernacular art. 

When I visited, they had a wonderful fashion exhibit. Another exhibit explored the history of Barbie. Past exhibits have focused on the art of the button, toy making, and the history of glass told through the museum’s own collection, regarded as one of the finest in Europe.  

If you’re looking for a more traditional art museum, try Musée de l’Orangerie. This gem located near the Tuileries Gardens has a respectable collection of French modern art and eight spectacular not-to-be-missed masterpieces. 

Arguably France’s most important painter, Claude Monet painted his enormous Water Lilies canvases just for this museum. Nothing can prepare you for the vast scale of the collection. Displayed in connecting oval galleries with muted, natural lighting designed by Monet himself, the space has an almost otherworldly aura. 

The painter wanted visitors to be able to immerse themselves completely in the painting and to forget about the outside world. The end of the First World War in 1918 reinforced his desire to offer beauty to wounded souls.

Take a seat on one of the long padded benches and contemplate the artistic genius surrounding you. The museum has other galleries full of top-notch art, but what you will take away are the water lilies. 

Sublime chocolate

If you have a sweet tooth, Paris is your city. Pastry shops are everywhere. Ice cream lovers must visit Berthillon (29-31 rue Saint-Louis en l’île) to taste the best ice cream in Paris. And yes, you must sample the entire rainbow of colorful cookies known as macarons at LADURÉE (34 rue Bonaparte). Try it all, but don’t forget the chocolate.

Paris is the world capitol of chocolate and the historic area of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is the chocolate epicenter. No fewer than ten world-class chocolatiers can be found in this historic 6th arrondissement neighborhood. 

Not to be missed is Chapon (69 rue du Bac). Patrice Chapon is one of the few Parisian chocolatiers to roast his own cocoa beans. While the small shop offers a delicious selection of chocolates, the highlight is definitely the chocolate mousse bar. Choose from five different single-origin chocolate varieties ranging from deep dark to milk. They will scoop the heavenly mixture into a paper cone, sprinkle it with praline, then hand you the most sublime chocolate mousse you will ever experience.  

Shopping

In the States, practically every weekend is cause for a sale. In Paris, sales are government-regulated. They happen twice a year, just after Christmas and again in June/July. These sales feature serious discounts—as much as 60% to 70% off the original price. 

At Le Bon Marché (24 Rue de Sèvres), Paris’s grande dame of department stores, a $385 Alexander McQueen scarf could be had for $120. If you love to shop, plan your visit around the sales. For a shopaholic, there is nothing quite like being in a city where practically every store is having a sale.

One kind of shopping that is often overlooked or under-experienced by tourists is food shopping. Big mistake! The fabulous markets that abound throughout the city offer epicureans the chance to sample food the way real Parisians do. From cheese to pâté to freshly baked bread. Add a bottle of wine and you have the makings of a picnic. Head over to the banks of the Seine and enjoy!

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