Paris is a unique city because nearly everybody has been there. Not physically, of course, but we’ve all been transported to the City of Lights in a film or a show, with a book or because of a friend’s story. We all have a very vivid impression of what Paris is. For these reasons, the capital of France has become a place of fantasy. Amazingly, and surely a rarity, Paris is just as special, magical, luxurious, mesmerizing, and perfect as you already believe it to be.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to have spent so much time in this city. I know that I would be such a different person than I am today if Paris had never become my hometown. I wasn’t born there, which is truly one of the great tragedies of this modern era, but I found myself somewhere on those tiny streets and broad avenues — and so, for me, Paris is my home and will always be.
I’m very homesick for Paris right now. I was last in my beloved city only four months ago, but already it feels as if an eternity has come and gone. And so, to placate my pangs of longing and to somewhat comfort my overwhelming wanderlust, I am going to write about how I would spend the most perfect of days in Paris. Perhaps this may aid you on a future voyage of your own or perchance you will simply enjoy this fantasy.
The bells of the Église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis begin to ring with melodious cacophony, and I’d rise from bed. Sunlight streams in through the large windows that face the narrow street and illuminates the small one-bedroom apartment’s chevron-patterned floors, the peaceful white walls, intricately carved fireplace, and the decorative moulding on the ceiling where a small chandelier hangs. Crystals send the light beams scattering.
With a lazy yawn, I make my way to the espresso machine and brew a capsule. I would never purchase un café in one of the shops here. French coffee is really a vile thing, and so you want beans or pods imported from nearby Italy.
I put on my attire for the day. Something elegant, yet simple, able to transform from casual to formal with ease. Surely it’ll be black on black on black, and I will feel stunning and powerful. A wardrobe of well-fitting garments will do that for you.
Once outside, I leisurely stroll down the sidewalk to my very favorite bakery in the entire city, Miss Manon. As I approach, the smell of fresh bread permeates the air and the yeasty aroma draws a small crowd to the shop. My old woman will be working, as always, looking harassed and busy, but with a becoming smirk lingering at the corner of her lips. I call her “my old woman,” but that’s not her name. I haven’t the foggiest notion who she really is, but she is dear to me. She’s an icon of Paris just as much as Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower. She taught me how to say so many culinary terms with proper French pronunciation, and I absolutely adore her. I would happily order a feuille d’automne or a gâteau opéra, pouting that there wasn’t any gâteau Osiris on sale.
I didn’t see one at all the last time I was there, and that makes me so sad. I should recreate my own. It is a small tart with a chocolate cake base topped with a combination of raspberry and chocolate mousse. That is enrolled in chocolate and garnished with gold foil, raspberries, and a rum soaked cherry. I never could understand why the miraculous pastry was named for the ancient Egyptian god of the dead, but no matter.
As I neared the counter, I’d ask for a baguette aux pavots (a poppyseed encrusted baguette) and with a cheery au revoir, I’d be on my way to one of the many green spaces available to pick from.
The Place des Vosges is always a good spot, so I’d set myself on a bench beneath the well-sculpted trees and think about how wonderful it is to be in Paris again.
After my breakfast of bread and pastry, I would make my way to the nearest Métro and speed off to one of my very favorite places in the city and the whole of the world, the Cimetière Pére Lachaise.
This graveyard is a veritable village of the deceased and a place of spectacular beauty. I would stroll contentedly through the lanes and avenues of sepulchers and mausoleums. At Édith Piaf’s, I would sing a little, probably my favorite “Et Moi” or another favorite of the moment, “La Belle Histoire d’Amour.”
Oscar Wilde’s sadly restored remains are nearby, so I would stop and think about his life and ponder how it has delighted and influenced me. I’d pass by all the graves of the beloved dead, snap photographs, and make my way to a section of important people that seem quite forgotten: Jean-François Champollion and Joseph Fourier.
Both of them were instrumental to the development of Egyptology, and I always like to sit next to their graves and remember their achievements and the huge impact their lives made on mine.
After walking all over the cemetery, I’d be hella hungry, so I’d hop back on the Métro and make my way to the other side of the city. After a quick stroll through the Jardin des Plantes, I’d arrive at the Grande Mosquée de Paris, the most beautiful mosque I’ve ever been to.
I haven’t been to many, admittedly, but this one is particularly special. From the street you enter a courtyard lined with marble, which is absolutely lovely. I never sit here, though, I keep going in until I find myself in the courtyard, which is like going on an instantaneous trip to Cairo. The walls are lined with intricate tiles and many of the tables have a brass top. There’s a bubbling fountain, canopies protect you from the sun, little sparrows flit all over and are quite tame, and bustling waiters circulate to bring you scalding hot cups of very sweet mint tea.
It’s a perfect place to relax and chat. I’m always peckish for pastries, so I would choose from an assortment on display and drink far too much mint tea. If you’re lucky, one of the waiters will flirt with you and bring you a free treat on the house. And if you’re even more lucky, you’ll see the Mosque’s cat who likes to be seen and not touched.
Very near to the Mosque is another of my favorite places that nobody seems to know about. There is a little park with a Roman arena in it. Not some kind of modern reconstruction, but an actual Roman arena from thousands of years ago when Paris was called Lutetia and gladiators fought battles. Nowadays, it’s just a beautiful place to sit and read or write
After the leisurely afternoon, it’s time to get some real exercise in. I walk almost everywhere in Paris — miles and miles a day — and it is the reason that I lose an inordinate amount of weight in Europe, even though my diet consists entirely of pastries, tomato soup, and bread. I’d cross the river and walk along the Seine down to the Louvre. Along the way are delightful little vendors called bouquinistes. They sell used books, antique postcards, vintage magazines, original art and art prints, magnets, record albums, and everything in between. Maybe you’ll come across a Jacques Brel single or Jacque Chirac’s memoirs. You can always find something.
While you shop and browse, enjoy the river. There are many opportunities to go down on the quay and sit beside the gently flowing water and watch the tourist boats sail by. It’s perfect.
As you pass by the islands, take one of the beautiful bridges over, look at Notre Dame for a second and then make your way to the Marché aux Fleurs. Queen Elizabeth was recently in Paris and visited the market so her name is now a part of it, too. This is absolutely the friendliest place in the city. I’ve never in all my life found Parisians to be stereotypically rude. I’m not marching around in an American flag sweatshirt and tennis shoes, though. Anyway, this place is perfect. You can buy flowers or a bird or a carnivorous plant! I usually get my postcards here and chat with one of the elderly shop owners. They’re just the sweetest people.
It’s a very long way down to the Louvre, but it’s absolutely worth every step. You’ll pass by the defunct, but still beautiful Samaritaine department store, pet shops, and all sorts of bakeries. Stop in them all.
Finally, I’d reach the monstrously large Louvre, once a royal palace, and daydream about being a member of the aristocracy. Then I’d wonder if I’d ever get lucky enough to marry into it or at least a rich family. I think that’s what I’m destined for.
With a spring in my step, I’d avoid the crowds at the Pyramid entrance and hurry down the steps at the entrance alongside the Rue de Rivoli. I wouldn’t be able to start my artistic adventure without a few macarons from McCafé. Yes McCafé and I do not care if you judge me. That just shows how deeply uninformed you are about the glories of fast food in Europe. It’s divine!
The macarons at McCafé are some of my favorite in the city and I have been to an ass-ton of bakeries. They are worlds better than the shockingly soft garbage you get at Ladurée and are only inferior to the gastronomic triumphs available at Pierre Hermé.
Once I’d finished devouring my macarons, I’d whip out my Carte Louvre Jeune (an annual pass that costs fifteen euros for an entire year’s access to this cultural landmark — an amazing bargain, but only available if you’re under 30) and sashay my way past the commoners waiting in line. Those of us with cards don’t have to wait.
I inevitably pick the same route and wind my way through the Egyptian galleries. I could visit them a thousand times and never tire of seeing Akhenaten smirking down on me or walking past the line of sphinxes. Every time I visit I come across something new and that’s the fun of a museum this big. You could spend your life there and still not know it intimately. The Louvre is one of the best parts about Paris, and I cannot recommend spending all the time in the world there. This fantasy only lasts for a day, though, so I’d browse the gallery and make sure to see some Renaissance art, too. My sister and I have deliriously good times making up backstories to the paintings. When you see some like this, it’s easy to understand why:
After a couple hours admiring art, it’s time to do a few last things before dinner. Nobody eats before eight in Paris anyway, so we are hardly running late.
In front of the Louvre stretches the phenomenally beautiful Jardin des Tuileries. It’s a fantastically lovely place to spend a warm spring or summer afternoon with it’s massive fountains, wide avenues, plentiful shade, statues of Grecian gods, several cafés, and a fabulous perch at the very end that overlooks the Place de la Concorde. This is also a favorite place of mine, and I’ve spent many hours there watching the cars wind around Cleopatra’s needle, an ancient Egyptian obelisk that once stood proudly at Luxor Temple. There is plentiful seating and you can see the Eiffel Tower looming proudly in the distance. There’s no better place to watch the sunset.
Now as the sun is slowly starting to lower and shadows grow long, there is no better time to peruse the Rue Saint-Honoré. When I was a student in Paris, I hadn’t quite come into my stylish sensibilities, so it was later in my travels that I discovered the charm of mingling with the wealthy on this enormously grand avenue of shops. We need to hurry, though, since most of the shops close around 7.
The most delightful and charming place to visit is the Chanel shop on the Rue Cambon, just off the Saint-Honoré. It’s the shop that Coco Chanel opened herself, and it remains an icon of fashion history.
I was absolutely petrified the first time I went in, but it has since become a pleasant excursion on each of my Parisian trips. I always get the same thing, a small bottle of cologne called Chanel Pour Monsieur. It’s my signature fragrance, and although you can get it easily enough here in America, why not go to Paris to buy it? Each spritz will be a happy memory. The doors are opened for you by attendants and then one is attached to you who will answer all your questions and treat you like the rich bitch that you’ve always dreamed of being. It’s complete fantasy fulfillment and the entire affair is elegant and cultured. The employees are smart, chic, and effortless. I adore them. If you’re lucky enough, one of them will show you to the ridiculously famous steps that lead up to the Karl Lagerfeld offices. That, reader, was a great moment in my life to stand before those mirrored stairs where Karl stands with all of his celebrity friends and where Coco herself watched her fashion shows take place. Chanel bag in hand and a smile on my face, I’d head back onto the street.
Make sure you do a quick browse through Colette, surely the trendiest shop on the street. It’s full of designer clothes, expensive gadgets, and quirky knickknacks. Also celebrities. If you’re lucky you will bump into a charming burlesque star and her one-time-flame who just happens to be a COUNT.
Now off to buy some pastries!
I could rhapsodize poetically about my love for Pierre Hermé for paragraphs and paragraphs, but I’ve done that before multiple times. I’ll just say that there is no finer baker in Paris or the world. His desserts are absolute perfection and I’ve learned so much from his cookbooks and from just being in the shops. I’ve been to each one in the city! There will be a line, and it will probably be composed of irksome tourists who are here because a guidebook told them to visit, but ignore them. Act cultured. When it’s finally your turn at the counter, make sure to get several Mogador macarons — these are my favorite — made of milk chocolate and passion fruit. Oh, reader, nothing so divine exists anywhere else in the world, unless you make your own, which I frequently do. Also get a mandarin orange and olive oil macaron if they are available. They aren’t often. They are magical. Get anything at all that looks good to you. I have never had a bad pastry from Pierre.
At this point, I’ll be starving and I’ll have every intention to go to someplace new and nice or charming like the Café Varenne or the Café de Flore or even the Café de l’Industrie, but I will inevitably find myself on the train heading toward the Eiffel Tower. There, a few blocks away is one of my favorite restaurants in the world, Iolanda.
It’s completely a tourist restaurant and there is nothing French about it at all, but I absolutely adore the place. Half of the menu is crap and the drinks are overpriced. Still, there is nothing so satisfying as a big plate of rigatoni aux trois fromages. I get it every single time and I am always satisfied. I will devour that bowl of pasta and scrape up the cheesy remains with a bit of baguette. If I’m feeling particularly refined, which I will be, I’ll order a Kir Pêche to drink for dessert. I don’t know if we sell Kir here in America or not. It’s a strong wine mixed with fruit liquor, peach in this case, and it is mesmerizingly good. I adore it.
Once finished, pay your bill and let the entire staff wave you out. They’re charming.
Leave Iolanda’s about fifteen minutes before the top of the hour so that you can make your way down the street to the Eiffel Tower. Make your way to the very center. Look at your watch and wait for the hour to strike. The second it does, look up, and bask under the euphoric glory of the historic structure twinkling.
It never gets old and it’s always a rewarding experience. You also feel oddly powerful and kind of like your life is one wondrous movie.
It’s been quite a day and I’m clearly exhausted, but if it’s a warm evening, there’s one more mandatory stop to make. Head back to the islands and find the Île Saint-Louis and look for the line in front of the Maison Berthillon. This is the most fabulous ice cream shop in the world. If the line seems excessive, wander down any of the streets and you’ll find another ice cream shop selling Berthillon’s ice cream. It’s rather iconic to wait in the official line, though. There are a world of flavors and I recommend you try any that strike your fancy.
Over the years my favorite has always been the dark chocolate, but I also adore their passion fruit. I even had a rather tasty green apple sorbet once. It’s an absolute treat. The grapefruit is also wonderful.
Walk along the tiny streets and mingle with the other hopelessly entranced people on the island and finally, with great contentment, make your way back to your beautiful apartment.
Now it’s time to gorge on the Pierre Hermé pastries you procured earlier while sitting in the window and watching Paris slowly quiet down. It’s perfect. I miss it so much.