Francophile Jennifer Evans Gardner hits the City of Lights for a festive gift-buying spree.
It’s that time of year again. The malls are packed with shoppers converging upon the usual suspects like The Pottery Barn, Banana Republic, and Victoria’s Secret in search of holiday gifts. The thing is, I’ve never been a mall girl, preferring to do my gift buying in charming sidewalk boutiques. Imagine the thrill I got last week when I got a call from a close girlfriend, inviting me on a last minute holiday shopping trip to Paris: 5 days, 4 nights – all expenses paid. With work deadlines, high school applications to fill out, carpool duties and other assorted motherly responsibilities at hand, I did the only sensible thing. I packed my bags.
The great thing about traveling before the holiday rush is that you have a good chance of getting upgraded on your flight. The stars were aligned for me, and I found myself in Air France’s posh Affaires class, blissfully indulging in champagne, cheese and chocolate while brushing up on my français with a few French films. After a restful night, I awoke in the City of Lights, bright-eyed and ready to meet my friend for our shopping adventure.
For those not on a budget the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome is a splendid place to stay with its chic lobby and Degas-inspired sculpture doorknobs. It felt exhilarating to park my luggage smack dab in the middle of Paris. However, for my dollars, I’d rather sleep steps away at the Hotel Mansart sans the cool doorknobs. Though not as posh as the Hyatt, the Hotel Mansart is equal in terms of central location, friendly staff, and comfortable rooms; however, at a savings of about $500 a night (that’s $2000 for four nights!), I’d rather put my Euros toward shopping. We couldn’t wait to get started.
Spending money is always immensely fun in Paris, but in December when the temperatures go down and the holiday lights go up (not to mention the added obligation to shop for others), it’s sheer bliss. The Champs Elysees, Place Vendome and Place Madeleine are just some of the quartiers decorated with elegant lights in colors like lilac, rose and blue, and the scent of freshly roasted chestnuts and toasted sugar almonds puts you in a festive mood.
What could be lovelier than meandering through the Marais, St. Germain, or along Rue St. Honoré with one of your dearest friends, popping in and out of picture-perfect boutiques, warming up along the way with a croque monsieur and sinfully rich chocolat chaud at the stunning Angelina tearoom? What could be dreamier than a two-hour lunch in the Palais Royal at the exquisite Le Grand Vefour, where Napoleon, Victor Hugo and Julia Child, among others, have dined over the years? Or a visit to Didier Ludot, arguably still the best vintage designer shop in the city, just steps away?
Women cannot live on shopping alone, though, so we popped into some of our favorite museums, the Musée de l’Orangerie, Musée d’Orsay and the Picasso Museum (now closed until Spring 2013)… even taking in a few hours of the sensational Paris Photo exhibition at the Grand Palais. A brisk walk through the Jardin des Tuileries between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde amidst bare, wintery trees felt magical, followed by a comically jam-packed rush hour Metro ride (with what seemed like all of Paris) to visit a friend in Neuilly. For me, no trip to Paris would be complete without visits to Fauchon (where I stocked up on expensive foodie gifts for my son’s teachers) and the Monoprix (where I stocked up on inexpensive foodie gifts for myself).
Of course, it would be impossible to name all of the memorable boutiques in Paris, but here is a list of some of my favorites, where you’ll have no trouble finding something for everyone on your list. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you buy or for whom. A last minute holiday shopping trip to Paris is really the perfect gift… for you.
MY PARIS GUIDE
Fauchon: Your co-workers, children’s teachers, the piano teacher, tutor, and mailman deserve something better than a Starbuck’s gift card, and this stunning food emporium has something for everyone. Foie gras, flavored mustards, chocolates, macarons, honey, and jams in flavors such as Rose Petal, are just some of the treats you can choose from. The packaging is so pretty, that it doesn’t matter what’s inside, really. It’s from Fauchon, so they’ll know it’s special. (24-26 Place de la Madeleine, 75008 Paris.)
Hermés: Another oldie, but goody. For the men on your list, nothing can beat an Hermes tie; for the women, a classic scarf or one of their delicious perfumes. Trés chic. (24 Rue du Faubourg, Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris.)
Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier: I fell in love with this perfume and glove shop the last time I was in Paris in May, but failed to get the fine, jewel-topped bottle of blackberry musk perfume. This time, it was my gift to myself, along with a sparkly flower brooch. (5 Rue des Capucines, 75001 Paris.)
Roses Costes Dani Roses (Hotel Costes Flower Shop): Most people love the bar and lounge at the Hotel Costes for a cocktail before dinner, and while it’s a bit too trendy for me, I am in love with their adjoining flower shop, which is absolutely intoxicating. Surely you have a friend in Paris you can bring flowers to? (239 Rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris.)
Jovoy Paris: Walking into this fragrance emporium is like visiting a museum. Exquisite perfumes and candles in rare and exotic scents. (33 Rue Poissonnière, 75002 Paris.)
Didier Ludot: There are two Dider Ludot shops in the Palais Royal; the vintage shop and the new dress shop. Skip the new shop and head to the designer vintage shop where Mssr. Ludot’s generous selection of designer clothing awaits. No bargains here, so be prepared to shell out the euros should you fall in love. (24 Galerie Montpensier, Jardin du Palais Royal 75001 Paris.)
Palais Royal: Built in the 1600s as a residence for Cardinal Richelieu, this beautiful historical palace and gardens is in heart of Paris. Inside and adjacent to the beautiful courtyard, there are a few restaurants (including Le Grand Vefour) and boutiques selling clothing, jewelry and antiques.
Esteban: Over the years, I’ve become hooked on the delicious–and affordable–candles in this little boutique in the Marais, particularly the fig and summer peach. (20 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, 75003 Paris.)
Sandro: Personally, I don’t understand why there are two Sandro clothing boutiques right next door to each other, but I love the store anyway. Chic and unique, the clothing at Sandro is about as affordable as you can get in Paris. (50 Rue Vieille du Temple, 75004 Paris.)
Bimba & Lola: While this boutique in the Marais isn’t actually French at all, rather Spanish, you can always find something chic here, whether it’s a dress, pair of shoes or a piece of jewelry. (350 Rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris.)
Clair De Reve: Handmade marionettes, music boxes, and adorable watches that feature dials that appeal to every interest (tennis, golf, piano, filmmaking) are cram-packed into this charming store on Ile St. Louis. Very special gifts for the little ones, including affordable stocking stuffers, can be found here. (35 Rue de Saint-Louis-en-L’Ile, Ile Saint-Louis, 75004 Paris.)
Pylones: Over the years, I have acquired so many whimsical gadgets designed by Pylones, including cheese graters in the shape of ladies, an elephant funnel, a “lady” umbrella, and a cute chicken timer, but I can never get enough. On the Ile St. Louis, there are two Pylones shops side by side where you’ll find colorful, useful gifts, as well as stocking stuffers, for children of all ages. (57 Rue St Louis-en-L’Ile, Ile Saint-Louis, 75004 Paris.)
Premiere Pression Provence: This quaint shop wasn’t even officially open as I meandered through the Ile St. Louis, however, I was so in love with their products, that they let me purchase them anyway (with cash). This lovely little gem holds pretty tins of flavored olive oils (mandarin, citrus, truffle), delicately packaged bouquet garni and bay leaves from Provence, and so much more. (37 Rue du Roi de Sicile, 75004 Paris.)
Biscuiterie Chocolaterie Larnicol G: Chocolate makes the perfect gift for anyone, and in this brand new shop in St. Germain, you can choose your own, filling up little cello bags with flavors like praline and caramel. Don’t forget to grab a few tiny jars of salted caramel, a tiny spoon attached for immediate tasting. (Note: the G is for Georges) (132 Blvd. St Germain. 75006 Paris.)
The Monoprix: The best kept secret of Parisians, most Americans know nothing about this Target of Paris, where you can buy everything from cosmetics and clothing to French toys and those cool school notebooks, at great prices. Downstairs you’ll find the grocery section, where jars of mustards and jams are a fraction of the price of Fauchon, and absolutely delicious. Grab an almond croissant for the road… they are delicious.
The Pharmacies: For shampoo, bath gels, and perfumed soaps such as Roget and Gallette, you can’t beat French pharmacies. The pharmacists are always incredibly helpful if you’ve a health issue, too, whether it’s a sore tummy or a blister. Pharmacy Capucines, 75002 Paris
Museum Gift Shops: Museum gift shops such as that found at the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre and the L’Orangerie are chock full of reasonably priced gifts such as books, puzzles, toys, and art-inspired pens, barrettes, jewelry and more.
Mod’ Shop: Along the Rue De Rivoli, right near Angelina, you’ll find this little shop full of jewelry and gorgeous French silk scarves in pretty colors and patterns. Your cousins and sisters will love them, and they’ll never know they cost just 10 euros each (approx. $13).
HOW TO GET THERE
For those in the elite 1%, grabbing a last minute first class ticket is a breeze, and a perfectly acceptable alternative to the private jet. Air France offers the quickest direct flight over the pond daily – just 10 hours, 30 minutes (my sleek Boeing 777 got there in 10 hours, 15 minutes), and as of May 2012, they’ll be starting service from LAX to Paris with the new A380.
A round trip voyageur ticket (that’s economy class—doesn’t everything sound better in French?) will run you around $959 right now. However, for a spontaneous trip to Paris, perhaps you can splurge on a gift for yourself: Air France Business Class. For $10,000 (round trip)—or perhaps by upgrading with Flying Blue miles, you’ll get a comfy seat that transforms into an even comfier bed; feather pillow and blanket; on-demand TV with noise-canceling headphones; a Clarins amenity kit, fine wine and of course, gourmet meals.
WHERE TO STAY
Park Hyatt Place Vendome: A chic hotel right off of the prestigious Place Vendome, just steps away from the Ritz, Chanel and Charvet. Rooms starting at 666 euros. (5 Rue de la Paix, 75002 Paris.)
Hotel Mansart: Just around the corner from the Hyatt, and behind the Ritz, this sweet boutique hotel boasts comfortable rooms at a fraction of the price, a friendly staff and the same posh location. Rooms start at 166 euros. (5, Rue des Capucines, 75001 Paris.)
WHERE TO WINE & DINE
Plaza Athénée: Stop by the bar of this gorgeous hotel for an aperitif before dinner. (When I was here in May, I bumped into Serbian pro-tennis player, Novak Djokovic.) (25, Avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris.)
Chez Georges: My all time favorite bistro. It’s been around forever and is always delicious and cozy. Make a reservation in advance. (1 Rue Mail, 75002 Paris; (33-1) 42 60 07 11)
Le Grand Vefour: A splurge, both in terms of time and money, but after all, Napoleon dined with Joséphine in this exquisite 18th century restaurant, which is now a protected historical monument in the Palais Royal. The lunch prix fixe menu is a bargain at 96 euros. You’re not just eating a multi-course meal (with extra “courses” of desserts), you are dining within a work of art. The foie gras is one of the best I’ve ever tasted, and the bonbons that come before your dessert are a must. (17, Rue du Beaujolais 75001 Paris.)
L’As Du Falafel: At the other end of the spectrum, this is the place to go when you want to minimize eating time and maximize shopping time. “The falafel that will change your life,” is a fresh pita stuffed with crispy fried chickpeas, cabbage, fried eggplant, hummus and harissa. Delicious and worth the wait. Whatever you do, do not give up and go to one of the other falafel places nearby; they are not the same! (34 Rue des Rosiers (Métro: St. Paul); (33-1) 48-87-63-60)
Le Grand Colbert: This bustling restaurant called to us with its warm and inviting ambiance, we had to try it, and although the steak was tough, the tender Dover sole and atmosphere made up for it. The attractive restaurant is an historical monument (you may have seen it in the Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton film “Something’s Gotta Give”). (2, Rue Vivienne, Paris, France (33-1)42 86 87 88)
Le Vaudeville: A classic French brasserie adjacent to the Bourse (stock exchange). Nothing fancy, just good food amidst beautiful Art Deco surroundings. (29 Rue Vivienne, 2e, Paris (33-1) 40-20-04-62)
Atelier du Joel Robuchon: Perfect food, but no reservations so you’ll be seated at a bar. Small bites of delicacies such as pigeon and lobster ravioli are trés cher, but worth it. (5 Rue de Montalembert & 133 Avenue des Champs-Elysées.)
Bistro Breteuil: French people actually don’t dine out that much, but when they do, it’s not normally at places like Atelier, but rather, places like Bistro Breteuil with its elegant, all-inclusive menu. Classic French without the tourists. (3, Place de Breteuil, 75007 Paris.)
Helene Darroze: While I didn’t dine here this brief trip, it’s one of the best restaurants in Paris. The lobster is out of this world, and the bread, cheese and candy carts are not to be missed. (4 Rue D’Assas, 75006 Paris.)
Angelina: This tea room is so gorgeous, you’d be happy to just sit there with a cup of tea. Don’t. You must splurge on their famous chocolat chaud, which is thick, dark and creamy, and comes with a side of crème Chantilly to swirl into it. Worth the calories and the price. (226 Rue de Rivoli 75001 Paris.)
Harry’s New York Bar: Just steps away from our hotel in the Place Vendome, Harry’s continues to be a classic and the place for a nightcap. Packed with martini and beer-swilling Brits and locals, but ladies are quite welcome. (5 Rue Daunou, 75002 Paris.)