[This piece begins with restaurants, starting with the three places we go to without fail every time we’re in Paris: grand, expensive, fancy ones—including our very favorite, Apicius—one of the grand, elegant, expensive “biggies” listed below—and the two very inexpensive but fantastically good informal ones La Régalade and Le Comptoir—and continuing on to a quick overview of other eating suggestions and tips. Following the food section, it then moves to some thoughts about museums and sightseeing in Paris.]
FIRST, OUR THREE FAVORITES:
Apicius (20, rue d'Artois, 8e [Metro,] + 33 (0)1 43 80 19 66) This extraordinary restaurant is one of the finest experiences in Paris, and it is currently our favorite restaurant there—and our favorite restaurant in the world! Although it has “only” two Michelin stars—and, given the politics of that ridiculous organization, it is never likely to have a third star—the cooking of Jean-Pierre Vigato has always far surpassed that of all but the tiniest number of the city’s three-star establishments. For many years now it has been at its grand location on rue d'Artois affords a venue worthy of housing its marvelous cuisine. As one walks down the rue d’Artois, with its typical 8e arrondissement feel, one comes to an entrance in the street wall at #20; going through it, one enters a totally unexpected, magnificent open garden, with a mansion set 30 meters back. Within this impressive private mansion is housed the beautifully decorated, amazingly comfortable and luxurious rooms of M. Vigato’s current restaurant. But the physical grandeur is nothing compared to the magnificence of the cuisine. Everything Jean-Pierre Vigato does when he touches foie gras is breath-takingly wonderful—and his “cold and hot” sampler of foie gras is not to be missed. This visit M. Vigato did a degustation for us: after the amazing series amuses bouche, we began with an old signature dish, a warm mousse of whipped foie gras and port wine sauce; we the progressed to a cylinder of potato crowned with a caviar preparation with chive; a second dish consisting of a lightly sautéed piece of fresh foie gras atop a marvelous piece of raw tuna, separated by ginger and apple; a fish course built around a perfectly cooked piece of Saint-Pierre; the a meat course, “Cuix et Cru,” continuing the theme of the foie gras and raw tuna, a piece of roasted filet of beef atop a piece of raw beef; and for dessert, his heavenly signature dessert, a bitter chocolate soufflé with Chantilly (and without sugar) was, as always, a particular treat, as was the apricot soufflé one of us chose to substitute for the chocolate one—and which all of us lovingly sampled. The service is professional and polished; the setting is elegant but relaxed. It is truly an unbelievably wonderful experience…and one I should be totally eager to repeat as frequently as possible.
And two restaurants are places with extraordinary food and which are equally extraordinary bargains. They are the former and present (respectively) establishments of the great Yves Camdeborde, and they both serve innovative, well- prepared and -presented menus created by him. Be forewarned, however, that neither of these places is a secret anymore. Planning will be necessary to avail yourselves of these splendid eating experiences.
La Régalade [N.B.: there are new versions of this wonderful restaurant with the same name; but they are not as good! Be sure to go to the one in the 14e arrondisement!] (49, av. Jean-Moulin, 14e [Metro Alésia], 01.45.45.68.58) Currently a runaway favorite of ours for a bistro (and good for any class), La Régalade was started by Yves Camdeborde after he left the two-star Les Ambassadeurs at Le Crillon. “Stars are very nice, but I prefer them in the sky,” he is quoted as saying in Gourmet Magazine’s wonderful Paris edition of March 2001. This simple and very inexpensive bistro that he opened in lieu of being a major player in the Michelin star-collecting race is so marvelous, it is difficult to get a table. Reserve early! Although no longer owned by Yves Camdeborde, the restaurant is as wonderful as ever, even without him at the helm. (The current owners have wisely decided to continue cooking M. Camdeborde’s original menu, in its original style.) The amuse-gueule that begins the meal here consists of a large tub of a marvelous country pâté, cornichons from ceramic a crock, and wonderful country bread on which to eat the combination. The fixed-price, three course meal that ensues is as delicious as it is inexpensive (amazingly still € 37 for a three-course meal). The cuisine is from the southwest of France; the atmosphere is friendly and informal. On a recent visit, I had an extraordinary foie gras concoction, floating in an amazingly intense cream of wild mushroom soup, followed by a half duck in a sauce of figs, and ending with perhaps the lightest Grand Marnier soufflé I have ever tasted anywhere. It is pretty far out of the way, at the southern end of the 14e—and now closed on Saturday, like most of the major restaurants in Paris; but well worth the trip.
Le Comptoire (9 Carrefour de l'Odéon 6e, Saint Germain 01 44 27 07 97) Yves Camdeborde, who was the genius behind La Régalade, has opened a new bistro, Le Comptoire, located in the Hôtel Relais Saint-Germain, which M. Camdeborde also owns (click here for information about the hotel, which is quite lovely). In the informal setting of this tiny, cramped restaurant, which spills out onto the sidewalk in good weather, M. Camdeborde prepares amazingly delicious and creative culinary delights. One has to book well in advance to partake of the five-course prix-fixe set menus he serves in the evenings. (We are told that he now he is no longer even accepting reservations for dinner, with the exception of guests of the hotel, who can get reservations. Believe it or not, there are those who book—and do not even use—hotel rooms solely for the purpose of being eligible to reserve a table for dinner!) Our trick, however, is to go for an early lunch—when he has never taken reservations; arriving by 11:45 AM, before Le Comptoire opens at Noon—when one can get a table right away, before the long line forms as the afternoon progresses. We have only eaten lunch there—but it is spectacular; and we now do it every time we are in Paris. Order all the appetizers you can—and do not overlook apparently mundane items like the charcuterie, the boxed sardines, or the oeufs mayonnaise—which, in reality, are treats special beyond all telling! And don’t miss the main courses, either, as everything is delicious. (Try the tranche du lard, assuming your cardiologist will permit you to do so…) This place is an incredible treat!
The following are very pricey (with decent wines, plan to pay € 200-300 per person and up), and also often hard—to impossible—to get a reservation. Some are completely booked months in advance, so you should book well in advance. It is often easier to get a lunch reservation, however. (N.B.: most are closed Saturday, and all are closed on Sunday! The only significant restaurants open on Sundays are those in hotels—a they usually have their “second string” cooking, so not as good as on a week day.) These are gastronomic experiences worth the planning and the expense, however: plan to spend three to four hours or more savoring the Epicurean delights of these temples of hedonistic pleasure! Also, be forewarned: most two-star restaurants are just as expensive, and they are nowhere near as good. The exception being Apicius, above.
Pierre Gagnaire (6, rue Balzac 8 e 01 58 36 12 50) Dinner at M. Gagnaire’s beautiful and comfortable restaurant is a unique experience: each dish arrives with as many as five or six side tastes—a truly contrapuntal symphony of flavors, textures and colors. I had his autumn tasting menu, which begin with skate wing and foie gras, with a jellied lovage in a peppery white beetroot cream sauce; a dish combining green apple, red onion, crisp radish, and mango; a “seasoning” of champagne, molasses, and nuoc-mâm (Vietnamese mixed fish dipping sauce); stewed oysters in a mixture of fresh ginger, red grapefruit, “red meat turnip” simmered in white port wine, and “feuille de culatello” (an extremely distinctive-tasting green, finally translated for us as “oyster lettuce”); a cucumber sorbet with wasabi, with a marinière of razor clams in seaweed; then a medley of Saint-Pierre-Saint-Jacques (John Dory & scallops)—1) a thin slice of Saint-Pierre (John Dory) in black Malabar pepper, golden celery and ravioli of eggplant, a creamy leek soup with pomegranate, 2) a morsel (chestnut) of Saint-Jacques with cuttlefish and grilled piqillos chili peppers, and 3) raw rosace, thaô of avocdot with grated châtaigne (small chestnuts) and Matcha tea table salt; roasted king prawn with toasted almonds with gray shrimp, white-heart cabbage with spiced bread and piment d’Espelette (BasquesChili peppers); a barquette de girolles (chanterelle mushrooms in a pastry shell) with sea urchin and toast tongues; a piece of trimmed sirloin coated in an oxtail tamarind jus, with a marmalade of butternut squash and bone marrow; a medley of three cow’s milk cheeses—1) a Bleu du Val d’Aillon with a frozen infusion of Jerusalem artichoke, 2) a Moelleux du Revard with a paté of lemon and capers, and 3) a Mimolette with a mousseline of Calvados camembert; and ending with a grand selection of Gagnaire’s desserts. It was quite an experience (including the witty puns in the names and descriptions of the dishes—many beyond the scope of my knowledge of French, but some of which I appreciated), unfortunately marred by service which completely fell apart toward the end of the evening, when it took 45 minutes to talk them into presenting the bill. While the novelty and creativity of M. Gagnaire’s sublime cooking is well-worth experiencing, it is not a total experience I shall rush to have again soon.
Ambroisie (9, place des Vosges, 4e [Metro, St. Paul], 01.42.78.51.45) This is a small, beautiful gem in a 17th-century mansion right on the Place des Vosges. Bernard Pacaud produces sublimely simple but elegant dishes that are a total joy to the palate. The service is excellent, and the dining experience is well worth the considerable price—although it may be the most difficult reservation in the world to get. (Try for lunch, or perhaps a last minute cancellation)
Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée (25, av Montaigne, 8e [Metro, Alma-Marceau ], 01.53.67.65.00) In 2001, M. Ducasse moved his very highly acclaimed restaurant to a new venue in the Plaza Athénée Hotel. Our meal there in 2002 was very disappointing: the food was quite good and the room very attractive—but the service was completely unacceptable for a restaurant on this level (and it was by far the most expensive of the three-star restaurants). The contrast with Ducasse’s Le Louis XV in Monaco, where we had eaten a truly extraordinary meal, was mind rending. Our return visit in 2003 was quite a different story, however: every morsel of every course was perfect and delicious (reminding us very much of our experience at Le Louis XV). The amuses-gueule and appetizers were particularly extraordinary: one of lightly cooked tails of small langoustines topped with osetra caviar, another of a potato preparation topped with a layer of sliced black truffles, and a salad of winter greens, encased in an almost-sphere shell of sliced black truffles.
Hélène Darroze (4, rue d'Assas, 6 e [Metro, Sèvres-Babylone] 01.42.22.00.11, FAX 01.42.22.25.40) This extremely highly touted restaurant (and its new, less-expensive offspring, Salon d’Hélène), are both thought to be wonderful (although we have yet to eat there). Zagat says of the more expensive, main restaurant, Hélène Darroze, “Hélène Darroze, a student of Alain Ducasse and member of a respected restaurant family, has made a ‘stunning start’ in Paris, offering ‘mountains of foie gras’ and other Southwestern French fare of ‘rare quality’ in a ‘Zen’ setting (wood floors, plum and tomato-red walls).” Salon d’Hélène is, of all things, a tapas bar, presenting her southwestern French cooking in a style modeled after the Spanish format of a meal consisting of many tiny tastes of a variety of dishes.
[mentioned for historic reasons only] Taillevent (15, rue Lamennais, 8e [Metro, George V] 01.44.95.15.01, FAX 01.42.25.95.18) Sadly, things are no longer as they once were at Taillevent, once our favorite restaurant in the world. Our admired friend M. Vrinat passed away on 7 January 2008 and we had been in mourning for M. Vrinat and were unable to bring ourselves to return to Paris for two and a half years thereafter! His daughter is running the restaurant, and fabulous Alain Soliveres is still the chef, but things are no longer the same there without him—and, quite frankly, we no longer go, as it is now not the perfectly wonderful experience it always had been. Here, however, for the sake of history, is what I thought of the place in the old days:
I simply will never go to Paris again without eating at Taillevent! (We’ve gone five out of our last six trips –and the one time we didn’t go we felt we had made a grave error.) Perfect service, perfect food, elegant décor, a superb wine list, and an unsurpassed cheese tray—Jean-Claude Vrinat certainly knows how to run a three-star restaurant! He personally presides over the dining rooms (the only owner of such an establishment who is not himself a chef), greeting, advising, and making welcome and comfortable all his patrons—and not just the regulars or celebrities. Taillevent is also by far the least expensive of the major three-star restaurants in Paris, for some inexplicable reason.
On our recent visit in March 2004, we found that the cooking of M. Soliveres, which, in our first exposure in 2003, had surpassed our wildest expectations, had gotten even better—although how this is even possible is unclear! (My strong conviction, however, is that it is an example of the incredibly wonderful and powerful influence M. Vrinat exerts over every facet of the restaurant's operation.) On that earlier visit (14 March 2003), we were fortunate to have arrived at Taillevent during the season for truffes noires (black truffles), and we took advantage of the grand tasting menu (180 €; there is another tasting menu at 130 €) which was based around this extraordinary forest mushroom. Each of its eight courses was pure perfection and gustatory delight, and included M. Soliveres’s signature risotto of epeautre (German wheat), cooked in a rich veal broth and topped by a layer of paper thinly sliced truffles; bar (sea bass) served in a spectacular truffle sauce; foie gras de canard en pot au feu—duck liver over lovely winter vegetables, again in a truffle sauce. It was accompanied by a 1989 Nuit-Saint-Georges aux Boudots from Méo-Camuzet, which was truly one of the finest burgundies I have drunk in many years—beautifully balanced, with great fruit, just the right acidity and tannin, and with a nose that was simply dreamy. It was the suggestion of the sommelier, after a long discussion of what I might have considered choosing from the wine list; and it was an inspired choice. Not only is the wine list at Taillevent a thing of beauty, the wine knowledge there is truly a national treasure. On our recent visit, we had the smaller of the tasting menus (both of which can be seen by clicking here). Every item in the dégustation was a magnificent delight—including the epeautre risotto of wild mushrooms which the chef created on the spot as a substitute for the rouget-barbet en filet poêlé for Nancy, who doesn’t eat fish or shell fish.
A warning: Lucas Carton is a restaurant to which Michelin still gives three stars (and which used to be one of our favorites, 25 years ago), but it has gone way downhill and has been rather disappointing these days. (I do not believe I shall ever go back.)
OTHER RESTAURANTS OF NOTE:
Au Trou Gascon (40 r. Taine, 12e [Métro Daumesnil], 01 43 44 34 26) This wonderful bastion of southwestern cooking was begun and is owned by the acclaimed Alain Dutournier (who owns and runs Carré des Feuillants), and it is currently run by M. Dutournier’s wife, Nicole Dutournier. The cooking of chef Jean-François Godiard is superb (click here for a link to a current menu), and his cassoulet is unbelievably delicious. There is an extraordinary (and relatively inexpensive) collection of southwestern wines available—particularly the great selection of Madirans; and, for lovers of Armagnac, the restaurant boasts a collect of more than 100 rare varieties! Dinner here runs in the neighborhood of 50€ (not including wine), although a fixed price lunch can be had for 36€.) The service is professional and the ambience is very pleasant. Although out of the way, this wonderful restaurant is well worth the trip.
L’Astrance (4, rue Beethoven, 16 e 01.40.50.84.40, FAX 01.40.50.11.45) –moderately priced, chic new place; attractive and pleasant room, interesting and mostly excellent food, although some of the unusual combinations are a bit too too.
These are loud, funky restaurants which stay open late and aren’t bound by the same rigid hours as most bistrots and restaurants. They serve a standard but interesting French Brasserie menu: oysters, straightforward fish and meat dishes, etc.
Le Dôme (108, blvd. Du Montparnasse, 14e [Metro, Vavin] 01.43.35.25. 81) This is a highly regarded albeit much more expensive brasserie which is a major step up from the others in this class. It is quite good and a fun place to eat; but it is not completely clear that it is worth the prices it charges. It serves almost only fish, by the way—but what fish! The food here is outstanding. Unlike its more inexpensive next door sister, Bistrot de Dôme (see below), however, it does have at least one meat dish on the menu—a veal chop, which is quite delicious. Le Dôme serves a preparation of ormeaux (abalone) as an unusual and quite special appetizer. Their turbot with hollandaise sauce is a particularly delicious main course, as are their various preparations of lotte (monkfish—a delicacy in France that is quite unlike and far superior to the fish that goes by that name in the States).
Brasserie Flo (7, cour des Petites Ecuries, 10e [Metro, Château d’Eau] 01.47.70.13.59) This classic turn-of-the-century brasserie is the original of a chain of brasseries of which La Coupole [see below] is a part, and it by far the most authentic in its atmosphere. There are two ways to go: 1) very inexpensive—they serve a prix fixe menu, three courses including wine for 30.50 €; or, 2) more extravagant (although, unless you really get carried away with the oysters, langoustines, etc., it still turns out to be quite moderately priced)—ordering “plateaux” of raw seafood, and various specialties à la carte, like their choucroute or steak tartare. Although the food is not always of the highest quality, it is always a fun place—but it is a bit hard to find, as it’s tucked away on an alley.
La Coupole 102, blvd. Du Montparnasse, 14e (Metro, Vavin) 01.43.20.14.20 –a Montparnasse classic with pretty much the same menu as its much smaller, less tourist-y sister establishment, Brasserie Flo; but quite an enjoyable scene, which hasn’t changed much since Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre and the gang used to go there; and if it was good enough for them…. Actually, it has been reported (we haven’t been there in years) that the food here has gone way down hill (as is also perhaps the case at Brasserie Flo)—so be forewarned.
Bofinger is a similar one near Bastille.
There are a number of chefs of “starred” restaurants who have opened bistrots that are quite good, less formal, less courses and much more reasonably priced.
We have not tried the following bistrots, and this list and comments, while a bit out of date, come from an extremely knowledgeable Parisian food-friend of ours:
Michel Rostang’s Bistrot d’à Cote; Boulevard Saint Germain is a fun place of this sort, crowded tables, good ambiance, good bistrot food. (He has another –equally good one– in the 17e, next door to his 2 star restaurant)
Le Cameleon in Montparnasse (Rue de Chevreuse) is the classic French bistrot. The food is a bit heavier, but a lot of fun, personable staff. Patricia Wells picked it as her favorite small restaurant some years ago. The food is not that great, but it is a good, fun meal.
We eat regularly at the Bistrot de Dôme. This is a small Montparnasse, all-fish place that draws a local crowd and is good value. It is across the street from Le Dôme (see above), its more expensive, brasserie cousin.
SOME GENERAL RESTAURANT CONSIDERATIONS: The normal restaurant hours in Paris are 12-2:30 at lunch (although they may not seat you after 1:30), and usually between 8-10 for dinner. In the good restaurants, however, once you are seated, you can stay for life. That applies to cafes where a coffee or drink buys you the table for as long as you like. Be aware that almost all the great restaurants in Paris are closed on Saturday and Sunday—of the “biggies,” only L’Ambroisie is open on Saturday; and there is now a growing trend among lesser restaurants to close on the weekends as well.
Also, remember that by law, all restaurant and café prices include tax and service. One usually leaves the centimes change in a café and 0-5 % extra in a restaurant, but that isn’t absolutely necessary, as 0% means you are already leaving the 15% tip which is included in the price. (In contrast to American restaurants, in which wait staff get little salary and are almost completely dependent on tips to make a living, French wait staff are reasonably well paid from the government-mandate service charge.)
Remember, too, that in France, “entrée” is the word for an “appetizer.”
[I have included internet links to those museums that have their own web sites (just click on the name of the museum, if it is underlined and in color); but a good site from which to get information (location, hours, collections, special shows) about any Paris museum is http://www.paris.org/Musees/, and the main page of this site, Paris Pages, is a good source for basic information and events in Paris in general. Many of the images below have embedded links which allow one to click on the image for a larger, higher resolution version.]
Musée d’Orsay (1, rue de Bellechasse, 62, rue de Lille, 7 e [Metro, Solférino] 01.40.49.48.14) The Musée d’Orsay is a truly great museum, and a must-see for any trip to Paris; but it is not a secret: it is overrun by tourists! One gambit for avoiding the terrible lines is to buy tickets from the concierge of your hotel (most good hotels can provide tickets to any museum you wish) or to purchase tickets online. (With pre-purchased tickets or this card, you go straight to side entrance, “C,” (to the right of the main ticket-buying line [facing the entrance]) and walk right into the museum. The same strategy also works at the Louvre, the Musée Picasso, the Beaubourg, et al.—and, at all of these places you get to bypass the line for buying tickets and go straight to the entrance.)
The building itself, formerly a railroad station (the Beaux-Arts Gare d’Orsay, built in 1900), was converted to a museum (beginning in 1977; but with the most significant aspects of the conversion taking place under the direction of Italian architect and interior designer Gae Aulenti, who oversaw the design of the conversion from 1980-6) is quite interesting, effective, and beautiful; but it is the paintings the Musée d’Orsay contains that are so extraordinary.
Opened in 1986, the museum presents art of the period 1848 to 1914. The collection combines works formerly at the Louvre (by artists born after 1820 or who emerged into the art world with the Second Republic, 1848-1852), all of the impressionist works formerly displayed in the Jeu de Paume, and work formerly at the Musée National d'Art Moderne (which works, when they were installed in the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1976 [q.v., below], showed only works by artists born after 1870). The ground floor contains works done up to the beginning of the 1870s. There are some real treasures to be found there, including some magnificent work by Ingres, Delacroix, Millet, Corot, Courbet (who, in addition to—as the others in this list—doing paintings that were crucial to the early pre-history of the impressionist movement, did the hilariously wonderful 1866 l’Origine du monde [The Origin of the World]; above, right), et al.
It is on the third floor, however, that the truly unbelievable profusion of treasures is to be found: rooms devoted to fabulous works by Manet (many of his pivotal paintings are here, including his wonderfully provocative and controversial paintings, the 18 l’Olympe and the 1863 Le déjeuner sur l'herbe [at right], Whistler, Degas, Monet, sublime works by Pissarro (e.g., his 1903 The Seine and the Louvre, painted near the end of his life; at left) some incredible Sisley, Cézanne (e.g., The Gulf of Marseilles from L'Estaque, 1878-9; at right), Van Gogh, Redon, Gauguin, Signac, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec, et al.
My only gripe (and it is a big one) is that the skylights in the third floor galleries let in direct sunlight –which at times and under certain conditions make viewing some of the very best of these masterpieces all but impossible (imagine trying to look at a subtle Pissarro painting in the glare of direct sunlight!), and cannot physically be doing the works any good, either. (At the moment, the worst offenders—the southern galleries on the third floor—are closed, and the paintings from them are in a temporary space on the second floor. While it is sad that not the usual full array are on view, the actually are more viewable due to the absence of the glare.)
Le Beaubourg, Centre Georges Pompidou (place Georges-Pompidou, 4e, [Metro Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville], 01.44.78.12.33) Like the Musée d’Orsay, Le Beauborg is a museum we always visit on any trip to Paris (and one that is much easier to get in to, by the way). Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, and Gianfranco Franchini, the architects of the Centre Georges Pompidou, designed this building in 1971 to be an "expandable spatial diagram." In a then provocatively innovative and controversial design, the utility shafts were attached very visibly to the outside of the building, and were painted in four brilliant colors—blue, air conditioning; green, water circuits; yellow, electrical conduits; red, circulation (elevators, etc.) and security (sprinklers, etc.) This design—which we like very much—both freed the inner space from utility shafts and circulation devices (staircases, elevators, etc.) and gave the building its distinctive look. In addition to housing the Département du développement culturel (which organizes and develops activities presented in the Centre in the areas of living performances, spoken word activities, cinema and audiovisual presentations), the fourth and fifth floors of this wonderfully odd architectural creation are home to Le Musée nationale d’art moderne—devoted to historical and contemporary painting and sculpture, drawings, photography, design and visual communication, architecture, experimental cinema, video and new technologies, and containing the incredible national collections of art works from 1905 to the present.
Wandering these galleries, one comes across a rotating collection of totally magnificent masterpieces by Matisse (The Red Table, 1903; above, at left, Cezanne, Braque (including his very unusual 1903 l’Estaque, at right, and his wonderful 1913, Fish Dish and Cards, above, at left), Picasso, Mondrian, Miro, Calder, Giacometti, Brancusi, Pollack, Klein, Beuys, Albers, Johns, and just about everyone else from the era you might wish to find.
It is said that the historic purpose of the Pompidou Center was to be a refutation of the idea that the center of the modern art world had moved from Paris to New York after WWII—particularly ironic, given that even the architects of the wonderful building were not French). Rather, Le Beaubourg actually demonstrates the exact opposite: its pre-WWII collection of French and European art is astounding—full of incredible masterpieces that make the museum a must-see and that powerfully documents the preeminence of Paris in this period; the post-War and more contemporary art in its collection always looks sadly deficient by comparison—except for the works done on the other side of the Atlantic.
Musée Picasso (5, rue de Thorigny, 3e [Metro, Saint Paul, Chemin Vert, Filles du Calvaire] 01.42.71.25.21) This recently re-opened (after far too many years of being closed for renovations) museum has always had an astounding collection of Picasso’s painting and sculpture, and it is still an absolute must see! (We never miss it…and it is a good place to follow with a walk through the Marais district). The renovations are extremely disappointing, however: they have transformed the beautiful old building onto a series of generic museum spaces. What is far inexcusably worse is the design of the lighting and displays: virtually all of the paintings and drawings are under glass, and some of them encased in glass boxes, (as is much of the sculpture)—and reflective glass, at that!—an lit in a way that makes viewing virtually impossible! One simply cannot find an angle from which to avoid the disturbing glare. It is a pitifully bad piece of museum design
Foundation Louis Vuiton. Our May 2016 marked our first visit to Frank Gehry’s new Foundation Louis Vuiton. While there are some Gehry buildings I completely love (the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the Disney Center in LA), there are many I actively dislike—and most that I am very lukewarm toward. His Foundation Louis Vuiton, however, is one of those cases that demonstrates my belief that one cannot really comment on a building without having actually visited it in person: the photographs, plans, and even the 3-dimensional models of this project had left me cold about it; but in person its actuality is really quite a masterpiece—at least in the form it is in when we visited it, with the colorful addition of Daniel Buren’s 2016 project, “L’Observatorie La Lumiere” adding color to the usually translucent glass panels of Gehry’s forms. We shall have to return in a year or so when these colored panels are removed—and I actually suspect I will end up liking the building better with the color than without
The Louvre is one of the world’s great museums; among its many world class treasures, it is the home to one of the three unbelievably wonderful paintings by Uccello of the Battle of San Romano (the other two being at the Uffizi in Florence and the National Gallery in London)—these incredibly modern 15th century paintings are among our favorite works of all time, and we always visit them when we are in one of the cities that has one (even when we don’t have time to see anything else in that museum).
Musée Guimet - Musée National des Arts Asiatiques (6, place d'Iéna; 19, avenue d'Iéna, 16 e [Metro, Iéna] 01.47.23.61.65) –the newly redone building is a beautiful, architecturally interesting, and very pleasant place to see the fabulous collections it houses: the largest collection of Buddhist art in Europe; art and archaeology from the 17 countries of antiquity, from Afghanistan to Japan; art from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Tibet and Buddhist Japan; rare porcelain from China.
Musée Marmottan-Claude Monet 2, rue Louis Boilly, 16 e (Metro, La Muette) –an extensive collection of Monet’s paintings (essentially all of the ones you might think are at Giverny, but aren’t)
Viaduc des Artes - Promenade Plantée The most creative use ever of an abandoned, elevated railroad line. Running alongside avenue Daumesnil, Le Viaduc des Arts dates back to 1859 when it was built as a railway bridge linking Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes. Restoration of the viaduct took place in 1990 under the auspices of Semaest, an art and crafts association, and with the help of the architect Patrick Berger. Today, this massive stone and red brick edifice has become the latest Mecca for Parisian craftsmen and designers who have converted the viaduct's arches into workshops and showrooms. The arches are now filled with huge shop windows dedicated to the artistic expertise of these artists and craftsmen. Just above, the Promenade Plantée offers an exposed pedestrian footpath running across the viaduct toward Vincennes that has been planted with lush greenery and flowers. It is a magnificent park, that is essentially 30 feet wide and a mile and a half long.
Parc de Bagatelle (Bois de Boulogne, Sèvres-to-Neuilly road, 16 e [Metro, Porte Maillot]) –The Bagatelle is a magnificently planted set of gardens of various sorts. The RoseGardens (Roseraie) at the western edge of the Bois contains 11 thousand rose bushes.
Jardin du Luxembourg (rue Guynemer – blvd. Saint-Michel, 16 e [Metro, Odéon]) –Built by Salomon de Brosse for Marie de Medicis, the jardin du Luxembourg is one of the most romantic gardens of Paris. Laid out around the central fountain in a French-style garden, it stretches out to the Fontaine de l'Observatoire by Davioud.
Place des Vosges 4 e (Metro, Bastille, Chemin Vert, Saint Paul) The Place des Vosges is Paris' oldest square. The ground floor arcade consists of 39 houses, each made of red brick with stone facings, arranged around the perimeter of a completely symmetrical park It was constructed under Henri IV from 1605 - 1612.
Sainte Chapelle 4, boulevard du Palais, 1 e (Metro, Cité) A rather beautiful royal chapel, built by Louis IX in the 1240s. This small gothic chapel is one of the inspiring visual experiences of Paris, due largely to its stained glass windows which essentially surround the entire upper floor. The Gothic drive to reduce the masonry and open the walls (achieved by the use of flying buttresses on the exterior), reaches its height, here, where virtually the entire space is filled by stained glass, flooding the chapel with colored light. Below, on ground level, there are beautiful ribbed groin vaults, in high Gothic style. Very touristy, but worth a look.
Of course, if you want to see a truly sublime Gothic cathedral, take the train to Chartres for the day (or half-day, even)
near rue Vavin, in Montparnasse (second is a little fancier and more expensive--but not much...rooms start at 120 €):
Aiglon 232, bd Raspail Tel: (33) 1 43 20 82 42
Sainte-Beuve 9, rue Sainte-Beuve Tel: (33) 1 45 48 20 07
Hotel Clement (6, rue Clément, 6e 01.43.26.53.60) –very inexpensive
Hotel de l’Abbaye (10, rue Cassette, 6e 01.45.44.38.11)
[Hotel du College de France—for students]