Author and broadcaster Natasha Fraser has lived and worked in Paris since 1989. While her writing and television work has taken her far and wide, to Paris she has always returned. Natasha shares a deeply personal insider’s guide to the city that needs no introduction.
BY NATASHA FRASER | 1 OCTOBER 2023
Paris tends to nest in your psyche. I view her as a silent seductress who strokes your ear and pretends to choose you except that she hasn’t; the treacherous flirt. It probably explains why Paris incites an unusual possessiveness and a certain amount of one upmanship ‘my accent is better than yours’ behaviour. Having started in the Marais and lived all over Paris, I’m a right-banker, along with my pals and former neighbours, Jacques Grange, Pierre Passebon and Christian Louboutin.
However, I can’t ignore that tastemakers like the interior maestro, Tino Zervudachi, fashion designer, Charles Sébline, and filmmaker, Sofia Coppola, all prefer the Rive Gauche. Suffice to say that Paris is different for everyone. Here’s my take on Paris Mon Amour – my home since 1989 (she wrote possessively!) and a city that subtly adapts and remains the fashion capital. If I have one suggestion, it is to master the métro because the traffic in Paris is atrocious. And if that appalls, opt to bicycle.
Where to Stay
Hotel de L’Abbaye: Recently, I discovered the Hotel de L’Abbaye, one of Saint-Germain-des-Prés' best-kept secrets. The Italian film actor, Marcello Mastroanni, resided there and you can understand why. The guests whisper, the rooms are stylishly cosy and there’s a beautiful secret garden at the back.
L’Hotel: Nearby, in the heart of the Rive Gauche (Left Bank), is the wonderful Jacques Garcia-designed L’Hotel where Oscar Wilde died. According to Rupert Everett – who acted in, wrote and directed The Happy Prince – Monsieur Wilde’s ghost dwells on the upper landing, looking down.
Hotel Lutetia: For those who require a spa and swimming pool, the grand dame, Hotel Lutetia - an iconic Left Bank landmark transformed by the architect, Jean-Michel Wilmotte - also has a restaurant and café.
Le Bristol & Le Meurice: Also on the Rive Droit, exacting individuals I've consulted, like businessman Peter Soros, swear by Le Bristol but I’m personally more Le Meurice when it comes to palace hotels. You can't really go wrong with either though.
Paris workshops © Miguel Flores-Vianna
Where to Shop
Christian Dior: By haute luxury standards, the newish Dior flagship on the avenue Montaigne is a triumph. Also recommended: do reserve La Galerie Dior museum and the Monsieur Dior restaurant (well in advance), both are excellent.
Bloom Paris: If home décor appeals, check out Bloom Paris. Considered le must have by chic Parisians, it’s charged by owner Pauline Henin’s passion for floral prints and vibrant colors. “I detest black in the home,” the former television producer admits. Lined up between the mint green walls of her sixteenth arrondissement boutique, Henin’s home collection also includes Indian block pyjamas, Suzani bedspreads and South African tableware. Come Fall, there’ll be Baby Bloom for kids.
Liwan: On the Left Bank, Liwan is another ideal place for gifts. Run by the delightful Christine Bergstrom and Dina Haida, it’s the Parisian version of an Aladdin’s Cave, boasting kaftans, satin slippers, Syrian soaps and kitchenware.
La Naturelle d'Eve: If you're intrigued by the power of fossils, minerals and stones, do seek out natural stone suppliers, La Naturelle d’Eve, just by the Gustave Moreau Museum. 59 Rue Saint-Lazare, 75009 Paris
Bangla Begum: For unique costume jewellery, visit Bangla Begum’s atelier at 105 Faubourg Du Temple 75010. Designed by Fanny Boucher – the coquettish yet edgy range includes the Palermo earrings, the saucy boob ring and Lover’s Necklace – Bangla Begum has been spotted on chic Parisians, like Violette d’Urso, (the novelist daughter of Ines de la Fressange). The unusual names and use of metallic colors suggest one foot in the past and one firmly in the present.
Librairie Galignani, Paris © Francesca Mapelli
Where to Eat
Le Flandrin: In the heart of the sixteenth arrondissement, Le Flandrin is one of those rare delights. Run by the siblings Claire and Gilles Malafosse (they also own Loulou) it manages to feel contemporary with well-spaced tables, spare décor, soaring ceilings and a vast exterior terrace. But being a 'hood cantine', the bustling, family-like atmosphere is created by discerning locals. Classic French food and generous portions feel thoroughly Parisian, in the best sense.
Bar de Près: For supper on a Saturday, book a table at the Bar de Près on Rue du Dragon 75007. You’ll find Asiatic fusion food at its finest; the sashimi melts in your mouth, the lighting flatters and the banquettes create cosiness.
Le Square Trousseau: I first reviewed Le Square Trousseau, way back in the 1990s on the recommendation of the designer, Jean-Paul Gaultier. I am happy to report that the staff’s warmth and high standards continue today.
Chez Réné: Exactly the same could be said for the lovely Chez Réné on 14 boulevard St Germain; their crunchy Ile Flottante is unbeatable.
Museum restaurants: For a quick, vegetarian nibble, track down Maisie Café on Rue Mont Thabor. It’s near the Jeu de Paume, the Musée de l’Orangerie, the Al Thani collection at Musée de la Marine and Musée des Arts Décoratifs (MAD). Owned by Isabella Capece Galeota, the esteemed lifestyle strategist, everything is tasty, whether it’s the gazpacho, tofu salad, homemade lemonade or crunchy peanut balls for dessert.
Lengthier culinary experiences to tie in with a museum trip include Café de l’Epoque for the Louvre; Loulou for MAD; Bistro de Paris and Les Antiquaires for the Musée d’Orsay, and Chez Savy on Rue Bayard for both Le Petit Palais and Le Grand Palais.
What to See & Do
Museums & Galleries: Of course, Paris is full of spectacular museums and galleries (many of which are listed above in 'Where to Eat') but, for me, these five favourite places capture an ambitious, but thoroughly rewarding, Saturday.
Begin with the magical tapestries at Musée de Cluny on the Rue du Sommeraud; visit the galerist, Alexandre Biaggi, on the Rue Seine, check out Danielle Cillien Sabatier’s book recommendations at Librairie Galignani on the Rue de Rivoli, have a chinwag with antiquarian, Pierre Passebon, at Galerie du Passage in the Passage Véro-Dodat, and end at the soul-nourishing Musée Gustave Moreau on Rue Catherine de la Rochefoucauld.
Music: If musically inclined, check out the Philarmonie de Paris, Opera de Paris and Radio France where I recently saw the masterly violinist, Hilary Hahn. The acoustics are sensational, and the audience is multi-generational: a welcome sight.
Markets: Like the great Yves Saint Laurent, I have a horror of flea markets. (Being dragged around Kensington Market in my childhood permanently scarred me.) But imaginative folk, such as the translator Yasmine Seale and the writer Peter Stephan Jungk, swear by the Marché d’Aligre in the eleventh arondissement. 5-11 Rue d'Aligre, 75012 Paris (Open Tuesday - Saturday)
- - - - - - - - - -
Natasha Fraser is a Paris-based British writer and broadcaster, and the author of numerous books, including Vogue on Yves Saint Laurent (2015), Monsieur Dior: Once Upon a Time (2014) and Loulou de la Falaise (2014) | Follow Natasha on Instagram: @ticklishtash
- - - - - - - - - -
MORE IN THIS SERIES