It’s coming up to four years that I’ve had the privilege of calling Paris my home. Being a naturally curious adventuring type, as well as a journalist for RIH, I can confidently say that I’ve run in heels around every one of Paris’ 20 arrondissements, and have managed to discover many a treasure along the way. You’ll be hard pushed to find most of the places below in your typical Parisian guidebook, and all the better, because we don’t want these places getting too popular! So, just between you and me, here’s my Secret Paris…
You could walk past the ‘Cercle Suédois’ (Swedish Circle) a thousand times and not notice it’s there. It is tucked away in a residential building, on a street renowned for its glamorous hotels (Crillon, Meurice) and other noble former residences (Louvre…) – the Rue de Rivoli.
On Wednesday night you can be the guests of the Swedes’ Jazz night. At number 242 you buzz, go up to the second floor and knock at the second door on your right. For just 10€, you get entry to an intimate jazz concert as well as a drink. Swedish tipples and nibbles are all available for reasonable prices. It is perfectly underpopulated – think 40 guests maximum, which means you’re almost always guaranteed a space on the balcony which overlooks the Tuileries Gardens, and gives you access to the room where Alfred Nobel conceived his prize. His desk remains in the very same spot. If you fancy having your own time-travelling Midnight-in-Paris experience, this would be a great place to start. 242 rue de Rivoli – Paris 1er.
Le Limonaire is one of my favourite spots in Paris. Its central location means it’s convenient for meeting friends from any corner of Paris. There are several metros within walking distance, but you have to know your route around the alleys of the “Grands Boulevards’ to stumble across this gem. It’s basically a cabaret restaurant, which continues a great Parisian tradition which has had the soul ripped out of it at some other more well-known cabarets… You arrive at around 8pm, eat a traditional French meal at an excellent price, and from 10pm onwards you will be impeccably entertained in a musical fashion. The price? Whatever you choose – make your contribution into the hat which is passed around at the end of the night. You can also just come for drinks, and a lovely quiet terrace outside is great for smoking a Gitane or two, or just absorbing the fresh air. I’ve never had a bad night here. Cité Bergère – Paris 2eme.
Terrace of the Great Paris Mosque
The Grande Mosquée de Paris occupies an impressive position in Paris’ left bank, a short walk from the Latin Quarter in an area I much prefer for its lack of bustling. It is the largest mosque in France and the third largest in Europe. As well as being a place of worship with a stunning garden, and housing an authentic hammam (I’ve left there many a time which skin softer than I ever thought possible), it also boasts an exquisite terrace which is absolutely perfect for enjoying an oriental pastry, mint tea and shisha (shisha only after 4pm) next to the open aviary and under various vines. A perfect patch of paradise in Paris. 9 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire – Paris 5eme.
La Pagode is easily one of the world’s loveliest cinemas, with one of the most heartbreaking tales at its origin. It is also one of the rare cinemas where you know you can just drop in and are guaranteed to see something amazing – the programme is always excellent.
Monsieur Morin – the founder of Paris institution the Bon Marché department store – commissioned La Pagode – a replica of a Japanese Pagoda – as a gift for his wife in 1886. However could one repay such a gift, you might ask? Well, Madame Morin choose to do it by skipping off with her husband’s business partner. Monsieur Morin’s loss became our gain in time – after a short life as a reception hall, it became a cinema in 1931. It has since become a key player in France’s cinematic landscape, hosting the premiere of Jean Cocteau’s Testament d’Orphée, as well as being a key champion of the Nouvelle Vague in the 60s, bringing the works of Truffaut, Rohmer, Rozier and others to the attention of the public. After escaping demolition in the 1970s (I can’t bear to imagine it), it remains a champion of quality independent cinema today.
It’s worth ringing to see if your chosen film is playing in the impressive ‘Salle Japonaise’ before you set off (there is another smaller screen) as you may never watch a film in a more exquisite room than this one. A tea beforehand in the surrounding Japanese garden is also highly recommended. 57Bis Rue Babylone – Paris 7eme.
The Marais is one of the liveliest areas in Paris, not least on a Sunday when the rest of the city is closed up (the Marais is the Jewish quarter and so their day of rest is Saturday). I’ve spent countless weekends here, browsing the excellent thrift stores, eating Falafel and cheesecake and drooling over the apartments, but it was only recently that I discovered the jardin ‘Francs-Bourgeois-Rosiers’. Accessible through former Hotel Particulier, the Hotel de Coulanges on the Rue Francs-Bourgeois (which now houses the Maison de l’Europe), this little ‘espace vert’ has to be one of the best-kept secrets in the Marais. Now is the time to visit it – plans are underway to merge it with two other nearby gardens, which will create something very special, but undoubtedly more popular… So get your falafel and cheesecake to go and bring them here. ASAP. 33-35 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois – Paris 4eme.
Ballon de Paris
So your obvious options for getting a great view of Paris are the following: Eiffel Tower, Montparnasse Tower and Sacré Coeur. All worthy edifices, but all a little too obvious, and dare I say it, ‘touristy’. But how about being able to see all these buildings from above, in a way that you will never find in the guide books? You need to try the Paris hot air balloon. The reason it’s not in the guide books is because it is subject to the weather (hence it can’t be promoted to tourists), but all you need to do is check on their website before you set off and see whether the balloon is running. When you get there, the queue is modest (virtually non-existent mid-week). You go up in the balloon (tethered to the ground) in a group of around 10, for around 15-20 minutes at a time, to take in a panorama of Paris as far as the eye can see. Parc Andre Citroen – Paris 15eme.
And finally, a few more secrets which I’ll let you discover on your own..
● You could save yourself a small fortune in museum and gallery tickets if you book to come on the first Sunday of the month, when all of these treasures offer free entry (the earlier you go, the shorter the queues!).
● The Rue Cler is a fabulous market street near (but not too close) to the Eiffel Tower which is open on Sundays until lunchtime, and is perfect for stocking up on cheese and other goodies to take home.