Romantic and elegant, Paris has a place in every international traveller’s heart. But follow our insider’s guide by our correspondent and you’ll fall in love with the City of Light all over again, discovering the chicest new boutiques, the coolest areas and the most delightful cafés and museums
Located in the centre of Paris, among the city’s luxury fashion boutiques and world-class museums, and just steps away from the regal Tuileries Garden, Mandarin Oriental, Paris is in a prime spot for visiting the best the capital has to offer. Start the day by breakfasting like a modern-day Sun King with eggs, pancakes and smoothies at the hotel’s Camélia restaurant before setting off to explore, beginning with the area around the hotel in the distinguished first arrondissement.
The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, located near the Louvre and Mandarin Oriental, Paris
Paris is known as the capital of haute couture. Rue Saint-Honoré and the streets leading from Mandarin Oriental are a world-renowned destination for designer fashion: big international labels Chanel, Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent, and brand-new stores from Balenciaga and Schiaparelli, sit alongside smaller, lesser-known boutiques. Locals and visitors are suitably well heeled, well coiffed and well chauffeured, and the area exudes wealth and class.
Merci, a three-floor concept store comprising several cafés, homeware and fashion
Stéphanie Roger, owner of local fine-jewellery boutique White Bird, says Paris’s first arrondissement ‘is a place reserved for luxury shopping – jewellery, in particular’, with the magnificent Place Vendôme housing international fine jewellery names including Cartier and Boucheron. But it’s just around the corner on the quieter rue du Mont Thabor – where the atmosphere is altogether more intimate – that Roger opened her multi-brand store, stocking one-off and rare designs from independent designers such as Annina Vogel and Pippa Small.
The glass and metal Pyramide that forms the entrance to the Louvre museum
Classic leather goods houses that whiff of moneyed heritage are also among the specialist luxury stores here. Choose from world-famous saddlers and Birkin-bag creator Hermès, the revived 19th-century trunk-makers Moynat and its crocodile-leather ‘City’ bags, or Goyard, with its discreet monogrammed totes, luggage and even collars for the most pampered of pets.
The affluence and patrimony seen in these purveyors of luxury leather goods is representative of the first arrondissement as a whole. As Guillaume Salmon, head of PR for concept store Colette (also on the rue Saint-Honoré), explains, this area ‘in the centre of Paris, between Concorde, Palais Royal, Opéra and the Tuileries, is full of history, tradition and heritage’. It is also home to contemporary culture and fashion, which Colette demonstrates. Founded 15 years ago, the shop – selling clothes, books, streetwear, jewellery, beauty products and a plethora of fun gadgets and gifts to a diverse clientele – is a bright space showcasing the most cutting-edge looks from designers such as Junya Watanabe, Alaïa and Alexander Wang, to a soundtrack of electronic beats. Its dynamic is reflected elsewhere in the area, as newer and younger brands set up shop among the more established names.
Old-established candlemaker Cire Trudon
To continue the contemporary theme, carry on further east to Kitsuné, a clothes store from the people behind the record label of the same name (which produces artists such as Two Door Cinema Club and Is Tropical). The refined and simple boutique stocks the brand’s preppy, high-quality casual gear for men and women, which has a Japan-meets-France aesthetic adorned with the label’s cute fox motif.
Paris is the capital of haute couture, and big names sit alongside smaller boutiques
The entrance to Rose Bakery in the northern Marais
The high-class shopping extends beyond fashion and jewellery in this part of Paris. Astier de Villatte, back on rue Saint-Honoré, is favoured by Parisians for its delightfully wonky white-washed earthenware crockery, scented candles and androgynous colognes. For an even wider choice of exceptional and original perfumes, you also have the pick of haute-parfumiers Frédéric Malle, Annick Goutal and Francis Kurkdjian, all within walking distance of each other and the hotel.
Left Bank accessories boutique Avril Gau
From here, walk a couple of minutes to the historical Comédie-Française theatre, where, if your French is up to scratch, you can catch a matinée by one of the nation’s great playwrights, such as Molière or Feydeau. If your language skills are limited, though, admire the grand building from outside and continue on behind the theatre, where you can walk among contemporary artist Daniel Buren’s newly restored black and white striped columns leading to the Palais Royal. Here, the regal and historic arcades that surround a perfectly manicured garden contain some of the most exclusive names in fashion: Stella McCartney neighbours French shoe designer Pierre Hardy, vintage clothes store par excellence Didier Ludot and accessories designer Corto Moltedo.
Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx at Mandarin Oriental, Paris
Wander back down rue Saint-Honoré towards the gilded and grandiose Place de la Concorde with its fountains and obelisk. If you’re flagging, stop off for a perfect sugar hit at Pierre Hermé, the pâtisserie famous for macaroons with unexpected combinations of flavours (green tea, Chanterelle mushroom and lemon) that change seasonally. Or swing back past Mandarin Oriental, Paris to sample some traditional French pastries at the hotel’s Cake Shop, such as the famous Saint-Honoré, a creamy puff-pastry delight (named after the hotel’s address). Energy restored, take your pick from any one of the area’s legendary museums. Stroll through the refined Tuileries Garden to, arguably, the most important museum in the world, the Louvre, or head to L’Orangerie to admire Monet’s Water Lilies, or the Jeu de Paume, which specialises in photography exhibitions. Or explore the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which showcases furniture and design greats in its permanent collection, and also hosts temporary exhibitions, often devoted to fashion.
Bar 8 at Mandarin Oriental, Paris, which opens to a tranquil courtyard garden
Next, cross the River Seine to the Left Bank and St Germain, a chic area of Paris formerly home to literary greats and bohemians, which is now the residence of the stylish, and moneyed, set. It has a charming, yet refined neighbourhood feel: ‘The Left Bank is composed of historic buildings, squares, alleys and roads on a human scale, as well as terraces and cafés and little boutiques,’ says accessories designer Avril Gau, whose eponymous boutique is on the quiet rue des Quatre Vents. Gau, who once designed for Chanel, creates quality shoes, bags and accessories that are made in France, Italy and Portugal and are sold to those in the know, here, in her only boutique worldwide.
The Pont Royal and the elegant Ecole du Louvre
To further emulate the local Left Bank look – a stealth-wealth sartorial approach characterised by a seemingly effortless attention to detail – visit the three French fashion darlings of the moment: Isabel Marant, Carven, designed by Guillaume Henry, and Vanessa Bruno – all, unsurprisingly, positioned in this area. To accessorise, pop into Jérôme Dreyfuss’s boutique for his slouchy leather bags, and then visit the most luxurious of lingerie designers, Carine Gilson, who creates haute-couture underwear using the finest Chantilly lace and Lyon silks.
The Left Bank, formerly home to literary greats, is now the residence of the moneyed set
For an authentic dose of Rive Gauche (Left Bank) culture, visit the Musée Rodin or the Musée Maillol, both of which house permanent collections of works by their namesakes, as well as temporary exhibitions. From either of these, make your way to Deyrolle, a taxidermy shop and museum founded in 1831, which is one of the last bastions of the urbane and affluent Rive Gauche spirit.
Continue exploring this romantic district and seek out a couple of exquisite French candlemakers. Cire Trudon has been creating candles since 1643 and, today, it is popular among informed Parisians for its fragrant products, which have names such as Empire and Ernesto and notes including tobacco and hay. Iconic scented candlemaker and perfumier Diptyque also has its flagship store in St Germain – the fig scent with its green, fruity notes is a cult classic.
The Jardins du Palais Royal
The area also has an illustrious literary history, with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus having discussed existentialism at the iconic St Germain cafés Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore, both of which are still prime spots for book-related chatter and people-watching while savouring a hot chocolate on the pavement terrace. Today, the Rive Gauche literary spirit lives on in the form of bookshops La Hune, 7L and Shakespeare and Company. La Hune is a local fixture specialising in literature and fine art. On a little road, just behind the Seine, 7L is Karl Lagerfeld’s bookshop, stocking tomes on photography, art and architecture. Shakespeare and Company is a veritable Parisian institution, selling English books and playing host to many literary events. Its location, opposite Notre Dame, means people-traffic around here is inevitable, but despite the crowds of tourists, explains Sylvia Whitman, the shop’s owner, ‘the atmosphere of the Left Bank is rich and elegant. You can’t help but be affected by the buzzing energy and incredible history of the area.’ Indeed, you can muse over the rich history of St Germain from the comfort of the elegant Ladurée tea room, and at the same time nibble on the pâtisserie’s famous macaroons while perusing your new purchases.
Sculpture at Galerie Perrotin
Cross back over the Seine to the Right Bank and head to the Marais, or more specifically to the lively northern Marais – a buzzing hub of contemporary art, design and boutiques. First stop: the private galleries, of which there are many in the Marais. The best include Galerie Perrotin, Yvon Lambert and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Galerie Perrotin has two futuristic spaces in the area and counts international artists such as Murakami, alongside home-grown talent such as Xavier Veilhan, in its stable. Lambert was one of the first gallerists to set up shop here, opening his Marais gallery in the Eighties, in which he shows the likes of conceptual artist Jenny Holzer and photographer Nan Goldin. And Ropac attracts collectors and art lovers with works from contemporary stars including Gilbert and George and Marc Quinn.
Fine jewellery store White Bird
Stroll over to the charming rue Charlot where, among several independent boutiques, you’ll find jewellery shop Monsieur. Simple, understated pieces fashioned from hammered gold and silver are made by founder Nadia Azoug and her team in the atelier at the back of the property.
Another local store in the neighbourhood is bookshop 0fr, run by brother and sister team Alexandre and Marie Thumerelle, specialising in fashion, photography and architecture books. Its clientele is suitably creative, as it attracts initiated bibliophiles from near and far. ‘All the art directors and people who work in fashion come to the shop, but we also get people who are just curious. 0fr is located here because lots of our clients live or work in the area,’ says Alexandre.
These kind of media types and the typical Parisian bobo (a bohemian bourgeois Parisian who is a denizen of the northern Marais with discerning tastes and a disposable income) are also patrons of concept store Merci, a three-floor warehouse-type space filled with fashion, accessories, homeware and – perfect for a quick pit stop – several cafés.
Relax in Tuileries Garden
There are also many other typically bobo places to rest weary feet, including fashionista-favourite Rose Bakery for green tea and lemon cake, or a healthy salad from its deli-style counter. Or try the covered food market, Le Marché des Enfants Rouge – the oldest market in Paris. For a sweet and luxurious gastronomic treat, visit pâtissier and chocolatier Jacques Génin – his millefeuilles, which are made to order to preserve their crunch, are, to some, the best in Paris, and the delicate square chocolates make excellent gifts.
Culture-wise, modern art museum the Pompidou Centre is a clear highlight: with its inside-out, brightly coloured architecture rising above the surrounding buildings, it is, quite literally, unmissable. For something more aristocratic, and a little more off the beaten track, visit the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature. Paris’s quirky hunting and nature museum displays guns and all kinds of hunting paraphernalia within a 17th-century former mansion.
Stroll through the refined Tuileries Garden to the Louvre
Finally, make your way back to the haven of Mandarin Oriental, Paris to relax and unwind, either with a treatment at the cocoon-like spa, or with a cocktail at the sophisticated Bar 8. Once refreshed and recharged, take advantage of being in the capital of gastronomy and dine at the exclusive, two-Michelin-starred Sur Mesure restaurant run by the esteemed French chef, Thierry Marx. Sample his innovative, molecular cuisine, which includes dishes such as shellfish mousse with caviar crostini – just make sure you book ahead as this is one of the hottest tables in Paris right now.
Fashion store Carven
Continue the evening in superior style by taking in a ballet or opera performance at the grand and gilded Palais Garnier, or with a nightcap at Silencio, the hip private members’ club designed by David Lynch. Then, after such an action-packed day, you’ll be ready for your head to hit the pillow and to sleep soundly in the comfort and luxury of Mandarin Oriental, Paris.