Paris has a timeless familiarity for first-time and frequent visitors, with instantly recognisable architectural icons, along with exquisite cuisine, chic boutiques and priceless artistic treasures.
The wrought-iron spire of the Eiffel Tower piercing the clouds, the broad Arc de Triomphe guarding Paris’ most glamorous avenue, the Champs-Élysées, the gargoyled Notre Dame cathedral, lamplit bridges spanning the Seine and art nouveau cafes spilling on to wicker-chair-lined terraces are indelibly etched in the minds of anyone who’s visited the city – and the imaginations of anyone who hasn’t (yet). But despite initial appearances, Paris’ cityscape isn’t static: there are some stunning modern and contemporary icons too, from the inside-out, industrial-style Centre Pompidou to the mur végétal (vertical garden) gracing the striking Musée du Quai Branly.
Parisians are synonymous with style, and fashion shopping is the city’s forte. Paris remains at the forefront of international trends, and browsing emerging and established designer boutiques and flagship haute couture houses is a quintessential part of any visit. You’ll also find uberhip concept stores, quirky homeware shops, and resplendent art nouveau department stores, along with a trove of vintage shops and flea markets, atmospheric bookshops (including the dark-green bouquiniste stalls – secondhand bookshop – lining the riverbanks), adorable children’s wear and toy shops, art and antique dealers, venerable shops selling state-of-the-art professional cookware, and, of course, gourmet food and wine shops galore.
With an illustrious artistic pedigree – Renoir, Rodin, Picasso, Monet, Manet, Dalí and Van Gogh are but a few of the masters who lived and worked here over the years – Paris is one of the great art repositories of the world, harbouring treasures from antiquity onward. In addition to big hitters like the incomparable Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay’s exceptional impressionist collection, and the Centre Pompidou’s cache of modern and contemporary art, there are scores of smaller museums housing collections in every imaginable genre, and a diverse range of venues mounting major exhibitions through to off-beat installations.
Paris’ dining is iconic: France’s reputation for its cuisine (the French word for ‘kitchen’) precedes it, and whether you seek a cosy neighbourhood bistro or a triple-Michelin-starred temple to gastronomy, you’ll find every establishment prides itself on exquisite preparation and presentation of quality produce, invariably served with wine. Enticing patisseries, boulangeries (bakeries), fromageries (cheese shops) and crowded, colourful street markets are perfect for packing a picnic to take to the city’s parks and gardens. A host of culinary courses – from home kitchens through to the world’s most prestigious cookery schools – offers instruction for all schedules, abilities and budgets.
France seduces travellers with its unfalteringly familiar culture, woven around cafe terraces, village-square markets and lace-curtained bistros with their plat du jour chalked on the board.
Food is of enormous importance to the French and the daily culinary agenda takes no prisoners: breakfasting on warm croissants from the boulangerie, stopping off at Parisian bistros, and market shopping are second nature to the French – and it would be rude to refuse. But French gastronomy goes far deeper than just eating exceedingly well. Its experiential nature means there is always something tasty to observe, learn and try. Be it flipping crêpes in Brittany or clinking champagne flutes in ancient Reims cellars, the culinary opportunities are endless.
Art de Vivre
The rhythm of daily life – dictated by the seasons in the depths of la France profonde (rural France) – exudes an intimacy that gets under your skin. Don’t resist. Rather, live the French lifestyle. Embrace the luxury of simple, everyday rituals being transformed into unforgettable moments, be it a coffee and croissant in the Parisian cafe where Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir met to philosophise, a stroll through the lily-clad gardens Monet painted, or a walk on a beach in Brittany scented with the subtle infusion of language, music and mythology brought by 5th-century Celtic invaders.
The terroir (land) of France weaves a varied journey from northern France’s cliffs and sand dunes to the piercing blue sea of the French Riviera and Corsica’s green oak forests. Outdoor action is what France’s lyrical landscape demands – and there’s something for everybody. Whether you end up walking barefoot across wave-rippled sand to Mont St-Michel, riding a cable car to glacial panoramas above Chamonix, or cartwheeling down Europe’s highest sand dune, France does not disappoint. Its great outdoors is thrilling, with endless opportunities and the next adventure begging to be had. Allez!
Cultural Savoir Faire
France is about world-class art and architecture. It seduces with iconic landmarks known the world over and rising stars yet to be discovered. This country’s cultural repertoire is staggering – in volume and diversity. And this is where the beauty of la belle Francelies: when superstars such as Mademoiselle Eiffel, royal Versailles and the celebrity-ridden French Riviera have been ticked off, there’s ample more to thrill. France is, after all, the world’s top destination with some 85 million visitors each year who flock to the land of the Gauls to feast on its extraordinary wealth of museums, galleries, ateliers (artist workshops) and hands-on cultural experiences.