Paris: The not-so-hot list, with happy alternatives
By Theadora Brack in Paris—
Typically I share what’s hot in Paris, but this week, I’ve decided to drop what’s not so hot. My list is short and personal. There isn’t much I dislike about the city. Heck, I even dig the kitschy Latin Quarter. Like designer Jean Paul Gaultier says, “Everything is beautiful if you think it is beautiful.” I couldn’t agree more.
But for the moment, let’s dig deep and keep it real, Cheapos. If something hasn’t lived up to its hype, I will tell like it is. Plus, I’ll throw down a few alternative suggestions, for the love of Pollyanna. So pull up a chair.
1. Stock Shops along rue d’Alésia
“Get out,” you shout. “Why are stock shops (outlets) on your list?” I hear you. People often sing their praises. Hip French favorites Naf-Naf and Cacharel, along with Sonia Rykiel’s SR shop are all represented in the ’hood.
But so far, after years of hunting, I’m sad to report that I’ve found not one keeper. Truth be told, the discounted designer “seconds” are still out of my Cheapo price range, while garb in the chains like Naf-Naf cost just slightly less than they do at the grand magasins.
Plan B: Instead, I’d recommend either scoring the trends at one of the chain’s regular shops, or buying your get-ups at the bargain bins of Sympa in Montmartre for €1 to €10 a pop. Here, Sympa slashes prices like no other. Looking for designer duds? I’d suggest a full day of fine vintage shop-hopping throughout the city. Let’s not forget the flea markets, brocantes and vide-greniers (yard sales), where I recently scooped up a 1960s black wiggle dress by Tricosa Paris. Cost? €1. Mad Men experience? Zipless.
2. The Bir-Hakeim Métro stop
Visiting the Eiffel Tower? Avoid the Bir-Hakeim Métro stop. Sure, the elevated station is a stunner with its picture-perfect cobalt blue stained glass. And yes, it’s the closest stop to the Eiffel Tower, and by far the most popular jumping-off place to see the Tower, but for the love of your bag or wallet, don’t go there. This is a happy hunting ground for pickpockets. Along the narrow path to the Tower, you’ll also collide with throngs of tourists and vendors galore, loudly selling bazillions of miniature Eiffel Tower replicas.
Plan B: Sidestep the stressful hubbub by heading to the École Militaire Métro stop, and then strolling up the Champs de Mars. At the southeast end of the old cadet marching grounds, you’ll find an art installation called “Le Mur pour la Paix,” created in 2000. The word “peace” is inscribed in 49 languages on large glass panes and on tall, slender metal columns. Along the way to the Tower, you’ll also pass a carousel, pony rides and a go-cart track for the kiddies.
The Métro Pont-de l’Alma is also another safe bet. Just outside the Métro station, you’ll find another spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower, along with the Flamme de la Liberté memorial, serving double duty as the unofficial Princess Di shrine. Royal pilgrims still leave poems, flowers, and love letters there. Pack a hanky!
3. Ladurée macarons
No ifs, ands or buns about it, Ladurée macarons are beauties. Powered by pink pyramids, their window displays have even made me cry. I’ve often photographed these pretties throughout the years. And we all know their story by now: how Belle Époch poster artist Jules Chéret designed their Saint-Germain tea salon and shop at 21 Rue Bonaparte. Plus, Ladurée’s pastel colors inspired the color schemes in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette biopic.
But golly gee sham—are they really worth an hour’s wait in line? But here’s where the cookie really crumbled for me. Photography (while waiting in line to purchase said macarons) is strictly forbidden. If caught, the shrill, finger-wagging sales associates will loudly scold you like there’s no tomorrow. Really? Scared much of copycats? In this social media world, perhaps it’s time to wake up and smell the café. Just saying.
Plan B: On the flip side, the amiable Gérard Mulot with its equally photogenic (and far less expensive and even, many claim, better-tasting) macarons in day-glo hues welcomes photo-ops at all three locations. Plus, time spent in line averages way under 15 minutes.
Gérard Mulot’s shops are located in Saint-Germain des Prés and the Marais, but the main bakery and flagship shop are located at 93 Rue Glacière in the 13th arrondissement. Tours of the workshop are offered. Just contact the Glacière shop prior to your visit. Now, that’s service!
Your not-so-hot list
Do you have anything to add to our list of places to avoid (hopefully with a happy alternative)? Add it to the list in our comments section.