For me, Paris—a place where Old World aloofness meets trendsetting modern metropolis—is about discovering both the grandiose and the quietly charming.
Last week, I enjoyed two completely different dinners out in the French capital’s 11th arrondissement. The contrasting experiences in the so-called “Brooklyn of Paris” reminded me why right now is a wonderful time to be in the city that casts a magical spell, whether it’s your first or fifteenth visit.
My first night, I enjoyed a memorable “free-style” tasting menu at Top Chef finalist Pierre Sang’s new restaurant, Pierre Sang on Gambey, followed by dancing to Queen’s “Under Pressure” at one in the morning with the chef himself, his sociable staff, and a few remaining patrons. The friendly “welcome to my home” service felt completely fresh in Paris.
“Pierre is young, innovative, and…loves to share his pleasure of good food,” my friend Wendy Lyn, who gives all-access food and wine tours through her company, The Paris Kitchen, told me. “He lives to feed people!”
The next evening was all about classic Paris at Le Bistrot Paul Bert, which Wendy pronounced the last great bistro in the city. Hyperbole aside, it certainly looks the part, with a seasonal menu scribbled on a chalkboard, diner chatter that fills the room with a pleasant, rolling rumble, and an owner, Bertrand Auboyneau, who greets guests—often locals trailed by small dogs—as they come in.
Aside from an on-fire restaurant scene, there are plenty of other draws attracting new and repeat visitors to Paris right now.
> Here’s the low down on the latest and greatest the City of Light has to offer:
The Picasso Museum finally reopened after years of delays. (It closed in 2009 while its home, Hôtel Salé, was being renovated.) Located in the Marais, the museum showcases the world’s largest collection of the eponymous artist’s work—more than 5,000 pieces. To beat the crowds, be sure to book your entrance ticket online.
The Louis Vuitton Foundation, a museum promoting contemporary art and culture, is by far the sexiest, most spectacular recent opening in Paris, and not just because of the fashion powerhouse’s role. The futuristic glass sailboat-like Frank Gehry structure in the Bois de Boulogne gardens is as big of a draw as the art inside.
The Eiffel Tower recently debuted a new look on its first floor following its first renovation in 30 years. There is now a glass floor pavilion, offering visitors views from 187 feet in the air, as well as shops and restaurants. Florent Maillet of specialty tour operator Chocolatine offered a fun tip: If you lie down on the glass floor, you can take a selfie that looks as though you are in the air.
The recently renovated Petit Palais, which was built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, is exhibiting more than 500 pieces by Baccarat—the first retrospective of the famous crystalmaker in 50 years—in honor of its 250th anniversary. On display are huge vases, dinner services, and illuminated chandeliers.
Now open is the Peninsula Paris, one of the grandest hotel debuts in recent years, and marking the brand’s first property in Europe. Though I stayed at cozy, relatively inexpensive Hotel du Danube, which is situated perfectly for wandering dreamily through Saint-Germain, I crossed the Seine to visit the stunning Peninsula address, and found the dreamy bar and restaurants there to be huge draws for both locals and visitors alike.
Annie Fitzsimmons is National Geographic Travel’s Urban Insider, exploring the cities of the world with style. Follow her adventures on the Urban Insider blog, on Twitter @anniefitz, and on Instagram @anniefitzsimmons.