Insider’s Guide to Paris

The twin towers of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral beckon in the background as tour boats ply the Seine.

Contrary to the classic Cole Porter song, Paris doesn’t only sizzle in the summer—but after the harsh winter much of Europe has endured over the last few months, this summer will be most welcome for Parisians and American Francophiles alike. Whether it’s a weekend tryst or an all-out, month-long vacation, we’ve got the skinny on what’s gleaming in the City of Light. Here is a soupçon of top insider secrets to keep you in the know when it comes to booking your clients the perfect Paris getaway—any time of year.

A Few Fun Things to Do

The Musée d’Orsay has unveiled a dazzling renovation (think 20.1 million euros) that was two years in the making. Travel Agent went behind-the-scenes (before opening hours) to get a firsthand look at the museum that’s a sacred Paris institution, home to the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces that draw 3 million visitors a year, half of whom are Americans.

What we found: The fantastic new exhibition spaces, including the Impressionist gallery, were designed to showcase the art in (literally) the best possible light. The walls are painted in bold colors (reds, purples, dark green), and the paintings just pop off the wall. Even the benches placed in the gallery are meant to be ogled; Japanese designer Tokujin Yoshioka created seating that’s like art. There are five floors in this new wing, three of which are devoted to the decorative arts, and a fast glass elevator that whisks art lovers between them.

Crazy Horse, the famous Paris cabaret show—said to be as much a part of the tourist circuit as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe—is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year with a new show called Désirs. To fete this big birthday, Le Pavillon des Lettres has partnered with the iconic theater to provide guests with VIP tickets. Located near the Elysée Palace, just around the corner from Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Le Pavillon des Lettres is a unique literary-themed hotel. Each of its 26 rooms represents a letter of the alphabet and is devoted to a writer, e.g., S for Shakespeare, Z for Zola.

A stop at Ladurée, the legendary French patisserie, is an absolute must on your client’s itinerary, and 2012 is extra special. It’s been 150 years since Ladurée first opened its doors and they’ll be feting this big anniversary throughout the year with events and a special macaron flavor: the Incroyables, which pays tribute to the very first macaron Ladurée ever made.

The original shop is at 16 Rue Royale near Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg; other stores can be found in Saint-Germain (21 rue Bonaparte), the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, in the Printemps department store and at CDG airport.

Sublime Shopping

Paris is a fun city to spend some serious dollars in. If you’re into fine timepieces, we hear that Richemont is planning to open a watch store in the “Old England” building in Paris’ charming La Madeleine district. The 24,000-square-foot store will be the largest of its kind in the world and will be near both Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.

Amont Pavilion at Museee D’Orsay
The colors of the Amont Pavilion at Museee D’Orsay provide a bold backdrop for paintings.


Richemont comprises some of the world’s leading luxury goods companies, or “Maisons.” Its watch brands include IWC, Officine Panerai, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Baume & Mercier, Piaget, A. Lange & Söhne, Vacheron Constantin, Roger Dubuis and Ralph Lauren.

Ever since Uniqlo opened its store on rue Scribe in the Opéra district, the Paris press has been buzzing about this global phenomenon. What’s the brand’s appeal? Perhaps it’s the range of colors: 35 different options for cashmere sweaters and 60 tints of colorful socks, from cerulean blue to mimosa, for starters.

Word also has it that Hermès will open a boutique on the Sèvres road dedicated to its Chinese luxury brand, Shang Xia.

For more Paris shopping tips, visit

Where to Spa…

After a day of shopping, there’s nothing like a good massage or facial. At Le Bristol, the new spa by La Prairie that opened in October (after a 100 million euro renovation), sprawls over three levels, yet retains the feel of an intimate sanctuary with natural light and views of the courtyard garden.

Of the eight treatment rooms, two are couples’ suites with private hamams and Jacuzzis. Unique in Paris, the Russian Room has a heated marble table with a Vichy shower. Options include La Prairie’s Gold Radiance Facial and a Caviar Body Treatment. Tip for jet-lagged travelers: Le Bristol, one of only nine “palace” hotels in France, also provides 45-minute remedial massages in your client’s own guest room.

Le Pavillon des Lettres
Living area in a suite at Le Pavillon des Lettres.


The InterContinental Le Grand has reopened its I-Spa after a complete makeover. There’s now a hammam, exfoliation treatment room, VIP couples’ suite, and herbal tea room. A highlight is the cabin equipped with multisensory showers called Ambiance Tuning Technique (ATT). Guests can choose the fragrance, lighting, and water spray for the ultimate stress-reliever.

…and Where to Glam Up

Visitors can get primped for a night out with a little help from the Hotel de Sers. A favorite Paris address for Hollywood celebrities and pop stars (Lady Gaga recently crashed there and Kelly Rowland filmed the music video for her latest single in suite 81), the hotel stages twice-monthly “Glam Soirées” where lucky madames and mademoiselles can get makeovers by expert stylists and makeup artists who set up shop in the hotel lounge. Christophe-Nicolas Biot and his team do the styling, while Clinique is behind the makeup bar.

Dining Out

Don’t worry about making restaurant reservations for your Paris-bound clients. Hotel concierges here are well-schooled to know the best places to eat and drink. One shining example of such expertise is at the Saint James Paris, where Christian Garot, a Clefs d’Or concierge who has been with the hotel for over 20 years, provides a wealth of information on the city’s famous restaurant scene.

Paris’ only chateau-hotel, the venerable Saint James, unveiled a dazzling makeover by designer Bambi Sloan last year. Tip: For those traveling in France by rental car, this is one of the few Parisian hotels with private parking. Guests can also take spins around town in the hotel’s Smart car convertible.

More Great Places to Stay

The hotels cited above are just a handful among countless exquisite Paris accommodations. Here are some more, beginning with the hottest key in town right now—the brand-new W Paris-Opéra. Travel Agent was onsite at its debut on February 29 and found that the brand has positioned itself in the Parisian market as a trendsetting hot spot. The hotel is located next to the Opera Garnier, and some of the rooms have remarkable views of one of the most famous opera houses in the world. Each room has its own in-room cocktail bar, as well.

We also caught a sneak peek of Le Royal Monceau before its official opening this past October. It is truly a feast for the senses. Once the haunt of royalty, avant-garde artists, musicians and movie stars, Le Royal Monceau had lost its coolness, and new owner Qatari Diar Hotel Investment wanted to return it to its former glory. After a top-to-bottom renovation lasting a year and a half, Le Royal Monceau is back—with Raffles at the reins.

Le Royal Monceau now has the most suites in Paris and a staff of 420 to spoil its guests. Most rooms are connecting in the hotel, making it a good choice for families—and entourages.

Hotel Fouquet’s Barrière is another family-friendly find. While the current “Fouquet’ Kids” program, a combination of fun afternoon workshops and shows, runs only through May, the hotel’s “In Paris With the Family” package is available through December 28. It features a personalized welcome for the children, family breakfast, complimentary soft drinks from the minibar, and free access to the swimming pool.

Le Bristol
The Honeymoon Suite is one of the new apartmentlike accommodations at Le Bristol.


Are your guests looking for a special teatime? The Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme—one of only nine “palace” hotels in France— has teamed up with Tiffany & Co to create a jewel-like treat for afternoon tea. Pastry Chef Pier-Marie Le Moigno has created a rich chocolate-and-passionfruit pastry in the shape of a jewelry box in Tiffany & Co’s signature blue and white colors. One lucky tea-taker will win a white gold and diamond pendant.

When the Mandarin Oriental, Paris opened its doors on fashionable Rue Saint-Honoré last year, Travel Agent was most impressed. Now the hotel has gotten even better with the debut of 39 opulent suites—visualized by celebrated French designed Sybille de Margerie in a haute couture style. The seven duplex suites—perched on the hotel’s seventh and eighth floors—have private terraces overlooking the City of Light. Amng these are the Royale Orientale Suite (fusing east and west in the decor), Cabochons Suite (filled with fashion photography), Broderies de Cristal Suite (silks, pearls and sequins) and top-floor Atelier Suite (resembling a Parisian pied-a-terre).

For an experience reminiscent of the chic and historic rive gauche, book Villa Madame, a discreet address near Saint Sulpice. It’s easy to be taken with the charms of the quarter in the heart of Saint-Germain. The lovely little alley of a street was originally part of the Luxembourg Gardens until Crown Prince Louis XVIII sold the plot and parceled it into streets, naming one Rue Madame for his wife. The Villa Madame recalls traditional Parisian apartments of yesteryear, complete with a landscaped inner courtyard for quiet relaxation. The feel is casual elegance, without pretense. The team, led by owner Gilles Delfau and his son Franck, can arrange a variety of activities, from chocolate excursions to cheese and wine tastings.

Dazzling views of the glittering Eiffel Tower are just one reason to recommend the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Hotel. Opened less than three years ago, the sleek boutique property is in the Trocadero area, a district not usually frequented by Americans. Besides its proximity to the great Parisian monument, the advantage of staying in this neighborhood is experiencing quintessential Parisian life: ducking into local boutiques and gathering in the cafés.

We loved the Eiffel Tower views framed in a porthole window in the spacious Eiffel Tower One-Bedroom Suite, the hotel’s top dig. Filled with light, Suite #211 has higher ceilings and abundant windows. A rarity in a hotel this size is the counter-current pool, hammam and massage room.

Looking for over-the-top luxury? Shangri-La Hotel, Paris, which opened just over a year ago, was originally built in 1896 as the private home of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s grandnephew, Prince Roland Bonaparte. The restored landmark has just 81 rooms including 27 suites. Interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon crafted each room individually to retain the residential ambiance.

The Shangri-la’s La Suite Imperiale, one of five duplex suites, originally housed Prince Roland’s private rooms. The penthouse suite has over 1,076 square feet of outdoor deck. Unique in Paris, 40 percent of the rooms and 60 percent of the suites feature unobstructed views of the Eiffel Tower and the River Seine below, and because of city zoning regulations, nothing will be built to block the view. Even better: Nearly half of all rooms have balconies and terraces from which guests can see eight of the 15 bridges over the Seine.

Foodie buzz: The hotel has received accolades for two of its restaurants: two Michelin stars for Chef Philippe Labbé at LAbeille, the gastronomic French restaurant, and one star for Chef Frank Xu at Shang Palace, the Cantonese gourmet restaurant that opened just this past September.

If your clients have been to the Hotel San Régis before, they’ll be surprised upon return. The popular Parisian hotel, located between the Champs-Elysées and Avenue Montaigne, has just revealed a new look. The Classic Room category has undergone a complete renovation by star designer Pierre-Yves Rochon (he’s beaucoup of Four Seasons and Sofitels), with all 10 rooms undergoing a top-to-bottom overhaul.

Insider secret: Jean-François Chauvin, the “Clefs d’Or” concierge, is known for handling all manner of requests—limousine transfers, river cruises on private boat, reservations to the hottest restaurants in town, tickets for museum exhibitions or the theater, and/or personal shopping to discover the city’s secret boutiques.

Big news on an iconic hotel: Ritz Paris will close its doors for 27 months for a top-to-bottom overhaul starting in summer 2012. Owned by Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed, the landmark on the Place Vendôme made the decision after failing to achieve the official “palace hotel” classification this year. French tourism authorities revamped the hotel rating system, and bestowed the top honor on just nine luxury hotels in the entire country.