The most common question I receive about Paris: how to get the best insider experience even if you’re in the city for just a couple of days? Everyone wants to know the genuine taste of this highly idealized city and nobody wants to feel (or behave!) like a tourist. This September will mark my third year in Paris and during this time, I have crafted a list of things (museums, boutiques, coffee shops, streets, books or even personalities – anything goes), which helped me discover many fascinating facets of this romantic city. Some of them can be definitely called “secret” while others might still be too “touristy” for your taste, but they are all worth taking note of. From now on I will share regularly a list of 5 things in the new article series “Explore Paris”. Mark things that catch your attention and hopefully with time you’ll be able to craft your personal itinerary of Paris, full of surprises, pleasant discoveries and unforgettable experiences!
Officine Universelle Buly 1803
In the 19th century, Jean-Vincent Bully succeeded in carving himself a prestigious position on a highly demanding Parisian scene. His specialty was innovative and elegant perfume and skincare creations. A famous distiller, perfumer and cosmetician even became an inspiration for Honoré de Balzac’s novels. The singularity of Buly’s universe is particularly visible today, as passing the threshold of Officine Universelle Buly boutique feels like entering a meticulously crafted, atmospheric space, reminiscent of the old times. Wooden walls and marble tops in rich dark hues provide a picture-perfect support for beautifully decorated bottles and little boxes, which contain beauty products based on newest advances without forgetting the values of old, time-tested recipes. Buly’s philosophy suggests that taking care of one’s skin is a ritual in its purest, even alchemical sense. Nurturing skin with carefully thought-out formulas, conceived in its laboratory definitely feels like a – dare I say it – quintessentially French experience, while spraying a puff of perfume creates a magical mood for the day. Living and inhaling slowly acquires a whole new sense in Officine Universelle Buly.
6 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris
There’s nothing like getting to know a city through the work of someone who loved Paris and its people as much as the photographer Willy Ronis. Ronis is probably the most reputed representative of the French humanist photography. This movement, particularly active in 1945-1960, centered attention on a quotidian life of ordinary people, their simple joys and struggles. Willy Ronis captured poetic (sometimes more, sometimes less) Parisian life with all of its underlying meanings better than anybody else. He also always paid extra attention to less favored neighborhoods, such as Belleville and Ménilmonant (while I do agree that these areas look shabby or less welcoming at certain times, they hide so many beautiful gems I would consider your Parisian visit incomplete without venturing there – Parc des Buttes Chaumont is a perfect starting point). No wonder the city hall of the 20th arrondissement decided to make a tribute to the photographer with a special exhibition.
Ronis insisted on the fact that he never staged the pictures – rather tried to master the circumstances and play according to their messy, unpredictable rules. People never seem to be aware of Ronis’ presence, they’re busy living – dancing, kissing, saying goodbyes, rushing somewhere, engaging in mundane conversations or simply enjoying themselves in a bar. By allowing himself to glimpse in the hearts and thoughtful faces of Parisian habitants, sometimes dangerously on the verge of intruding their intimate lives, Ronis succeeded in documenting Paris as the city of love and life on the most profound level.
If you’re in Paris some time in September, you can still visit an exhibition dedicated to this photographer in Pavillon Carré de Baudouin in the 20th arrondissement.
119 Rue de Ménilmontant, 75020 Paris
Originally founded in 1938, this independent cinema screens old, rare movies and often pays homage to the most talented creatives in the cinema field. Notable for its immaculate white building, located in the Latin Quartier just a stone throw’s away from the Sorbonne, this cult cinema is a must-go for every cinephile.
I first noticed its sophisticated white facade while heading to my lectures on a breezy October morning. At the time, it was screening the legendary “Breakfast at the Tiffany’s” and I just had to stop to look through the posters of this movie. From that day, I would take a glance at its repertoire every single day, learning something new even without actually watching the movies. It just always served as a reminder that Paris never forgets the past.
While I understand that for some going to a cinema instead of wandering in the city might seem like a loss of time, Cinema Champo provides a different kind of experience, definitely worth including in your to-do list. And especially if you’re an old-movie fan or have specific taste in cinema, it might happen to be your most wonderful discovery.
51 Rue des Écoles, 75005 Paris
Rue des Thermopyles
Rue des Thermopyles is a little bucolic paradise nestled in the calm 14th arrondissement and perfectly suited for a peaceful stroll. The lavish, abundantly green street with lovely houses recalls the old times, when this area was only a periphery of Paris. In the middle of the 19th century, Alexandre Chauvelot created a Plaisance village and gradually extended it, with an intention to make it an organic part of the city. Name of the street pinpoints Chauvelot’s passion for Antiquity (Thermopyles was a narrow passage in ancient Greece, best known as the ground for the famous battle in 480 BC between the Greeks and Persians).
Once you take a metro exit at Pernety (metro line 13) and enter the street via 32 Rue Didot, be in no rush – enjoy the soothing calmness of the lieu and the hints of its rural past, completely at odds with the frenzied streets outside the passage.
Ten Belles was the reason I discovered undeniable charms of the 10th arrondissement and started hanging around Canal Saint Martin more often. It was also the place where I invited a friend for a cup of coffee and actually drank a cup of coffee (I am more of a tea person). The truth is, Paris isn’t famous for its coffee culture, but with so many trendy places popping up on its scene, it becomes a real pleasure to discover what each one has to offer. Ten Belles has been featured practically in every Paris guide I have recently read; it is one of the best places to grab a cup of really well made coffee, accompanied with an array of baked goods to choose from (a lemon cake is my favorite); not to mention its bright, welcoming façade and quirky stools.
10 Rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010 Paris; 17-19 Rue Breguet, 75011 Paris (Ten Belles Bread)
Photos Ten Belles