Paris is known as the City of Lights, but what makes it truly shine? CNN Style asked five cultural tastemakers to share their thoughts on the origin of Paris’ timeless allure — and a few of their top recommendations for bon vivants in search of challenging art, unexpected vistas and unforgettable cuisine.
Paris is one of the most extraordinary cities that has ever been created. But why is it so extraordinary? The answer is simple. It’s by the act of architecture: the amazing cuts and straight lines that are violently placed into the city — morally quite unjustifiable, but politically expedient — that have created a set of configurations like a spider’s web, connecting the city with energy, light and the dynamism of human desire.
Paris itself has a structure of a crystal. It is like a diamond that radiates in all directions, cutting across ancient neighborhoods regardless of where the cuts are made and asserting that this violent perspective brings the city into a new time, an eternal time. That is the beauty of Paris.
To experience this, stand on one of those amazing avenue’s created by urban planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann. I would stand right in the middle of Place de la Concorde, with its prosthetic hieroglyphics in the center of space, and look at the width, breadth and amazement as Paris presents itself.
If you don’t want to come to such huge spaces, you can go on some small streets and just travel through them until you hit a boundary line and then again embrace by two cornered points that can be connected by your own straight line.
I’m originally from the South of France, but I’ve made Paris my home. This city always offers an unlimited scope of top-quality cultural experiences. The current exhibition at Centre Georges Pompidou focusing on the Union des Artists Modernes, a group of decorative artists and architects that originated in 1929, actually features a 6×6 Demountable House by Jean Prouvé. (If you know me, you know I love Prouvé.)
For a moment of peace, I retreat to the calming and naturally lit Musée de l’Orangerie in the Tuileries Garden or the permanent collection at the Musée d’Art Moderne in the 16th arrondissement. For a nice dinner in the evening, I prefer Les Enfants Rouges in the Marais, a Japanese-inspired French bistro that boasts a menu of revisited classics by Daï Shinozuka, who was trained by Yves Camdeborde.
Otherwise, if I’m looking for a last-minute animated atmosphere, I go to the Hôtel Costes on Rue Saint Honoré.
Martine Assouline, publisher and co-founder of Assouline
Paris is no longer “une fête,” but remains the place to go for its beauty, charm and rich culture. My husband and I are lucky to live in one of the most beautiful areas of the city, Palais Royal, which has remained exactly the same since the 18th century, with its beautiful hidden garden in the center of the building. From here, you can access some of the best places in Paris even without a car: three minutes to the Louvre, 10 minutes to Saint-Germain-des-Près and a couple more minutes to the Opera.
Paris is full of great cafes, boutiques and restaurants. I love discovering all the hidden gems as you wander around the city. If I do jump in the car, then it’s to go to my favorite restaurant in Paris, Chez l’Ami Louis, the perfect place for good food, good wine and authenticity.
Thaddaeus Ropac, gallerist
The Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne comes immediately to my mind when I think of my favorite places in Paris. Frank Gehry showed me early on drawings for this very exciting project, but the finished building just took my breath away with its sheer scale and utopian power — like a ship sailing through the Parisian woods. It is definitely the most amazing building since the opening of the Centre Pompidou in the 1970s.
The Foundation continuously impresses me with its ambitious exhibition program, allowing me to discover not only the newest art from China, but also to admire the masterworks of the Shchukin Collection, for example. This unique place for art continues to surprise and inspire on many different levels, and has become a landmark of the Parisian cultural and urban landscape.
Alice Black, co-director of the Design Museum
Paris is majestic, regal, charming and romantic.
I grew up in Paris, south of Montparnasse, and I have loved the grittiness of its nearby streets since then: The theaters and sleazy shops of Rue de la Gaîté; the small cafes and restaurants on Rue d’Odessa; the famed brasseries of Boulevard du Montparnasse, like La Coupole and La Closerie des Lilas. All harbor the memories of the artists and writers who used to work or live there.
Recently, I was lucky to spend more time in Paris as I traveled back and forth to prepare our exhibition on the late fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa. I spent more time in Le Marais, where Alaïa worked and lived. I adore the shops and cafes of Rue des Archives, the recently refurbished Musée Picasso, and, of course, the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, which meanders through to the absolute perfection of the Place des Vosges.
What I also love in this neighborhood of Paris, which is part of the old city, are the names of streets — Rue des Blancs-Manteaux, Rue du Roi-de-Sicile, Rue du Pont-aux-Choux — which are incredibly poetic … just like Paris.