Secrets of Paris Newsletter #41: December 31, 2003


* From the Home Office
* The perfect holiday in France
* Goodbye to the Champs-Elysées Tourism Office
* The latest nightspot in Paris
* A cheap sleep at the airport
* Very Parisian boutiques
* Les Soldes – the Annual Winter Sales
* Where to Sleep?
* Freezing at the Gare du Nord
* French Barter Organization
* Mexican party piñatas
* FUSAC correction

* From the Home Office *
This month’s Secrets of Paris is a bit behind schedule due to the crazy month I’ve been having. The Adventure Guide to Paris & Ile-de-France was finished on time for November 30 (thanks to all of you who sent in your encouragements on that final stretch!), and the promo cover is already up on Hunter’s website ( if you click on Adventure Guides and scroll down to Paris (you’ll have to wait until March to actually buy it. The day after I sent it in I got sick, so there was only a short celebration. I had to leave immediately for Amsterdam for a week of writing hotel copy for Expedia, and the cold turned into the flu, so I spent the whole time in bed watching Dutch MTV when I wasn’t in meetings. Blech. Back in France, I had a lovely Christmas with friends visiting from San Francisco and England for the week. The day after they left it rained heavily for two days, and the newly-built, ten-foot tall stone retaining wall at our house collapsed, taking some trees and most of the soil surrounding the swimming pool with it. Our builder Marcel came by to check out the damage, and tried to make up feel better by saying, “It could be worse, look what happened in Iran”. Here’s to looking on the bright side, and a Happy New Year to all of you! -H

* The perfect holiday in France *
When my friends Cassie and Matthew came to stay with us last week down here in the south of France, I had planned on showing them all the major sights and museums on the Riviera. But they had other things in mind, particularly a cheese that they read about in one of Peter Mayle’s books called Livarot. On the first day we went to a Provencal market in Valbonne for olives, fruit and veggies, then located the Livarot in the giant hypermarket called Carrefour. We drove up to Italy to purchase the makings of our Christmas feast at the market of San Remo, and feasted on leftovers for the days that followed. With a few exceptions, the week was spent either buying food, eating food, or recovering from the food (and assorted alcoholic beverages, I should add). I think all trips to France should be spent this way!

* Goodbye to the Champs-Elysées Tourism Office *
Due to the large increase in their rent on the Champs-Elysées, the tourism office is closing its office permanently after today. They’re set to re-open in June on the Rue des Pyramides (near the Opéra and the Louvre), but in the meantime visitors can go to the various “mini” tourism offices at the Carrousel du Louvre (99 rue de Rivoli, 1st), the American Express Office (behind the Opéra Garnier, Rue Scribe, 9th), in the Gare de Lyon, the Gare du Nord, and up on Montmartre at 21 Place du Tertre (18th). For more info check their website: (you can also call their hotline 08 92 68 30 00, but it will cost you €0.34/minute, and you’ll have to listen to the automated operator for the first few minutes before you get a real human).

* The latest nightspots in Paris*
Those looking for something new to do at night in Paris should check out La Tryptyque (142 Rue Montmartre, 2nd), a sort of lounge-bar-club with regular musical soirées and classic film screenings on Sundays. Another club getting lots of press nearby is La Step’s (13 rue Tiquetonne, 2nd), a laid-back hangout that attracts the late night/early morning crowd (open until 4am on Friday and Saturday). The drinks cost about €3.50-9.50, music ranges from 80s classics to funk and hip-hop depending on the DJ, and the crowd is in the 25-ish range. Dress code is pretty relaxed, but don’t look like you’ve just come from the gym.

* A cheap sleep at the airport *
If you need a cheap and clean place to sleep near Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle, check out the Première Classe Roissy Hotel. The Première Class ( chain is a bit like a motel without the seedy feel, and each room has a TV, shower/WC and a small desk. It’s a bit like the inside of a motorhome, if that gives you an idea of the style. Rooms can accommodate three guests (usually with two twins and a bunk bed) for just €27 (abpit €34 with taxes), and there’s a free shuttle between the hotel and the airport (takes about 15 minutes). Book online or call 0 892 707 299.

* Les Soldes – the Annual Winter Sales *
The annual winter sales, when clothing prices are slashed up to 70% throughout France, begin January 7, just in time to fend off the post-holiday gloom. They last for five weeks (until the first week of February), with prices getting cheaper (and selection getting thin) in the final weeks. There are usually lines of impatient bargain hunters outside the department stores and even outside the high-end boutiques of Avenue Montaigne (half off Chanel stilettos, why not?).

* Very Parisian boutiques *
It can be a big disappointment for first-time Paris visitors to see the Gap, McDonald’s, Nike, the Body Shop and other familiar chain shops that they see back home. But don’t despair, the authentically Parisian boutique still exists! The latest edition of Air France’s “Madame” magazine did a wonderful feature on some of the classics. Three of my favorites:

Herboristerie de la Place de Clichy (87 rue d’Amsterdam, 9th), one of Europe’s oldest pharmacies with the same late-19th-century woodwork and a huge selection of organic herbal remedies in adorable little sachets.

A la Mère de Famille (35 rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 9th) is an old-fashioned sweets shop open since 1761! Stop in for candied fruits, marzipan, jars of bon bons and its own home made brand of chocolate bars. Yummy!

Deyrolle (46 rue du Bac, 7th) is a fascinating boutique specializing in taxidermy for over a century, with a jungle-like atmosphere (not at all morbid). More-than-lifelike bears, lions, tropical birds and horses occupy the many rooms of this large boutique with wooden floors, high ceilings, and oversized mirrors. It’s the perfect place to find an original gift!

* Where to Sleep? *
I get a lot of e-mails from people trying to figure out where to stay in Paris. It’s a hard question to answer, because almost any hotel has its pros and cons, and while one person may find a hotel charming, another will find it outdated and frumpy. The question of “which arrondissement” is also a popular one, but I really think that it’s misleading to think of Paris in terms of 20 neighborhoods, because each arrondissement has many different areas, some great, some not. For example, the 9th has many great hotels within walking distance of the Opéra and Haussmann department stores. The north end of the 14th around the Montparnasse Cemetery and Denfert-Rocherau has some great deals and is just a few blocks from Luxembourg Gardens and St-Germain-des-Prés. For some more hints, check out this month’s article at

* Freezing at the Gare du Nord *
Here’s my gripe of the month: the Gare du Nord station is absolutely freezing in the winter, even colder than outside! While waiting for the Thalys TGV Train to Amsterdam, I had nowhere to get warm except the three space heaters on the train platform (with everyone huddled around them like campfires). There are no cafés that are “indoors” and no waiting area unless you’re a EuroStar ticket holder. So a word of warning, if you’re taking the train from Gare du Nord in the winter, try and get there at the last minute!

* French Barter Organization *
Those of you living in Paris may not know that there’s a well-developed barter system of goods and services called Sel de Paris, and they’ve just started publishing their catalogue online for January (in French only). A friend of mine used this system to get help moving from one apartment to another within Paris, and she highly recommends it. What better way to trade in all those unwanted Christmas gifts. ;)

* Mexican party piñatas *
Up by the Canal St-Martin is a colourful boutique specializing in Mexican party decorations, including custom-made piñatas (they have a huge photo book to choose from, as well). There are also original paper garlands, kids’ toys and party favors. A fun way to chase away the January blahs!
La Piñata: 25 rue des Vinaigriers, 10th

* FUSAC Correction *
I wrote in a former Secrets of Paris newsletter that is a copy-cat site of the (FUSAC = France USA Contacts). I've been very tersely informed that the is the US-based company (online only), and the is the France-based company (website and twice-monthly magazine in Paris). They were apparently once part of the same company, but split apart a few years ago to their separate ways. An Internet-based arbitrage decided that two companies using similar names is perfectly legal (although I think it has confused a few people). Just be sure, dear readers, that if you pay for an ad, you know in which FUSAC it’s going to appear.

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