About Secrets of Paris

American-born travel journalist and guidebook author Heather Stimmler-Hall created the Secrets of Paris in 1999 to share the hidden side of the City of Light. Discover what you've been missing:

* Custom Travel Content
* Travel Writing Workshops
* Calendar of interesting Paris events 
* Monthly Secrets of Paris newsletter
* Secrets of Paris Tours & Travel Planning

Read more about the Secrets of Paris here




Calendar of Paris Events

June 4
The 16th annual Carnaval Tropical parade with 4000 dancers celebrating French West Indies cultures as well as other dancers from Brazil, China, Colombia and other nations around the world. They start at Hôtel de Ville at 2pm, up to Place de la République until 6pm. Come see the dancers and try out the exotic foods on sale! 

June 19
Get out your fancy hats and picnic baskets for the annual Prix de Diane races at Chantilly Hippodrome (just 45 minutes north of Paris from Gare du Nord). Read more about the event from previous years here. 

June 24-26
Solidays is one of the best summer music festivals in France. This event unites more than 150 musicians (including Cypress Hill and Keziah Jones) and 160,000 attendees every year in the fight against AIDS, and this summer is expected to be bigger and better than ever. Day passes starting at €39.  

Click here to see the full calendar of events...

Secrets of Paris gives 10% of all tour fees to the French food bank, Les Restos du Coeur


Ringing in the Smoke-Free New Year with Absinthe and Parisian Punks

After drinking more than my weight in Champagne over the holidays (okay, that's not that hard), I decided to give up drinking for 2008. I was doing great until I was invited to an absinthe tasting last weekend at a local punk bar, Le Cantada II. How could I resist?

It was my first outing this year, and as I walked past the bars, cafés and restaurant of the Oberkampf district, I couldn't believe that it was actually true what I was seeing: all of the Parisians were smoking outside. Even though it's cold and raining, the terraces are packed full. I arrived at Cantada II (13 rue Moret, 11th), where goths, punks, and other mohawked misfits were also smoking outside the door. Inside the wonderfully smoke-free bar, I immediately spotted my group, looking slightly out of place among the regulars.

Adrian, Daniel, Louisa, Olivier et moi

Among the gang are a few familiar faces, including pastry chef and cookbook writer David Lebovitz (on a much needed break from finishing his latest manuscript), "Mister Wine Tasting" Olivier Magny, restaurant reviewer and palace hotel concierge Adrian Moore, and Spring owner and chef Daniel Rose. Our hosts for the evening are food journalist Louisa Chu (you've probably seen her hosting food shows on American TV) and our absinthe expert (and maker) Peter Schaf.

Absintheur Peter (and his wife behind the dripper).

Not only does Cantada II have the largest selection of absinthes in France (each one has its own unique taste), it also has all of the cool accessories, including the water dripper, slatted spoons and the right glassware. Peter brought a few bottle from his own collection for us to try, including a 100-year-old bottle made before the absinthe prohibition (the ban was lifted in France in 1992, FYI). As the glass was passed around, I asked "Anyone here have a cold?" But David pointed out that the 70% alcohol content would probably kill any germs anyway. Of course, he and Olivier were drinking wine, sheesh!

David, looking particularly wicked with those glowing devil horns.

After our tasting (it doesn't take much!) a few people decided to try the bar's "Medieval cuisine". I thought I'd have a peek before ordering myself. Well, it smelled good....

Ye olde grub (some sort of game stew).

Tried without the flash to see if it looked better...

"Get a close-up photo," says Olivier. Yeah...

I ate up the street at Nono instead. ;-)



Book Review: A Town Like Paris

A%20Town%20Like%20Paris.jpgLast month I went to the launch of Bryce Corbett's book, "A Town like Paris: Living and Loving in the City of Light".

The book is a memoir about how Bryce came to Paris as a 28-year-old Australian and had a grand ol' time (like you do at that age when you're single and in Paris), except when it came to French women. He finally meets and marries the woman of his dreams, a Lido dancer who happens to be....Australian! (That's them on the cover, which looks different from the cover I've seen on the publisher's site, strangely).

The launch party, at WH Smith, had the tallest crowd I've ever seen in one place in this town (all Lido dancers and Australians, no doubt). The book is hilarious, full of adventures that Bryce and his friends experienced over the years, both fun and....not so fun -- Paris isn't always an easy place to live! Highly recommended, check it out.


Holiday Spirit at Parisian Palace Hotels

You don' have to be a guest at the city's famous palace hotels to enjoy some of their unique holiday atmosphere, the elaborate Christmas decorations -- and the certainty that they're not closed nor packed beyond belief like Ladurée.


I'm a big fan of afternoon tea at the Four Seasons George V. This season they have a special cinnamon and spice Christmas tea. I had it with a slice of banana bread, but they have a whole cartload of pastries, cakes and cookies to choose from. I also heard a rumor (still unconfirmed) that the owner is a huge cheesecake fan, so I expect their cheesecake is superb (the French are not known for being particularly good at cheesecake, so yes this is a big deal). The hotel's Christmas trees, conceived by the Artistic Director Jeff Leatham, are decorated with garlands of hot pink neon and violet balls (inspired by the American artist Dan Flavin). It certainly makes for a change from the traditional French flocking!

Elsewhere around Paris, the Ritz has a new Ritz Bar (across the hall from the Hemingway Bar), with a darker lounge club atmosphere and -- on weekends -- electro lounge music (open from 6:30pm). Although the atmosphere (and the crowd) are a bit younger than their average gilded clientele, the cocktails are still €22.

The Plaza Athénée is always a good bet for drinks at the trendy bar (evenings only). They have new touch-screen drinks menus so you can see pictures of each cocktail. For the holidays there's an ice rink in the courtyard (open until December 31) reserved for guests of the hotel (but the PR rep told us that if you dine at the hotel you'd be allowed in...perhaps hot chocolate and pastries in the Galerie des Gobelins before a spin?)

Philippe Starck has redecorated the public spaces in the Hotel Meurice inspired by one of the hotel's most renowned clients, Salvador Dali. The stained glass Art Nouveau ceiling in the Winter Garden has been replaced by a surrealist mural, the chairs are now covered in mismatched materials like cowhide, and even the piano has a bizarre surrealist shape. The restaurant has also been redone, and is now called Le Dali. Thankfully, the Bar Fontainebleau has not been changed at all, and still has a wonderfully coy atmosphere for an evening digestif.



Nightlife Updates for New Year's Eve in Paris

I've added a few reviews to the Nightlife section, including a page of soirées on and around New Year's Eve. There are also a few new dining reviews here.

Joyeux Noël from Paris! 


My Christmas Eve Dom Perignon at Closerie des Lilas.


Global warming good news for English vineyards...

I'll bet some of you think wine tasting is for boring snobs. You obviously haven't met Olivier, the Ali G of the wine world. Check out his fun and informative (and often hilarious) Wine Rendez-Vous videos (slow-loading, but worth it!)


Le Lup or not Le Lup? Help!

This weekend I had two last-minute places to visit for the nightlife section of the Naughty Paris Guide. You'd be amazed at how tempting it is for guidebook writers to include places they haven't actually visited. Sounds crazy, non? But sometimes, like you regular folks, we read really convincing reviews -- good or bad -- and make a decision from there, figuring we'll eventually get around to confirming what we've already written.

Except you should never believe a word of what you read in the press these days, since most of it is rehashed PR or shamelessly copied from someone's blog.

The places I was considering:

Bobino%20CabaretBobin'o, the city's newest cabaret, recently opened in the 14th on a colorful street of theatres and sex shops. It promised to be the biggest, sexiest show in Paris. It looked, with its transvestites and tightly packed dining tables....well, silly. Entertaining, oui, but sexy? And maybe I was Googling up the wring tree, but I could find no independent press coverage (just the same PR talk repeated over and over). Different from other cabarets, is that this one becomes a nightclub afterwards so you can stay and dance. That seemed more promising...

- Le Lup, a new restaurant in St-Germain-des-Prés open only at night (9pm-5am), with a sexy boudoir style decor and live jazzy musicians. Now this, I was very excited. Lots of glowing reviews particularly from Girl & the City. Not hard to find someone to join me for a test drive.

So Friday night I went to Bobin'O for Champagne and the show (I skipped the dinner), and I was actually happily impressed (detailed review coming soon in Nightlife section). Sexy and funny, entertaining yet sophisticated. You could say it's sexier than the Lido and Moulin Rouge, and more entertaining than the Crazy Horse. Afterwards, high on my half-bottle of Champagne (I'm a lightweight), I watched from my mezzanine booth as the house boys cleared away the tables and chairs and the cabaret slowly transformed into a huge nightclub. The tour groups of Seniors filed out, and the part crowd arrived. By 1am it was so packed that I didn't think I'd ever find my dinner escort (cell phones don't work very well in the underground space), but I had a good time dancing. The sound system is impressive.

Finally, at about 2am I ran into Fred, the King of Parisian Nightlife. This mild-mannered Frenchman, known only at his UrbanNights soirées as Lord Brett, has rarely been spotted on the Left Bank. "It's a bit far," he said of the Bobin'O. I, personally, would like him to have at least one party on my side of the Seine, so to convince him that the Rive Gauche wasn't completely gauche, I figured dinner at Le Lup would seal the deal. So we leave the heaving, thumping cabaret-club and head to St-Germain-des-Prés, just a few minutes' drive.

Le%20Lup.JPGCruising past the doorway of Le Lup at about 2am, it looks....empty. "It's closed," announces Fred. I convince him it's open until 5am and that I have even reserved, just in case. We park right next door (that there was a place to park on Rue du Dragon should have been a sign). There are about three people inside, plus about seven staff members. The band, supposedly on until 3am, have stopped, and there is some dance music that would do better back at Bobin'O.

Still, the decor *is* cool, and the food is perfectly acceptable, even for the non-tipsy person at the table (ie not moi, three glasses of Champagne and a whisky-Coke in the hole). "It will be closed in two months if it's like this on a Friday night," declares the noctambule. The nice waitress said it was busy until about 1am. But every other restaurant that's open after 1am in Paris would be packed right now.

So...here's my dilemma: deadline is this week for my text. Do I assume that Le Lup will close (or simply never do well but hobble along anyway) and leave it out? Or do I gamble that it will soon be the cool place to dine after 1am and add it to the guide? (it opened two months ago, BTW). Normally, I would go back a few more times to confirm, or "wait and see", but I have to make up my mind this week...

 Have any of you been there? C'mon folks, I give you all my dirt...time for you to give me yours. ;)


King Fred et moi testing out the gilded throne at Le Lup.