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

Through February 27
The 100% Packaging-Free Organic Pop-Up store by BioCoop, originally just slated to run through COP21, has been such a success that it's not extended through the end of February.  There are over 250 itiems available in bulk, including produce, fresh bread, dairy (butter, yogurt and cheese), fresh ground coffee, nut butters, and other items, 20% from local sources. If you don't bring your own reusable glass jars and other containers you can buy them at the shop. At 14 rue du Châteu d'Eau, 10th, open 10am-8pm Mon-Sat. 

December 1 - January 31
Skate on the Eiffel Tower! This year the ice skating rink on the first level of the Eiffel Tower is back, free for those who already have a ticket for the Tower, open daily 10:30am-10:30pm. Skip the line by taking the stairs, it will help you warm up, too! Skates size 25-47 (EU), sleds and scooters for kids, gloves are required. This year's theme is COP21, so expect to see an eco-friendly decor.

Through February 28
Bartabas' Zingaro shows combine equestrian theatre, dance, world music, poetry and many other disciplines. After having pounded the ground of his Théâtre Equestre Zingaro for more than a quarter of a century, Bartabas is now tackling the skies with his new show "They shoot angels, don't they? (elegies)". Get your tickets €42-50 at FNAC

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

Entries in Expats and Locals (46)


Recommended Podcasts for Francophiles 

I love listening to podcasts when I'm running around Paris, making dinner, or looking for an a local alternative to NPR. I like the ones that are engaging enough to entertain, but informative enough to make me feel like I’ve learned something.

My absolute favorite local podcast of the moment is the Join Us in France Travel Podcast, a weekly podcast about France hosted by Annie, a French-born woman who lived in the US for 18 years, and Elyse, an American-born historian and tour guide living in France for over 20 years. Topics include everything from little-known towns and famous French characters to dining etiquette and truly useful travel tips. The production quality is superb, but most impressive is the wealth of knowledge these ladies share and the fascinating people they’ve interviewed in their 98 episodes.

For more specialized topics, there are three more recent podcasts on the scene:

Paris Paysanne, by the author of My Paris Market Cookbook Emily Dilling, covers French terroir and the Paris food market scene, including topics like craft brewing, seasonal recipes, how to shop the food markets, and interviews with local wine makers, restaurant owners and coffee roasters. She has just moved to the Loire Valley, so you can also read her blog articles on her new life in the French countryside, chickens and all!


I actually met Emily through Forest Collins of 52Martinis.com, who has just posted the second episode of her new podcast, Paris Cocktail Talk, which covers the latest Paris cocktail bar reviews and interviews with all the movers and shakers in that scene such as such as Josh Fontaine, the co-owner of Candelaria, Glass, Le Mary Celeste, and Hero. She's also the founder of the fabulous private cocktail events club, The Chamber


Finally, if you’re looking for a dose of literary Paris from your armchair, look no further than Spoken Word Sounds, a new podcast of recordings from the popular Spoken Word open mic nights at the Chat Noir featuring local poets, singers, storytellers, and comedians. All podcasts are free, but donations are appreciated. 


An Explanation of the French Regional Elections

Today is the first of the two rounds of French regional elections. For those of you unfamiliar with the unique way French regional elections work, and what this election represents, here is a quick rundown:

  • There are 13 regions in France comprising 101 departments. Paris is the department within the Ile-de-France region.
  • Each region has a body of elected councilors, the number depending on population of the region, elected approximately every five years.
  • Regional councils are responsible for local affairs, including economic development, transportation, public education, sustainable development and planning, urban zoning and land management, and support of small and medium-sized businesses. They also share responsibility for tourism, culture and sports with internal departments that make up each region.
  • There are 1757 seats to fill.
  • Generally people vote by party, but the different political parties in France can also form coalitions to present their candidates in one “list” (ie, Socialists can merge with Green Party).
  • There are 177 electoral lists/parties, with a total of 21,456 candidates total in France. The Ile-de-France region has about a dozen lists/parties for voters to choose from.
  • There are two rounds of voting, December 6th and December 13th.
  • If one list/party receives more than 50% of the vote in either round then they automatically get 25% of the available seats, with the rest of the seats distributed proportionately to any list/party receiving at least 5% of the vote. 
  • This means that even if one party wins 90% of the votes, they still only control 25% of the seats, with the remaining 75% being controlled by other parties of less than 25% each).
  • If no list/party reaches 50%, any of them having won 10% will be included in a second round of voting, and seats are allocated in the same way as the first round.
  • Lists/parties that won at least 5-10% of the votes in the first round can merge and form a new list/party in the second round (creating a different choice for voters).

While regional councils have no national powers, the elections are gaining a lot of press because of three reasons:

  1. It’s the first election since France’s 22 regions merged into just 13 regions in 2014
  2. It’s the first election since the shootings in France, and the press predicts this will favor the anti-immigrant, right-wing Front National party.
  3. Political pundits like to imagine these elections will have some effect on the presidential and senate elections in 2017.

How Voting Works in France

  • Any French citizen can register at their local town hall (or through a proxy) for a Carte Electoral which lists the voting station in your neighborhood.
  • About two weeks before elections, voters get a voting packet from the Ministry of the Interior in the mail (where each party gets two equal-sized pages with their campaign promises and list of candidates). I have never received any other mailings for elections (I suspect it’s regulated, but I haven’t looked that up). I have seen some people handing out flyers at my local market.
  • Each voting station (in town halls, schools, other municipal buildings) has metal billboards set up a few weeks before the elections where each party gets one panel for posters (for equal “face time”).
  • France, like most European Union countries, do not allow political ads on any broadcast medium (TV, radio, newspapers), in order to level the playing field, although the major parties tend to get all of the press attention.
  • Elections are always on Sundays, when most (but not all) French do not work. The hours are 8am-6pm, but some regions can move this to 7pm or 8pm in large cities like Paris. All voting is done at 8pm (France is all in one time zone except for the overseas territories and departments like Martinique and French Guyana).
  • Voters show up at their voting station with a Carte Electoral and photo ID (France issues free national identity cards to all citizens).
  • Everything is done manually, not with computers or electronic devices. Each voter takes an empty envelope and one ballot for each party/list into a little booth, placing the chosen ballot into the envelope and discarding the rest into the recycle bin. There are at least two voting witnesses who check voter ID against the registered list, watch as you drop your envelope into the clear box (or urne, as they call it), then you sign next to your name on the list and they stamp your card.

Personally, the whole thing usually takes me five minutes. This is my seventh election and I’ve never seen a line (sometimes there’s one or two people in front of me), nor heard of problems with lines or any kind of waiting in France. All Parisians are within a short walk to their voter station. This is probably not the case in the countryside, but, again, I’ve never heard that access to a voting station is an issue in France, so they seem to have it under control. 

More articles on France's regional elections in English:



Peloton Café and Bike About Tours

Last week, when the temperatures in Paris briefly took a dive below 50°F, I finally got a chance to pop into the newly-opened Le Peloton, a café run by Christian Osburn and Paul Barron, founders of the city's popular Bike About Tours.  

I had just finished a walking tour of the Marais and needed to thaw out, so I thought I'd just try a cup of their locally roasted Belleville coffee, but when I sat down at the large counter, the first thing that caught my eye was the apple tart. "Freshly baked!" said Christian. It's okay to eat dessert before lunch if it's home-made, right? I also had a bottle of their Luscombe hot ginger beer (as in spicy, not warm), another weakness of mine. The cold removes all of my resistance, I'll admit it! 

Le Peloton is located in the Marais district on a quiet street between Rue de Rivoli and the Seine, just behind Hôtel de Ville. Most of the seats are around the bar, so as people came in and sat down for a coffee, it was easy to chat. It's not the kind of coffee house where people hide in a corner with their laptop. While Christian performed barista duties, Paul welcomed a group of cyclists who finished up their Bike About Tour at the café. These expats (from the US and New Zealand) started Bike About Tours ten years ago, so we often cross paths on our respective tour routes around Paris. 

I'm always impressed when anyone can start a small business in Paris and make it work, but their tours also happen to be really good! (and I sincerely hope you'd trust me before you'd trust TripAdvisor, but they are #1 there, too) So many other bike tour companies hire guides who either barely speak comprehensible English or are so new to Paris they have no knowledge of the city beyond the Wikipedia text they've memorized (yes, I've been spying; I'm the one pretending to to be checking my phone when a bike tour stops for "commentary"). 

Much like Secrets of Paris, this grassroots tour company gives a real insider's look at the city (and Versailles and Champagne, too), keep their groups small, and avoid the typical generic Paris tour circuits followed by most bike tours. They also support the international charity, World Bicycle Relief, which I think is awesome. And now they're keeping Parisians well-caffeinated! For the moment the only snacking options are baked goods made fresh locally (pies and cookies), but they hinted they might look into waffles. Who doesn't like waffles?

Le Peloton Café
17 rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 4th
M° Pont Marie or Hôtel de Ville
They're currently open Tuesday-Sunday 9am-5pm, but since they're less than a month old they may adjust that as needed, so check the Facebook page

Cycling and coffee fans can also read the excellent article in Sprudge, In Paris, Exploring Coffee by Bicycle


Eradicating Bed Bugs in Paris

Last week a friend of mine in Paris emailed in a panic: her neighbor told her he had bedbugs, and she already found a few suspicious bites on her arms. I told her not to freak out until she was 100% sure they were bedbug bites. But I was already freaking out for her.

Last fall I got bed bugs, aka punaises de lit.

Click to read more ...


Recommended Books: US(a.) and Paris Pas Cher

There are countless books written by Paris expats since Hemingway and the Lost Generation mastered the genre. But there are few that really offer an original look at how being an American affects our experience overseas. But after four years of experiencing “American privilege” while living in Paris, acclaimed slam poet and rapper Saul Williams casts a new, critical eye on both France and his home country: US(a.) Published by Simon & Schuster, the book examines what attracts many African-American expats to Paris (including, most recently, Ta-Nehisi Coates), without candy-coating any of the very real issue of racism in France. Read this excellent review from the Washington Post.

On a totally different planet, if you live in Paris I highly recommend picking up the latest edition of Paris (Vraiment) Pas Cher 2016. This book has been published by the same family since 1974. It’s not sexy or cute or trendy. It doesn’t think a €150 designer tee shirt is a “steal”. It’s simply a practical guide for finding the best deals on restaurants, hotels, clothing, beauty, entertainment, food shopping, electronics and high-tech, as well as everything for kids, the home and everyday living in Paris. Where to find parts to fix your dishwasher, the cheapest way to cater a large party, free classes at the local community center, where to rent furniture, how to get half-price theatre tickets, free legal advice, outlet shops and private sales, and much, much more. You even get a discount card to use in many of the places in the guide. Think of it as your secret weapon, or your System D manual for surviving Paris on a budget in style. There is also a blog with extra info.


Free Mobile Offers 35 Days of Roaming in US 

Cell phone service in France keeps getting cheaper. This month the low-cost operator Free has become the first to offer commitment-free mobile phone packages under €20/month that include the new Pass Destination: 35 days of free roaming per calendar year when traveling to the US and Canada (it already covers the EU and 100 other countries in red on the map). That means you get the same service you’d have as if you were inside France (unlimited calls, texts and up to 3GB of data). 

The service is €19.99/month for the mobile phone service, or €15.99/month if you’re also a Freebox internet/landline/cable client. Once you go over 35 days the usual international roaming fees apply. According to most tech news sources, roaming fees will probably be a thing of the past in less than two years, so Free is just an early adopter of what will most likely be followed by the other operators. Read details here in English.

This news came just in time for me! I’m planning on a 36-day trip to the US this fall, so I’ll be switching operators this week . I’m currently with SFR Red, which is another commitment-free option, but with expensive roaming fees in the US.