What Fairy Tales Are Made Of
Paris’s beauty behind closed doors rivals that of its dazzling lights.
While the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay tend to receive the most airtime, some of the more obscure reveal Paris’ lesser-known side.
From the chic boutiques of St Germain to the champagne glow of the Seine in the afternoon, Paris is easy on the eyes. With the world’s finest museums at its doorstep, deciding whether to discover its story that way or to explore splendid sights on foot may require mulling over.
Selecting more intimate museums allows you to do a little of both. While the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay tend to receive the most airtime, some of the more obscure reveal Paris’ lesser-known side. In a metropolis that prides itself in a carefully preserved past, intriguing tales are hidden in the most unexpected places.
You don’t even need to leave your accommodation to experience Paris. Shangri-La Hotel, Paris allows you to stay in what is essentially a museum, 114 years after French Prince Roland Bonaparte first opened the doors of his former residence to Parisian society. Napoleon III’s grandnephew, a member of the country’s most notable aristocratic families, is known for his eclectic blend of 17th- and 19th-century architectural styles. Situated in the elegant avenue d’Lena, many of the 101 rooms, including 36 suites, provide an enviable view of the glorious Eiffel Tower. Adding to the hotel’s rich history is signature French restaurant L’Abeille and Chinese restaurant Shang Palace, both of which have been awarded Michelin stars.
Restored under the watchful eye of the Monument Historiques, the hotel was renovated by a team comprising artisans accredited for their ancestral savoir faire to ensure that marble floors were salvaged and stained glass windows restored with the utmost care. Prince Roland’s stables have been transformed into a serene swimming pool and fitness area, while the opulent grand salon where Princess Marie and Prince Georges of Greece and Denmark’s engagement photos were taken, maintain absolute integrity, making it easy to imagine their lavish lifestyle.
Within Easy Reach
The area is so rich with history that even those with only a few hours have plenty to see. French novelist Balzac’s house is a short walk away in the hills of Passy and the last of his 11 homes still standing. He took refuge here in 1840 and penned some of his most famous works, including La Rabouilleuse, Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes, La Cousine Bette, Le Cousin Pons and Une Tenebreuse Affaire.
Also nearby, a five-minute stroll through a charming produce and flower market, is the Galliera Museum housed in a magnificent Renaissance-style palace. Fashion buffs can take a trend-led journey down memory lane with themed exhibits showcasing more than 1,000 pieces of clothing and accessories providing a peek at Parisian styles from the 18th century onwards, from haute couture to slick street styles. The latest exhibit, held from 7 November 2015 to 20 March 2016, highlights the wardrobe of Elizabeth, Countess Greffulhe, who inspired the fashion designers of her time.
If you have a little more time, continue to uncover Paris’ past at Musée Carnavalet, a whimsical gem featuring a smorgasbord of paintings, sculptures, furniture, art and important documents from the French Revolution, housed in rooms recreated in the style of 14th- and 15th-century residences. Trace the Gallo-Roman era through to today, including the fascinating prehistoric canoes used by Parisii tribes, and Marcel Proust’s cork-lined bedroom from his Haussmann apartment.
Only slightly further afield is another of our favourites - Musée Jacquemart-André, an opulent Second Empire mansion where each room, stairway and private apartment is adorned with gorgeous art. Its intimate setting makes it unique and more approachable than some of the more well-known museums, so you can take your time admiring the rare works and furniture of 19th-century collector Edouard André and his wife, renowned portrait artist Nélie Jacquemart. Located in the buzzing Marais district, watch Paris come alive as the sun sets in this edgy hub overflowing with hip eateries, effortlessly cool boutiques, chic hotels and art galleries – everything we love about the City of Lights.
- On a sunny day, forego the museums altogether by strolling along the Seine past Jardin du Luxembourg to St Germain. Stop for lunch at Café de Flore and order a Mille-Feuille as you watch the world go by.
- Avoid eating near major attractions which cater to tourists. Life’s too short for comme ci comme ca meals.
- Remember to greet shop owners with “Bonjour madame” or “Bonjour monsieur” to get the best service. Bidding them “Au revoir” when leaving is also a common courtesy.