South Australian-based Jane Paech might reside half a world away from Paris these days, but she knows the City of Light more than most — having lived à la parisienne for six years, she has been a regular visitor to her spirit city ever since.
Her knowledge of and passion for Paris are beautifully, eloquently and visually documented in her two much-loved books, A Family in Paris: Stories of Food, Life and Adventure and Delicious Days in Paris: Walking Tours to Explore the City’s Food and Culture. Here, Jane talks more about her favourite Parisian traditions and treats …
Can you explain what it is about Paris you so love?
I believe what truly captivated me is the fact that so many elements of French life are elevated to an art form. Great thought goes into the simple line of a scarf, the display in a perfumery window and the flowers at the market, carefully stacked into pretty mosaic hedges.
Combined with this quest for perfection is a tangible immediacy that never failed to thrill and inspire me. I relished pushing open our apartment building door and instantly connecting with the rhythm of the city. Days became a series of snapshots of uplifting moments. Beauty and history beckoned around every corner.
How has your time living in Paris influenced your life?
When I lived in Paris I enjoyed walking miles every day … so much so that ever since I have incorporated incidental walking into my life as much as possible. Walking not only helps keeps me fit but allows me to take on the characteristics of une flâneuse and cherish every moment.
I’ve also kept up the ritual of going to produce and farmer’s markets, finding great joy and inspiration in fresh, seasonal food. I still drink Mariage Frères tea, enjoy a glass of French wine and buy French cheese when I can. I was introduced to peonies in Paris and they remain my all-time favourite flower.
What’s your favourite Parisian memory?
It’s not so much a specific memory as the collective memory of daily rituals. Standing in the queue at la boulangerie for a warm baguette, rushing down the steps to le métro as the siren blows, crunching through Parc Monceau with the girls on the way to school, and pushing open the door to a cosy café.
What’s your preferred time of the year to go?
I love Paris in late spring, early summer. April tends to bring showers but then the rain clears and the parks and gardens are full of flowers, trees blossom and the florist shops are overflowing with beautiful blooms. Locals revel in the sunshine and blue skies after a long winter, cafes fling open their doors, and terraces are jam-packed with diners enjoying a leisurely lunch or apéro. Asparagus and new season goat’s cheese are welcome treats at the market.
December is also an enchanting time to visit, when the city transforms into a magical winter wonderland and Christmas is just around the corner. Rug up, take an evening stroll through the streets and marvel at the Christmas trees that twinkle from apartment windows and foyers. Don’t miss the fantastical, animated displays in the department store windows on Boulevard Haussmann. Take a whirl on the ice-skating rink set up in front of l’Hôtel de Ville and sip on a warm mulled wine.
What’s your favourite place to stay?
A Paris Perfect apartment. I first met Madelyn, founder of Paris Perfect with her husband Philippe, when I was researching Delicious Days in Paris and fell in love with their hand-selected, luxury rentals. Many of their apartments are on light-filled upper floors with stunning views of the Eiffel Tower in the chic 7th arrondissement, one of the city’s most desirable residential pockets. Freed from the limitations of a hotel room, an apartment provides the opportunity to live like a true Parisian, falling in step with the rituals of daily French life. You can pretend, just for a while, that you are bolted up in your own little pied-à-terre in Paris … and live the dream.
You’re an expert on the delicious side of Paris, so let’s talk food a little more … Firstly, what’s your ultimate Parisian breakfast?
Café Marly in the Louvre Colonnade. Go early, sit on the terrace, marvel at the daring and wonder of I.M. Pei’s glass pyramids, and soak up the Louvre courtyard’s stunning, quiet beauty as the crowd slowly builds. Say bonjour to Richelieu for me, the café’s resident cat!
Alternatively: grab a warm and fragrant Rustic Apple Tartlet from the famous bakery Poilâne on rue du Cherche-Midi, or a flaky croissant from your local boulangerie. Just be sure to ask for un croissant beurre to ensure real butter and a superior taste.
Where’s your favourite place for lunch?
Le Square Trousseau (1, Rue Antoine Vollon, 75012). This authentic old-style bistro and perennial favourite is filled with locals and a warm atmosphere. Go for the classic French dishes and beautifully preserved Belle Époque dining room.
For afternoon tea …
For a luxury treat it’s hard to beat Hôtel George V (31, Avenue George V, 75008) for tea. Impossibly beautiful, this glorious hotel is renowned for its floral displays, which alone are worth a visit. A full French-style tea is served in a blissful Parisian setting.
And for apéro …
La Place Royale in Place des Vosges, where you can take a comfortable space on the terrace, sip an apéritif, and take in the most beautiful square in Paris … it’s all about atmosphere and the location, which is simply priceless.
What’s a favourite dinner spot?
If I wanted to splurge, I’d perch on a stool at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon – guests are seated at a surprisingly intimate bar surrounding the kitchen, where they savour amazing flavours while watching the theatre of the chefs at work. There are two in Paris, Saint-Germain and l’Étoile. Go to l’Étoile simply because you can book, which is comforting when on holiday. An added bonus is its location on the beautiful Avenue des Champs-Élysées, a lively spot for a pre-dinner champagne or a simple stroll before or after dinner.
I also love La Table d’Aki, an amazing 14 seat restaurant in the 7th. Aki is a Japanese chef who worked for 25 years at the three-star Michelin L’Ambroisie. He serves a six course, seafood only, no-choice menu, in a gorgeous little room with the small kitchen behind a low counter at the back. Combined with the delightful Christine on the floor you feel like you are eating in Aki’s dining room. The great thing about Aki is that if you’re not ‘in the know’, you would have to work super hard to find him, there’s not even a website. (49, Rue Vaneau, 75007. Ph: +33 (0)1 45 44 43 48.)
Do you have any other favourite foodie experiences you can share?
- I can’t go past Mariage Frères tea for their trademark black metal caddies. They are light and compact to pop in your luggage and every fragrant cup reminds me of Paris. I have quite a collection now.
- La Grande Epicerie de Paris in the basement of Le Bon Marché (24, Rue de Sèvres, 75007) – a one-stop gourmet heaven.
- A Paris by Mouth food tour
- Marché Président-Wilson, an open-air produce market in the 16ème (Avenue du Président Wilson, Saturday 7.00am-3.00pm; Wednesday 7.00am-2.30pm)
- Fromagerie Laurent Dubois (47 Ter, Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75005).
What are your other top shopping addresses?
- La Galcante (52, Rue de l’Arbre-Sec, 75001) for vintage magazines – they make unique souvenirs to frame.
- E. Dehillerin (18-20, Rue Coquillière, 75001) and Verrerie des Halles (15, Rue du Louvre, 75001) for French kitchen and cookware supplies.
- Du Pareil au Meme for gorgeous clothing for my granddaughter.
- Astier de Villatte (173, Rue Saint-Honoré, 75001) for their whimsical handmade ceramics.
- Annick Goutal (14, Rue de Castiglione, 75001) for artisanal fragrances.
What’s the best thing to do in Paris if you’re on a budget?
Walk, walk and walk. It’s the best way to see Paris and costs you nothing. Go in the summer when the weather’s fine, gather some goodies from a produce market and enjoy a picnic in a park or on the banks of La Seine. Shop for souvenirs at Monoprix. Take the 29 bus for an inexpensive sightseeing tour – hop on at Opéra Garnier and off again at Opéra Bastille, riding past the Centre Pompidou and through the heart of the Marais.
What’s your most loved museum?
Musée Jacquemart-André (158, Boulevard Haussmann, 75008). In this former private mansion you are swept back to La Belle Époque and the extraordinary life of Edouard André and Nélie Jacquemart, while a light is thrown on the glitzy lifestyle of the haute bourgeoisie. The residence is filled with French, Dutch and English masters and crammed with fabulous fifteenth-century sculptures. The tearoom is a delightful refuge, one of the most beautiful in Paris, slung with Belgian tapestries and crowned with a beguiling ceiling mural by Tiepolo.
If you only had one day in Paris, you’d …
A trip to Paris is more about revisiting old haunts and places that have personal meaning to me, as well as reacquainting myself with the overwhelming beauty and history of Paris. To soak up the full splendour of Paris I’d start at the Cour Carrée at the eastern end of the Louvre Palace (with its splashing fountain and fabulous panorama), and walk on through the Jardin des Tuileries to the Arc de Triomphe. Here, it seems all of Paris is before you – a thrilling vista of grand monuments and thoroughfares. A wander through the Luxembourg Gardens is a must and the crooked little streets of Saint-Germain, walking and stopping at a café terrace or two. I’d take Line 6 to Passy where our family lived, and meander up rue de Passy with it’s wonderful boutiques and memories, and pop into the market at rue de l’Annonciation.
The next time you’ll be in Paris, you plan to …
Get a private portrait shoot done with Carla Coulson, on location with a gorgeous Parisian backdrop.
What do you always pack for Paris?
A trench, flats, layers.
And finally, what’s your favourite book on, or set in, Paris?
Almost French by Sarah Turnbull had a big impact on me. I still think it’s one of the most authentic books on living in France/Paris … and in the genre of moving to a new country (minus the villa renovation!). It resonated with me because Paris is not always an easy place to live in and there are so many unspoken rules.