Why be just another tourist in a hotel when you could rent a Montmartre loft flat or Left Bank penthouse and experience Paris like a native? Here's how to live la vie parisienne - at least briefly...
You need at least a spare £300k to buy in the fabulous city of lovers - but anybody can rent and live the dream, if only for a few days. The feeling of being an authentic inhabitant makes the brilliant Paris experience even more special. Staying in a hotel is fine, but there you are just another foreigner, breakfasting together, taking tours together and drinking in the hotel bar together. As a Parisian resident, though, you lose that tourist feeling and really connect with the fabulous capital of romance and style. It’s as if you actually belong instead of being a mere bystander looking in.
Once you have got the keys to your abode and hidden away your suitcases, it is time to stock up with local food and drink. For that truly authentic Gallic experience, head for one of the many colourful markets to buy freshly baked bread, aromatic Toulouse sausages, langoustines and shrimps landed that same morning, and tarte tatin to die for. Beefsteak tomatoes the size of small melons, herbes de Provence so fresh they are still wet from the dew, succulent, sweet-smelling strawberries... you get the picture by now! Finish at the supermarché for your Burgundies and Chardonnays, mustard with peppers, sweet chilli olive oil and honey-infused vinegar, and you are all set.
Exploring the city
Once you have filled your cupboards, it is time for a café crème and then off for a stroll by the Seine, or a trip on a water taxi operated by Batobus, stopping off at the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc (a 24-hour ticket costs €12), or perhaps a visit to an art gallery. The locals avoid the Louvre like the plague – that is left to the hordes of tourists. They prefer the Monet Gallery in La Muette, the Rodin collection in rue de Varenne or, my personal favourite, the Musée d’Orsay on the Left Bank. This used to be the Paris to Orleans railway station and still retains many of its old features, including the grand station clock. It is now home to such iconic paintings as Monet’s 'Poppies' and Van Gogh’s 'Self Portrait', as well as masterpieces by Cézanne, Gauguin, Manet, Degas, Renoir and many more.
Even locals go up the Eiffel Tower at least once and Notre-Dame has regular church services you can attend (if you can, check out midnight mass on Christmas Eve for an unforgettable experience). But for a real local feel, head to the très chic areas of the city, which tend to be frequented mainly by Parisians; here, tourists are slightly less obtrusive and therefore easier to ignore. Try morning coffee in Montmartre, lunch in St Germain des Près or a picnic in the Jardin du Luxembourg, afternoon shopping in the Marais (open for business on Sundays, too), evening drinks in the Quartier Latin, and dinner in Île St-Louis.
The latter is much less touristy than its big brother next door, the Île de la Cité, but has some great shops selling trendy clothing, jewellery, art and gifts. It is also home to some atmospheric restaurants, including my favourite, Aux Anysetiers du Roy (61 rue Saint-Louis en l'Ile; +33 1 56 24 84 58), with its dimly lit cellar setting, gothic décor and simple but tasty fare. They do six starters, six mains and six desserts, all chalked up on boards – the very reasonably priced food is all classically French and is prepared right in front of you.
After dinner, walk over the Pont Neuf to Châtelet and take in some jazz in the clubs on rue des Lombards or walk alongside the romantically lit Seine. If cabaret is your thing, give the over-hyped and over-priced Moulin Rouge a miss in favour of the far more intimate and just as genuinely Parisian Crazy Horse on avenue George V (www.lecrazyhorseparis.com).
Sunday is a local’s favourite day in Paris, and relaxation is the name of the game. Take a leisurely ramble along the leafy, café-rich length of the Canal St Martin, rub shoulders with the natives at the flea market in Porte de Clignancourt, or take the metro to Bastille, Blanche or Place d’Italie and have a long brunch in one of the nearby bistros.
Finding an apartment
Bridge Street Apartments has several properties scattered about Paris (Montparnasse, Champs Elysées, Marais, St Germain and Opéra), available for around €100 per day for a studio, €150 per day for a single and €200 for a double. Each bright apartment is centrally located and tastefully decorated in Parisian style, with parquet floors, colourful rugs, classy artwork and subtle lighting.
The ones I have stayed in, just off the Champs Elysées, have been on the fourth floor, with huge windows and high ceilings giving a feeling of abundant space and airiness. Each came with a fully equipped kitchen, DVD player, washing and ironing facilities, etc – a real home from home.
Any downsides to an apartment, compared to a hotel? Not really. You need to pre-arrange with the owners to leave your bags somewhere on departure day, if you are leaving late, and you won’t get your towels changed for the duration of your stay, nor will you have instant tourist information downstairs. But these are all minor considerations compared to the great advantages of ‘owning’ and living in a little piece of Paris for a few days - c'est magnifique!