Many travellers speak of their “love affair” with Paris. This captivating city is certainly worthy of more than a one-night stand. She draws you in and keeps your curious; her beautiful intricacies beg to be explored time and time again.
As Victor Hugo once claimed, “He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic…nothing is more sublime.” Indeed, as an occasional visitor and ongoing fan of Paris, I’m adamant the City of Light offers enough unique experiences to entertain a resident for a lifetime, let alone a sporadic guest.
So, if you’ve already ticked France’s grand capital off your bucket list, I encourage you to chuck her back on. Trust me, you’re not done with Paris yet. Here are some of the coolest and quirkiest experiences I discovered during my second visit to this magical city.
Dine with “Aristo-Cats”
Once you’ve eaten your way through a feast of crusty baguettes, moreish macaroons, paper-thin crepes, soul-warming soups, luscious snails and Michelin-starred restaurants, it’s time to hunt out Paris’ quirkier dining experiences – and there are many on offer.
My pick of the pile is Le Café des Chats (The Restaurant With Cats), where felines are your “frenemies”. They roam free 24/7, enjoying pats a plenty and stealing tasty morsels from unsuspecting diners. While some of the furry beasties are bold enough to jump onto tables and laps, the stealthier cats prefer to weave in and out of chairs and explore the floor – my husband called them the “crumb lickers”. Either way, the cats of the cafe well-and-truly rule the roost.
Indeed, Le Café des Chats is first and foremost a pussy palace. Diners are merely witnesses to a world of miniature suspension bridges, mammoth scratch pads and cosy catnap nooks. The resident felines were all adopted from animal welfare groups, so it’s actually wonderful to see how well they’re being taken care of. Their second life is evidently one of pure purr-worthy luxury.
While the emphasis is on the cats’ pleasure and well-being, the customers’ are also looked after at Le Café des Chats. The menu delivers a reasonably priced array of hearty, French-inspired meals, all prepared using traditional methods and fresh, organic ingredients. Part of the profits made from the food service is donated to feline protection and the resident cats’ monthly pension for provisions.
Judging by the generous peppering of cat memorabilia and reading material, Le Café des Chats attracts a lot of crazy cat ladies. Having said that, Ben and I also noticed a lot of families and young couples (i.e. women who’d dragged along their partners) when we paid a visit.
If you can get past the potent aroma of cat wee (it hits you like a sour wave when you enter the restaurant), Le Café des Chats is an entertaining dining experience you won’t regret. Just keep your coffee cups covered and your plates on a pedestal to ensure your meal ends up in your belly.
Le Café des Chats
18 Rue Michel le Comte, 75003 Paris
Jump on the Crazy Horse and Say “Ooh la la!”
When I first came to Paris and had dreams of witnessing its infamous cabaret scene, “The Moulin Rouge” was the only name on my lips. Thanks to the wild success of Baz Luhrmann’s film about the legendary venue, it was definitely the “it” Parisian experience of the decade. But, to be honest, it turned out to be a little more “Rio Carnival” than expected and a lot less “flirty French kink”.
When I arrived in Paris for my second visit, I was determined to find a cabaret performance that was more like I’d imagined – sensual and alluring, provocative yet refined and, of course, unapologetically Parisian. My burlesque buddies in Brisbane had been raving about The Crazy Horse from the moment I met them. Perhaps it’s because their idol, Dita Von Teese, is the venue’s ad hoc star performer (along with a number of other world-renowned Burly Qs). Their stories of whimsical routines, wild costumes and classically trained dancers who’d mastered how to bump, grind, peel and reveal, were enough to pique my interest. So, I booked my ticket, took my seat in one of “Le Crazy’s” signature velvet chairs and watched the show – it didn’t disappoint.
From the moment the dancers’ svelte silhouette’s appeared behind boldly coloured screens like something out of a Bond film, I knew their routines were going to strike the right balance between cheeky showgirl and tantalising tease. Indeed, the eclectic line-up of performances went on to exalt female sensuality all of its captivating glory.
There were three performances that’ll forever remain tattooed to my brain. Their signature Crazy Horse act, which boldly canters into the wild world of fetish (think harnesses, latex horse tails, chains and blood red lips). The show’s opening act was just as entertaining, with is tongue-in-cheek British Guard theme and clever, barely-there costumes. But the most bewitching routine was an uber-sexy double act, which saw two women with sparkly beaded wigs and matching Christian Louboutin ballet boots dancing on the edge of every man’s (and woman’s?) fantasy.
It wasn’t hard to see why so many international celebrities had been lured in by this iconic venue. David Bowie, John F. Kennedy, Aflred Hitchcock, Kylie Minogue, Sting, Madonna, Rihanna, Jay-Z, Scarlet Johansson, Kevin Costner, Will Smith and beyond; they’ve all been razzle-dazzled – even inspired – by the whimsical world of Le Crazy. Beyonce’s music video for Partition practically mimics the show’s routines, move for sexy move!
I must say, my non-celebrity self was equally impressed by The Crazy Horse. An intimate sanctuary of old-world glamour offering avant-garde cabaret performances – it was exactly what I’d hoped for and more. Buying a seat was like buying a piece of the legend. And, I was happy to help the Crazy Dream live on.
Le Crazy Horse
Avenue George V, 75008 Paris
Explore Like A Man
It has often been said that cities have sexes and Paris is unquestionably a woman. Indeed, France’s capital is seen as a wonderland for female travellers and it’s hard to imagine a group of lads planning a weekend getaway in the City of Love and Light, or a hairy-chested backpacker raving about his budget-friendly affair with France’s glittery capital. But, as always, there’s more to Paris than meets the eye. If you look beyond the fashion, fine-dining and delicate finesse, you’ll discover a hearty menu of male-oriented or gender-neutral adventures to tickle every beard.
If outdoor activities are more your thing, I have a couple of ideas up my sleeve to help you plan your perfect Parisian itinerary. wakeboarding, water skiing and stand up paddling are all possible along the River Seine. If you’re able to venture out of Paris to the nearby town of Fontainebleau, you can try your hand at bouldering or rock climbing. Offering over 20,000 routes of varying difficulty, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Bouldering and climbing gear can be hired from S’cape or Sport Outdoor and there’s a nearby campsite if you want to enjoy a decent stint amongst nature.
For hair-raising activities of a different kind, swing by Paris’ underground catacombs and prepare to be completely creeped out…and a little intrigued. Home to a vast network of old caves, quarries and tunnels – many lined with the bones of Paris’ ancestors – the catacombs stretch for hundreds of miles. So much for the City of Light! Paris also has a dark side.
For blokes who are led by their stomach, I highly recommend a French Baguette or Fromage & Wine Class with La Cuisine. Ben and I opted for the later during our recent visit and managed to consume our weight in dairy. We also learnt how to order the ultimate cheeses from a fromagerie and pair them with perfect wines – Parisian style. If beer’s more your thing, a few hipster bars (e.g. La Supercoin) serve sexy artisan brews that’ll tickle your tastebuds and knock your socks off.
Venture Beyond the High Street
There’s no ifs or buts about it, Paris is a shopaholic’s Mecca – especially when it comes to fashion. While it’s tempting for tourists to stick to the centrally located high streets and luxury flagship stores, the locals know the city’s best shopping precincts live amongst its fringes.
Perhaps, the most acclaimed flea market in Paris is Les Puces de St Ouen. Don’t let its “flea market” badge fool you. This mammoth maze of boutiques and pop-up stalls boasts an endless supply of exclusive antiques, handcrafted masterpieces and luxury vintage stores. You just have to battle the crowds, persevere and slowly hunt them out. Covering seven hectares and attracting up to 180,000 visitors each weekend, Les Puces is one of the biggest antique markets in the world. It can get a big hectic!
The history of the market dates back over two centuries, when rag and bone men scoured through the garbage under the cover of darkness in search of valuable junk. These treasure hunters were often dubbed “pêcheurs de lune”, or, “fisherman for the moon” – how wonderfully Parisian. They set up temporary stalls in the city’s grittier neighbourhood and hawked their wares. The number of stalls grew over time and the area was eventually cleaned up by the government. Now, St Ouen is a hugely popular local haunt that offers an exciting mix of grit, creativity and refinement.
Les Puces has become particularly popular amongst Parisian collectors, antique dealers and vintage fashion lovers. While wandering along Rue des Rosiers, I stumbled across a fabulous boutique called Dany V. A big, white fluffy jacket in the store’s front window lured me in from the pavement, but it was the bold Hermes collection, eccentric owner and burlesque-style bling that kept me around.
Les Puces is also home to dozens of inspired artists and craftspeople, who sell the most incredible bespoke creations. Judging by the price tags on their work, their primary customer base is the local elite and their interior designers – the kind of people who only want eye-catching, one-off pieces in their homes. But, artists are artists, and I find they appreciate the adoration of any fan, including frugal travellers like Ben and me.
We fell in love a studio called North Sentinel Island Design, which was jam-packed with original, handcrafted furniture and surreal décor. Seeing our eyes light up at the sight of a teak globe with volcanic sand details, the artist (Bruno) popped over to explain his techniques, passion and inspiration. After hearing about our travels, he handed us the globe and refused to take any money for it. Parisians get a bad wrap for being standoffish towards tourists, but I find they’re incredibly friendly and generous towards those who actively learn about and immerse themselves in the local culture.
Les Puces des St Ouen (Flea Market)
138/140 Rue des Rosiers 93400 Saint-Ouen, Paris
Discover Your Dream Hotel Room
The decision that’ll have the biggest impact on your overall experience of Paris, is your choice of accommodation. In this hectic mega-city, a hotel that boasts a prime location, embodies the true essence of Paris and offers every little luxury you could possibly desire is invaluable.
The first time I visited Paris, my mum and I planned to stay in a privately owned apartment – one we’d discovered online. After an hour of wandering the chaotic streets in the pouring rain – hefty luggage in tow – we finally found our not-so-perfect Parisian “home”. Unfortunately, it looked nothing like e-brochure.
This time around, I was incredibly lucky to stumble across MyRoomIn, a booking site, which helps travellers find their ultimate hotel room – the stuff of dreams. This user-friendly portal prides itself on uncovering Paris’ most extraordinary rooms, and sharing every possible detail with potential guests, including realistic photos. No need to fear disappointment; what you see online is exactly what you’ll get upon arrival.
The website also gives travellers the keys to the city’s soul, offering tailored insights and insider tips about “the real Paris”. Bohemian Paris, Historical Paris, Glamorous Paris and beyond, site users can uncover hotel rooms and unique cultural experiences based on their personal interests.
Thanks to MyRoomIn, I found a glorious hideaway on the inner fringes of Paris’ beating heart. Sitting proudly at the top of Hotel Astor is the property’s crown jewel – a rooftop suite fit for a Queen. After opening the entry door, I climbed up a steep staircase and suddenly found myself in an ultra-lavish loft. It took my breath away.
During my stay, I felt like a princess living in her plush Parisian turret. If it weren’t for the room’s tantalising city views, I probably would’ve hibernated in heaven all day long. I was wrapped in a blanket of classical French elegance, Champagne, petite sweets and an ocean of bed on hand. What more could a girl want? Oh, wait. I forgot to mention the boudoir looked straight onto the Eiffel Tower. As I fell asleep watching her shimmer into the night, I couldn’t help but feel like the luckiest girl on earth.
Hotel Astor Rooftop Suite
11 Rue d’Astorg, 75008 Paris
So there you have it! Five ways to “do Paris differently”. Hopefully, this blog has convinced you to put France’s capital on your repeat visit list, as she is so much more than a world of romantic rooftops, perfect love songs and precious twilights. Paris’ clandestine corners are just as thrilling as her world-famous sites. So, immerse yourself in the grit, explore the underground and discover where this city truly shines.
'Happiness Hunter' Sophee Southall is the writer, photographer and social media addict behind the travel blog Sophee Smiles - 'Explore. Experiment. Find your Happy Place.'
Website / sopheesmiles.com
Facebook / Sophee Smiles
Instagram / @SopheeSmiles
Twitter / @SopheeSmiles