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How to experience the best of Paris at home

Whether it’s listening to suburban hip-hop or baking bread under the tutelage of a master baker, there’s a raft of ways to enjoy the French capital without crossing the Channel.

Published 20 Mar 2021, 08:04 GMT
Paris has, like much of the world, been largely out of reach for the past year. ...

Paris has, like much of the world, been largely out of reach for the past year. Here are some of the ways to bring the city to you.

Photograph by Getty Images

Cafes bristling with history and bars thrumming with music; museums revered the world over and grand churches to match anything in Rome; the tempting scent of a boulangerieand the timeless elegance of Haussmann’s boulevards. Few cities on earth capture the imagination quite like the French capital.

Paris has, like much of the world, been largely out of reach for the past year. But plenty of Parisians and Francophiles have been working away to bring the best of the city to you. Keep memories of walks through the Parc Monceau, afternoons in the Musée d’Orsay and leisurely lunches by the Canal St-Martin fresh in your mind as we share seven ways to experience the City of Light chez vous.

London-based La Fromagerie can deliver a fondue’s worth of French fromage, as well as wine and charcuterie, to your door.

Photograph by Getty Images

Enjoy a taste of Paris in your kitchen
 

You might not be able to achieve Paris’s famously no-nonsense service in your dining room, but you can still enjoy a taste of the French capital at home. Deli Français delivers Gallic goodies, from duck rillettes to lobster bisque, across the country, while London-based La Fromagerie can deliver a fondue’s worth of French fromage, as well as wine and charcuterie, to your door.

But if you’re after some restaurant fare, Côte at Home brings its menu of brasserie classics to you, with dishes including beef bourguignon and chocolate fondant. There are set menus and vegan options, too, as well as a pantry to stock up on such luxurious kitchen additions as apricot vinegar and fleur de sel.

The sweet-toothed will be longing for the dainty delights of Parisian patisseries, but master pâtissier Pierre Hermé has a range of luxury treats available for home delivery. His signature macarons are a classic choice (don’t miss the new caramelised pistachio flavour), or splurge on one of the beautiful gâteaux for a decadent finish to any lockdown supper.

Real-life gatherings might still be off the cards for now, but the cheese geeks at Questions Pour Une Fine Bouche are bringing people together through the medium of cheese. The team hosts virtual cheese workshops for groups of 10 or more, offering the chance to learn more about this cornerstone of French gastronomy through team games, quizzes and tasting notes, all with a hearty cheeseboard sent ahead of the soiree.

If it’s the city’s boulangeries you’re missing, why not try online French cooking and baking classes?

Photograph by Getty Images

Get your hands dirty
 

Paris is well-known for its longstanding love affair with all things artisanal and, with extra time on your hands, why not forge your own edible French creations? If it’s the city’s boulangeries you’re missing, then Apollonia Poilâne — baker and CEO of the lauded chain of bakeries in Paris and London — offers a masterclass in baking bread, covering everything from how to make brioche to decorating loaves.

Cook’n With Class has brought its Paris-based cooking lessons to the web, offering budding chefs the chance to hone their culinary skills. Guided classes cover all the basics of French cookery, including bread, desserts and the essential ‘mother’ sauces. There’s also the chance to book two to three-hour private cooking lessons for groups of up to six or seven.

Read more: Lockdown lessons: cooking tutorials with global chefs

Listen while you work
 

Grab a café au lait, stick on a classic Parisian cafe playlist and you’ll likely hear the upbeat, gentle swing music of Charles Trenet or tenor tones of crooner Charles Aznavour. The latter was mentored by none other than ‘La Môme’ Édith Piaf, whose plaintive warbles might still be the most recognisable voice in French music. Her famous ditties, particularly La Foule and L’Accordéoniste, will waltz you away to the smoke-filled Montmartre cafes of yore.

There’s a slightly more modern take on the instrument from Claudio Capéo, who pairs accordion music with a poppy chanson française vibe. Françoise Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg remain some of the most iconic French voices of the 1960s and 1970s, though for a contemporary sound of 21st-century Paris check out French hip-hop, whose tracks deal with themes such as class and ethnicity and have their roots in the multicultural Parisian suburbs known as banlieues.

Walks along the Seine may be out of reach but the cultural riches of Paris's best museums are now just a click away. 

Photograph by Paris

Get cultural on the computer
 

We’ll have to wait to drift between Paris’s hallowed museums again, but the city’s been busy making its unparalleled cultural offering accessible online. A dozen exhibitions from the Universal Museum of Art, such as a bold showcase of street art on New York’s subway and the myriad artistic depictions of Notre-Dame cathedral, are just a click away. The museum is also championing other institutions around the world by hosting a pick of international shows, including ones from galleries in Dresden and Lima.

There are more paintings to admire from the Musée de l’Orangerie including the museum’s star exhibits, Monet’s Water Lilies murals, as well as pieces from other masters including Cézanne, Renoir, Rousseau and Picasso.

In lieu of a guided tour in person, the Opéra Garnier can be explored through Google Arts & Culture. Enjoy panoramas of its gilded interiors, and sneak peaks behind the stage curtains in what might be the city’s most extravagant display of stucco and velvet. Similarly resplendent interiors abound inside the Sacré-Cœur, which can also be enjoyed through a virtual tour of its interior and famous, white onion-domed exterior.

There’s a host of ornate artefacts on show, including jewellery, delicate boiserie and resplendent upholstery courtesy of the Musée des Arts Decoratifs360-degree virtual tours, while the Fondation Louis Vuitton has launched an app for would-be visitors to explore Frank Gehry’s futuristic building and uncover the foundation’s rich collections through guided tours on mobile or tablet.

If you’re looking for a more personalised experience, certified tour guide Elisa Jéhanno offers hour-long private guided tours in English, covering a range of themes including Paris as seen from the rooftops and highlights of a day at Versailles. For more virtual tour ideas, head to Paris Info for some of the highlights.

A Parisian bouquiniste (bookseller) reads outside his stall, which sells used and antiquarian books, on the banks of the Seine.

Photograph by Getty Images

Read your way around the city
 

The backdrop to a whole library of stories, Paris is the perfect muse. There have been few authors more inspired by the city than Victor Hugo, who penned The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Les Misérables in the 19th century, both of which offer dramatic portrayals of French society.

The works of Henry Miller, meanwhile, look at the city through an early 20th-century lens; the American writer spent a decade in Paris in the 1930s, and based a number of books here. The most famous of all is the controversial Tropic of Cancer, whose frank depictions of sexuality resulted in the first edition being banned in his homeland.

One of literature’s best-known roving writers, Ernest Hemingway, wrote candidly about his experiences as an expat in Paris in the 1920s in A Moveable Feast, a collection of memoirs that weren’t published until after his death in 1961.

Recent works include Muriel Barbery’s curiously titled The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a witty tale focusing on two women in a grand apartment building, while The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George recounts the heart-warming tale of Monsieur Perdu and his ‘literary apothecary’ on a barge on the Seine.

The city’s watery heart is the source of inspiration for Elaine Sciolino’s 2019 work The Seine: The River that Made Paris. Following the course of the river, the book sheds light on the ways this mighty waterway has moulded the French capital and the secrets its holds in its depths and along its banks.

One for the coffee table, Jean-Claude Gautrand’s Paris: Portrait of a City is a stunning tome that chronicles the French capital’s chequered past through a spectrum of imagery, from the very first black-and-white photos in the 1800s to technicolour shots of a thoroughly modern metropolis.

Read more: Eight of the world’s best historic bookshops, from Portland to Paris

Notre-Dame, on Paris's Île de la Cité, suffered a fire in 2019 that collapsed its iconic central spire. The cathedral inspired French author Victor Hugo to pen his gothic tale The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in 1831.

Photograph by Getty Images

City of lights, camera, action


Amélie was a surprise hit when it was released in 2001; the pairing of a kooky waitress played by Audrey Tautou and the timeless backdrop of Montmartre proved a winning combination for director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With its whimsical, uplifting narrative and a memorable score by composer Yann Tiersen, it’s one of the must-watch French movies of the century. Tautou also makes a star turn in Coco Avant Chanel, which recounts the early life of the fashion designer before she firmly placed Paris on the pedestal of 20th-century fashion.

Ratatouille — Pixar’s animated tale of a rat who longs to be a chef in the kitchens of Paris — is a firm family favourite, while Hugo revolves around a boy who lives in Montparnasse station who becomes entangled in a mystery regarding an automaton invented by his late father. The film follows Hugo as he both tries to solve the mystery and find somewhere he can finally call home.

Similarly enchanting is Woody Allen’s whimsical flick Midnight in Paris, which sees Owen Wilson’s screenwriter travel back in time, losing himself in the gilded glamour and luminary characters of old Paris.

But if it’s a more contemporary take of the city you’re after, look no further than the black-and-white La Haine, as lauded now for its gritty take on life in the banlieues as it was in 1996, or 120 Battements par Minute, in which a young man joins the Aids campaign trail in the early 1990s.

Travel through podcasts
 

Until you can hop on the Eurostar again, discover Paris through the eyes of the people who know it best. Presented by Paris-based, British-American-Irish expat Mariamne Everett, Hidden Paris reveals exactly that: the sights and scenes well off the tourist track, including how to explore the Louvre with children, and the contributions of people of African descent to the culture of the French capital.

The New Paris is a podcast from Lindsey Tramuta’s Lost in Cheeseland blog, and shines a light on the people and ideas that are reshaping a city — and country — that clings fiercely to tradition. From the future of bars and restaurants to Paris’s green credentials, it offers a host of intriguing new perspectives on a timeless destination.

Winner of the Best Podcast in Paris in 2018, The Earful Tower (voted for by readers of Expatriates Magazine), is an elucidating romp through the city and all its quirks and qualms, with episodes covering a range of topics including history, food and culture, all in the company of Australian journalist and blogger Oliver Gee.

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