I know, everyone loves Paris in the spring. But if you ask me, fall is the best time to see the city -- the busloads of tourists are gone, and most Parisians are back at work (strikes notwithstanding), leaving the city a much easier, more manageable place to get around in.
After a slumbering few months -- nothing gets done between June and August -- the city is wide-awake. Museums kick off new shows (check out the Monet retrospective at the Grand Palais, www.grandpalais.fr), new restaurants open up (Daniel Rose's new location of Spring is serving dinner and lunch, www.springparis.blogspot.com) and the Palais Garnier and Opera Bastille (www.operadeparis.fr) are singing once again.
Brasseries add cepes (special fall mushrooms), beef Bourgignon and tarte Tatin to menus, and until December, it's often still nice enough to sit outside. You just might need something to wrap around your neck to stay warm.
Here's my short list of what to do this fall in Paris:
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Crepes and cider
Stand in line and have a crepe and cider from Paris' famous La Crêperie de Josselin (67 Rue Montparnasse, Metro: Montparnasse). Marie-Therese has been making what many call the city's best Brittany pancakes for more than 40 years, and still mixes up the buckwheat batter each morning by hand. Have a "la complète" (ham, cheese and egg), and don't miss the bestseller, salty caramel, for dessert, with a boule of vanilla ice cream.
Isabel Marant's flagship boutique (1 Rue Jacob, www.isabelmarant.tm.fr) in Saint Germain-des-Prés boasts two floors of boho chic, including her lower-priced line, Etoile -- think tribal/ethnic meets Salvation Army meets '70s flower girl, and you're getting close. Next door, you'll find hubby Jerome Dreyfuss' (1 Rue Jacob, www.jerome-dreyfuss.com) slouchy leather handbags -- with names such as "Bob," "Larry" and the hipster's fave, "Billy" -- in bright colors from emerald green to grape, and bien sûr, basic black. Need shoes? You're just a couple of blocks from the Free Lance store (30 Rue du Four, www.freelance.fr), where you'll find the made-in-France and always en vogue military up-to-the-knee boots, perfect with skirts for a night on the town or with jeans for a quick skedaddle to the market. Metro: Mabillon or Odéon
Munch le macaron
It's the trendy new cookie in the U.S., but in France, le macaron has been around for nearly two centuries. A favorite of the country's most celebrated queen, gambler and party girl, Marie-Antoinette, you, too, can munch on the crisp, light sandwich cookie at the city's famous patisseries Laduree (21 Rue Bonaparte, Metro: Mabillon or Saint-Germain-des-Prés, www.laduree.com), and Pierre Herme (72 Rue Bonaparte, Métro: Mabillon or Saint-Germain-des-Prés, www.pierreherme.com), which releases a new collection of flavors each season. Right now, the headliners are cassis and noisette praline. Or learn how to make them yourself at a two-hour macaron class at La Cuisine Paris (80 Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville, Metro: Hôtel de Ville, www.lacuisineparis.com), the new Right Bank cooking school run by a Chicagoan and Parisian, where experienced chefs teach French cooking with an American accent.
Imbibe with style
Paris is no longer a vin rouge-only kind of town. An American-style cocktail movement , complete with fresh squeezed juices and other natural accouterments, such as just-snipped herbs, is all the rage. So says American Forest Collins, who lives here and blogs about the Paris cocktail scene (www.52martinis.blogspot.com). Her top picks? "The trendiest tipplers in town head to the Prescription Cocktail Club (23 Rue Mazarine, Metro: Odéon) to quench their craft cocktail cravings. Slip into this modern-day speak-easy early to avoid long lines and sip classics or innovative house creations. If you're feeling peckish, order the exceptionally good sliders. For something more laid-back, La Conserverie (37 bis Rue du Sentier, Metro: Bonne Nouvelle) is the stop for in-the-know lounge lovers. Drop into one of the dangerously comfortable armchairs, take in the funky utility-chic decor and let Timothé mix up something unforgettable with his signature flair for fresh fruits and herbs. Looking for something a bit more refined? Don't miss the family-owned Le Forum (4 Blvd. Malesherbes, Metro: Madeleine) where Joseph Biolatto heads up a tight team of top-notch bar staff capable of handling time-tested drinks, modern classics and perfectly balanced house creations."
Relax like the locals do
Even if you're not a kid, you can push around a sailing boat with a stick at the Tuileries, Paris' oldest garden, one of 400 in the city (Metro: Tuileries, www.paris.fr) and redesigned in 1664 by Andre Le Notre, the man behind the royal gardens in Versailles. If it's a pretty day, you may want to lounge in one of the slanted-back chairs made for just such a thing, or walk around and check out the sculptures scattered throughout, including works by Rodin, Giacometti, Dubuffet and Moore. While you're here, you might want to step into the Orangerie (Metro: Tuileries, www.musee-orangerie.fr), where Claude Monet's famous Water Lilies lives in two long, oval rooms, with benches in the middle, perfect for gazing. Afterward, walk across the street to Angelina (226 Rue de Rivoli, Metro: Tuileries) and order up le chocolat Africain, the thickest, richest hot chocolate you've ever tasted.
Off the beaten path
After you've crossed the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower off your list, you can dig in and see what your friends never told you about. Heather Stimmler-Hall, a travel author and custom tour guide living in Paris since 1995 (www.secretsofparis.com), knows the ins and outs of the city like no one else. Her three not-to-miss spots include a castle, an art space and authentic Goth. "The 12th-century Chateau de Vincennes (www.vincennes.monuments-nationaux.fr) is the only French castle you can reach by metro (at the end of Line 1, station Chateau de Vincennes)," Stimmler-Hall says. "See the 'Donjon' -- it's the tallest keep in Europe -- the moat, and Sainte Chapelle de Vincennes. No translation worries here; they have audio-guided tours in English. The famous Parisian artists' squat known as Le 59 Rivoli (59 Rue de Rivoli, Metro: Chatelet, www.59rivoli.org) has finally reopened as a legal art space after two years of renovations, hosting 25 permanent artists and five visiting artists in residence. It's free to look, but all bets are off if you want to buy any art. If it's Sunday, go hear the 8,000-pipe organ at the Église Saint Eustache (2 Impasse St. Eustache, Metro: Les Halles, www.saint-eustache.org), a 16th-century Gothic church with Renaissance decor, one of the most underrated monuments in central Paris. The fun starts at 5:30 p.m. every week."
Eat for less at some of the city's newest gastro-bistros, small places run by young, energetic and creative chefs. Chef Bruno Doucet's newest outpost of the bistro that started it all, Le Regalade, now with a second location in the center of the city (123 Rue Saint-Honore, 33-01-42-21-92-40, Metro: Concorde), offers hearty French classics, such as crisp pork belly, served on top of lentils in portion sizes that seem more American than French. Gregory Marchand's tiny 28-seat restaurant, Frenchie (5 Rue du Nil, 33-01-40-39-96-19, www.frenchie-restaurant.com, Metro: Sentier), has been booked since it opened less than two years ago. A Jamie Oliver alum who's also worked at Grammercy Tavern, French-born Marchand creates elegant and always perfectly surprising dishes, such as smoked trout with kohlrabi and pickled onions. Petter Nilsson's La Gazzetta (29 Rue de Cotte, 33-01-43-47-47-05, www.lagazzetta.fr, Metro: Ledru-Rollin) is one of the brightest stars of the buzzy Bastille area, and with a three-course,16 euro lunch menu, featuring his uniquely Scandinavian twist on French food, what's not to like?
Crunch on Paris' best baguette, at Le Grenier a Pain (38 Rue des Abbesses, Metro: Abbesses, www.legrenierapain.com). Baker Dijbril Bodian, 33, beat out 162 other boulangers to win this year's Grand Prix de la Baguette de la Ville de Paris, judged on taste, smell, appearance, mie (interior) and the crumb. His prize? The opportunity to supply the Élysée Palace with bread for a year, plus a 4,000 euro check -- along with a hefty sales increase that is the real incentive to win. Order up one of the handmade, all-natural, wheat flour "tradition" baguettes, and you'll understand why he got the prize. Then, walk the rest of the way up the hill to Sacre Coeur (www.paris.org), and take in one of city's the best panoramic views.
Julia & You
Channel your inner Julia Child and shop at E. Dehillerin (18 et 20, Rue Coquilliere, www.e-dehillerin.fr), the cookware store in Les Halles where she outfitted her kitchen with handmade copper pots, bowls and stainless steel knives. While you're in the area, walk over to Rue Étienne Marcel, where you'll find Mora (13 Rue Montmartre, www.mora.fr) the shop for all things pastry, from tiny madeleine pans to 2-foot-long whisks; and La Bovida (36 Rue Montmartre, www.labovida.com), the two-story corner shop stocked with Weck canning jars, bulk spices and plenty of Staub iron cookware. Metro: Les Halles
If it's Sunday, head to the Marais, the city's Jewish quarter, and order up the best falafel you've ever had at L'As du Fallafel (34 Rue des Rossiers), then, because you've saved so much on lunch, perhaps do a little shopping, since this is the only area of town where most of the stores are open on Sunday. Your short list should include: Zadig & Voltaire's (42 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, www.zadigetvoltaire.com) for rock 'n' roll-inspired cashmere sweaters, where skulls and angel wings still rule and Elvis never dies; a candy-colored leather coin purse from Brontibay (6 Rue Sévigné, www.brontibay.fr) to hold your euros; find vintage style with a modern fit at Antik Batik (18 Rue de Turenne, www.antikbatik.fr) If you need a pick me up, Merce and the Muse (1 bis Rue Dupuis, www.merceandthemuse.com), a just-opened Soho-style coffee shop run by American expat Merce Muse, offers some of the best joe in town -- from a Danish company, no less. Metro: Temple
A native Texan, Ellise Pierce now lives in Paris, where she writes about her food adventures for her blog, Cowgirl Chef (www.cowgirlchef.com), walks her Australian shepherd, Rose, each day, and eats as much salty caramel as her jeans will allow.