Long ago, I did my frantic Parisian scramble, scaling Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower, determined to conquer every museum, monument, and Michelin three-star. Now I indulge my senses languorously: inhaling the heady perfume of ripe berries, farmers’ cheeses, just-baked bread, and hot potato pancakes—impossible to resist—at the Sunday organic market on Boulevard Raspail. Joining the queue to buy mini macaroons and two or three stunning chocolate creations at Pierre Hermé’s jewel-box shop at 72 Rue Bonaparte (6 Arrondissement). Wandering in search of an old button shop, getting lost, only to discover a tiny boutique with a pair of Schiaparelli earrings I didn’t know I so desperately needed.
I used to think that, like Edith Piaf, I regretted nothing. Now I often regret I didn’t buy a small apartment as a few of my foodie friends did when the franc was dragging. But I try to live as if I had, renting an apartment or trading with a Parisian friend—preferably on the Left Bank in the 6th Arrondissement, where I first discovered 365 cheeses at the age of 17 and vowed to taste them all. I e-mail my apartment needs to everyone I know all over the world, then explore the Internet for rentals while I wait for their leads.
Winter before last our cozy perch overlooked the Boulevard St.-Germain near our favorite walking streets. It was a funky one-bedroom pad, full of its owner’s books, with a serious kitchen and a desk for my computer. Stepping out onto the minuscule terrace, I felt drawn back in time by the ancient low-slung rooftops across the way with a vast expanse of sky, intensely blue one minute, purply gray the next. The supermarché below our neighborhood Monoprix was surprisingly sophisticated, with amazing bread. That’s where we bought coffee, blood- orange juice, and American kibbles and bits for a healthy breakfast at home. Of course I am always compelled to haunt Au Bon Marché’s gorgeous food hall, a gourmand museum, not that far away (22 Rue de Sèvres, 7th Arrondissement).
Every day we chose a neighborhood to explore—focusing on a market street, a legendary bakery, or a pastry shop I’d read about in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets (a sweet-hound’s Baedeker). Exploring the narrow streets of the Île St.-Louis, I would wander in and out of shops while my photographer mate stopped to shoot mysterious light on a gargoyle, inevitably drifting toward the queue at the window of Berthillon, 31 Rue St.-Louis-en-I’Île (4th Arrondissement): lemon sorbet for him, bitter-chocolate ice cream for me. The lively market on Rue Mouffetard (5th Arrondissement) was a feast for the camera and the curious eye. Of course, the fondante of apples at Boulangerie Kayser was the ultimate stop close by at 8 Rue Monge.
We’ll Always Have Paris: Vive comme les francais for a week in your own pied-a-terre. Photo credit of Corbis
In the Marais we circled in and around Rue des Rosier, passing by the heavily guarded synagogue and walking into the crowded Finkelsztajn bakery just to “look at” the cheesecake. Then we detoured into the St. Paul quarter with its maze of courtyards lined with shops selling antiques and junk and everything in between. Brocante is what Parisians call it. Incurable brocante junkies, we spent every Saturday morning at the open-air weekend market of Porte de Vanves (where I found silver-and-horn salad servers and carving sets for wedding gifts) and Sundays in the sprawling fleas at Porte de Clignancourt coveting antique evening bags.
The remarkably clean and quiet Métro (watch for clean and quiet pickpockets) sensibly crisscrosses the city and let us avoid hideous traffic snarls. No smart little prix fixe bistro was too far away. Raffish, crowded La Regalade (49 Avenue Jean Moulin, 14th Arrondissement; 011-33-1-45-45-68-58), with its all-you-can-eat sausage basket and 30-euro prix fixe, is our favorite. We’re also fervent fans of the rustic cooking and lowdown prices at l’Avant Gout (26 Rue Bobillot, 13th Arrondissement; 011-33-1-53-80-24-00). There are only ten tables in the astonishing Hiramatsu (7 Quai de Bourbon, Île St.-Louis, 11th Arrondissement; 011-33-1-56-81-08-80), so book far ahead or wander by in person and beg for the first cancellation at lunch (95 euros) to discover a Japanese master’s sophisticated take on French haute cuisine. Save Le Dôme, the clamorous seafood brasserie (and an institution) at 108 Boulevard du Montparnasse (14th Arrondissement; 011-33-1-43-35-34-82) for Sunday, when most places close. Have oysters, sole meunière, the warm apple tart, and Berthillon caramel ice cream.
That line snaking along outside the Hotel Pont Royal is for a red leather stool at the Atelier of Joël Robuchon (5 Rue Montalambert, 7th Arrondissement; 011-33-1-42-22-56-56). Back from retirement, the mythic master chef has traded haut luxe for an eclectic menu at a counter curving around an open kitchen, with reservations for early seatings only, at 11:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
At least once a trip we challenge our arteries at L’Ami Louis (32 Rue du Vertbois, 3rd Arrondissement; 011-33-1-48-87-77-48) with a brick of exquisite foie gras, snails, and rare côte de boeuf. But it was an audacity new for me, the buttery truffle sandwich on country bread at Michel Rostang (20 Rue Rennequin, 17th Arrondissement; 011-33-1-47-63-40-77), that lingers in my memory from our last Parisian retreat.
A friend in Chicago recalled that the son of her friend was holding on to his apartment while working in upstate New York. That’s how I found my St.-Germain aerie. But there are also dozens of Websites that offer rentals. My favorite is Vacation Rentals by Owners (VRBO.com), which has a dizzying roster of Paris pads—available by the day, the week, or the month. I once used VRBO to score a huge, high-ceiling duplex in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. And I even negotiated a discount with my last-minute bid.
Other sites worth checking out include vacationrentals.com, Francebyheart.com, villa-vacation.com, rentvillas.com, vacationinparis.com, and europeanescapes.com. Short-term rentals in the desirable arrondissements of Paris start at $700 a week for a studio and $1,600 a week for a two-bedroom.