Heavenly Host: The Rake Guide to Paris

The world will descend upon Paris in July for the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad. If you are part of it, bonne chance. The Rake’s Travel Editor has compiled an insider’s guide to the city that will serve you well...

Heavenly Host: The Rake Guide to Paris

When the Olympic flame reaches Paris and the cauldron in the Olympic stadium is lit on July 26, the host of this year’s Games will join London as the only two cities in the world to have staged the summer event three times. That distinction, however, will be a transitory one. Come 2028, the City of Angels, Los Angeles, will also stage its third iteration of the Olympics. 

There are many reasons why more conurbations are not clamouring to play host, and unsurprisingly it comes down to economics: despite the explosion of international sponsorship deals and global media rights, it takes years to pay off (if not recoup) the billions in infrastructure investment, which, invariably, ends up being either forgotten, abandoned or mothballed once the elite athletes have left town. 

For the first time since the 16th century, the bouquinistes of the Seine will be displaced by local authorities.

What about the so-called Olympic legacy? Well, apart from a couple of instances of relative success (most notably, London 2012), there isn’t one — unless you consider the whiff of corruption around the bidding process to have become one of the hallmarks of the competition. That, plus public finance woes. According to researchers at Oxford University, every Olympics since 1960 has run over budget, at an average of 172 per cent in inflation-adjusted terms. 

Another study, published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, examined the rosy projections of the Games’ economic impact and concluded that actual effects “are either near zero or a fraction of that predicted prior to the event”. Which is why some have posited that there should be a permanent home for the modern Games — perhaps a Greek island, which could operate like a semi-autonomous city-state. After all, the ancient games were held in Olympia for about 800 years. 

While the sceptics and naysayers discuss, debate and re-litigate the pluses and minuses, the world’s best athletes will descend on Paris in July for the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad. The French capital is already the most visited in the world by tourists and travellers. They’ll be dining in brasseries and bistros, cherishing Haussmannian architecture and decrying rebarbative modern edifices, all while the participants hope to land on the podium and collect one of the coveted medals, designed by local jewellers Chaumet. 

One thing neither the visitors or the athletes will be able to experience, sadly, is the joy of browsing the many books the bouquinistes purvey from their kiosks along the Seine. For the first time since the 16th century, they will be displaced by local authorities so that sidewalks and pavements are free of congestion. But Paris has so much more to offer.

Here are The Rake’s top five must-dos for an unforgettable few hours (or days) in the City of Light. 

Paris. Getty Images.

Bedding down 

New hotels are always cropping up, and this year is no different. On the edge of Little Tokyo in the 2nd arrondissement, an east-meets-west milieu, marrying Japanese restraint with the flourishes of the Belle Époque, takes up residence at the Hôtel Hana. A more traditional design ethos is omnipresent in the 5th arrondissement at the Grand Cœur Latin, a jewel-box of a property designed by Vincent Bastie and decorated by the interior designer Marie-Paule Clout, complete with a medieval courtyard in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Also on the Left Bank, Le Grand Hôtel Cayré draws its inspiration from the old-world charm of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where it resides with 123 rooms. Meanwhile, having debuted at the end of last year, Le Grand Mazarin in the Marais has just unveiled a new wellness centre to complement the maximalist design in its 61 rooms by Martin Brudnizki. 

La vie gastronomique 

It’s an intoxicating, unending culinary Lotusland, regardless of whether you’re shopping for a multitude of roe or coming face-to- face with an entire refrigerated wall of butter. But such is the fine food offering at La Grande Épicerie — where 30,000 items are beautifully curated and spread across 2,900 square metres — less is happily not more. 

Market sweep 

With more than 80 markets operating in the city each week, local gastronomes have no trouble sourcing fresh produce. Some of these open-air markets are also worth a trip by visitors. We recommend Marché Bastille (also known as Marché Richard Lenoir), which is open on Thursdays and Sundays and offers a wealth of comestibles and perishables as well as gifts. The same is true of Marché Président Wilson (sometimes called Marché du Pont d’Alma) in the upmarket 16th arrondissement. Here, the well-heeled peruse from cheese vendors and seafood specialists (bivalves can be enjoyed alfresco) in a setting where flowers abound on Wednesdays and Saturday. 

Natural selection

With more oenophiles gravitating towards organic and biodynamic wines, it’s hardly a surprise that Paris has seen a boon in natural-wine bars, where the elixirs purveyed haven’t been radically altered by human hand. The city’s 11th arrondissement is home to more than a handful of bijoux enterprises (many without websites), where the character of the terroir and the winemaker come to the fore without additives and filtration. Case in point: Delicatessen Place, a pint-size former shoe-repair store with hearty portions and a beau monde crowd that’s endlessly buzzy. The scene is the same but the portions are petite at Montezuma Café, where vinyl (and voluminous decibels) reign supreme. It’s just as sceney over at Giclette, where the wines are dispensed from faucet taps behind the bar. Over at Septime La Cave, the dimensions are also diminutive but the setting is more decorous, complementing charcuterie that is bounteous. For its part, Folderol is the post-prandial spot, as its wines are paired only with ice cream. 

Get out of town 

Whether we like it or not, the city will be an unpalatable mosh pit of humanity for a fortnight. Which is why you should have a plan that includes getting away. The Riviera is always a good idea (we favour the Maybourne Riviera and Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc as ideal escapes) but even it will be jam-packed, as it is each summer. So our advice is to head to the mountains and the lakes (think: Lake Annecy) or to the coast of Normandy, where rumination and reflection on the sacrifices of yesteryear are the perfect tonic to the heady times you’ve enjoyed in Paris. 

The bar at Hôtel Hana. Robin Le Febvre.
Bedroom at Le Grand Hôtel Cayré.
Steak tartare at Hôtel Hana. Shirley Garrier.
The swimming pool at Hôtel Hana. Stephan Julliard.
Bedroom at Le Grand Hôtel Cayré.
A blacony view and the swimminpool at Le Grand Mazarin. Vincent Leroux.
A bathroom at Le Grand Mazarin. Vincent Leorux.