France Today magazine is proud to have an expert team of contributors, whose knowledge of France is vast and inspiring. In a series of interviews highlighting “France Favourites,” we shine the spotlight on our team. Here we share travel tips from Hazel Smith.
Hazel first visited France 25 years ago. Stifling the urge to hop on the next flight to Charles de Gaulle, she evolved into a researcher and travel writer with a concentration on French history. Her time-travelling tales of France’s artists, writers, and femme fatales have appeared on the pages of France Today and the online guide Bonjour Paris. The travel guide PlanetWare.com also features her research. A native of Canada, Hazel is a mature (“very”, she says) student of art history at the University of Toronto.
What’s your perfect day in Paris?
My perfect day in Paris would start with the Petit-Déjeuner Parisien complete with a spoon-thick hot chocolate at the rue de Rivoli tearoom Angelina. The remainder of my morning would be spent absorbed in the cool and quiet of Monet’s Water Lilies at l’Orangerie. An afternoon strolling flânuese-like past the watering holes of the writers and artists that made Paris home would suit me fine. If I’d planned ahead, I’d be spending the evening at the Musée des Arts Forains with its splendid collection of fairground memorabilia spread throughout the twinkling courtyard of Les Pavillons de Bercy.
Your favourite restaurant in Paris?
I’m often a single traveler and I’m happiest in the comptoir-style of restaurants. Le Comptoir des Saint-Pères on the corner of Rue Jacob and Rue des Saint-Pères is a solid example. There’s a table just for one located under the clock where even a veggie quiche is delicious in this slice of pure Paris.
The most sublime meal you’ve ever had in France?
Lunch at the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-Sur-Oise. The food was top-notch – rabbit terrine with lentils, Seven-Hour lamb stew, creamy potatoes Dauphinoise and a pyramid of crème glacé aux amandes – but to be in the same building where Vincent Van Gogh spent his last 70 days was literally awesome.
Best travel memory in France?
As an art history enthusiast I found Monet’s house at Giverny deeply moving. Gazing into the same mirrors that Monet used a century earlier was a wrinkle in time. Even the autumn gardens at Giverny offer a photo op at every turn. There was a bit of a power struggle at the Japanese bridge. After all, it is a once in a life time opportunity.
Top museum in France?
My favourite museum in France is an oldie but a goodie. The Musée d’Orsay is where I had my watershed moment. After seeing the gallery’s Bonnards and the Vuillards, I knew that I had to study art history. The Orsay’s scope is more manageable than the Louvre’s, spanning art from 1848-1914. The museum itself is a work of art from the fin-de-siècle.
Favourite French film?
Like the heroine Mathilde in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement, I was given a box of pictures of French soldiers from World War One. Mathilde’s quest to find her long-lost fiancé through a series of photos, and mementos rings true for me. The art direction in A Very Long Engagement is simply amazing. Bernard Tavernier’s 1989 film Life and Nothing But tells a similar story. Both films urge me to get researching!
Souvenir for friends back home?
Pylones – Their madcap creations are virtually unknown in North America. Household objets d’art come in florals, dots or animal motifs. I’ve bestowed friends with an egg whisk cleverly designed as a squid, a roly-poly sugar shaker, book bags and luggage tags.
Boutiques where you shop during the semi-annual soldes?
Located in the Galeries Vivienne – the passage with the lovely tiles – designer Catherine Andre’s well tempered whimsy helps channel my inner bohème. A bright mix of knitwear is found in her boutique and her carrotte trousers hearken back to 18th century pantaloons. Revolutionary! The soldes are a must or else it’s just mittens and scarves for me.
A destination in France that you’d like to visit?
My husband and I are very interested in visiting the battlefields and cemeteries of the Somme. As a Canadian, the Memorial at Vimy Ridge would be a meaningful pilgrimage. Plus, I have some research to complete!
Tip for first-time visitors to France?
- Hotel breakfasts can be expensive. Stock up at your corner épicerie the night before with juices, yogurts, cheese and pastries. Next morning, enjoy your picnic among the chestnuts in the Tuileries.
- Always say Bonjour to a shopkeeper and Merci when you leave – even if you’re just looking.