Florence’s love affair with all things French began in Paris, studying History of Art at the Sorbonne, working for a French publishing house and eating an ill-advised quantity of buttery croissants. She returned to England to complete her degree in French and History of Art at the University of Bristol but vowed to pursue a career which would take her back to the City of Light at every opportunity. Editorial Assistant for FrenchEntrée and France Today, Florence has skied in Chamonix and eaten her body weight in foie gras in the name of journalistic research. Here are her nostalgic top tips for travellers to France.
What’s your perfect day in Paris?
First off, I couldn’t begin my perfect Parisian day without the perfect cup of coffee. In the last couple of years, world-class barista coffee shops have been cropping up all over the city – KB Caféshop in Pigalle is the best. I’d grab a freshly baked butter croissant for the road, still warm from the oven, and hop on the metro to the Musée de l’Orangerie in the Tuileries gardens. I could sit for hours soaking up each serene detail of Monet’s Water Lilies; mid-week, this is one of the most peaceful spots in Paris despite being right in the centre of the tourist trail. Once I’d had my fill, I’d head to the Marais by foot and pick up a 5€ falafel pitta for lunch from L’As du Falafel, a Parisian institution recommended by Lenny Kravitz (or so claims the sign above the door). I’d devour it sitting on a bench in the Place des Vosges and spend the afternoon browsing the quartier’s stylish boutiques. In the evening I’d take the metro back up to the butte of Montmartre to sit on the Sacre-Coeur steps with a beer, watching the sun set over the city to the soundtrack of busking musicians. To finish off, I’d go for dinner in Montmartre followed by dancing at Le Carmen in Pigalle.
Your favourite restaurant in Paris?
Without a doubt Un Zebre à Montmartre on the rue Lepic, a cobbled street just behind the Moulin Rouge. It’s managed to remain a firm favourite with local young artists who still claim Montmartre as their stamping ground, despite the swarms of tourists. Behind the Zebre’s flamboyant, bright purple and red facade is a reasonably priced fusion of rustic French, Pan-Asian and modern Mediterranean cuisine, with a North African slant to spice up the classics – you have to try the gorgeous honey-glazed magret de canard with creamy dauphinoise potatoes. Their honey and poppy seed baked camembert starter, served on a bed of rocket salad, is so dreamy that I can never bring myself to order anything else.
The most sublime meal you’ve ever had in France? See above!
Best travel memory in France?
An impromptu swim in the Lake of Sainte-Croix on a road trip around the South of France.
Favourite French region to travel?
I can’t get enough of Provence – its combination of perfumed lavender fields, ancient stone cottages and glorious sunshine is hard to beat. I’m also an art nerd so love to seek out the old haunts of Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Cézanne…the list goes on. As for its cities, Marseille is so vibrant and cosmopolitan, bursting with an energy that gets under your skin. I’m desperate to go back, and to venture east into Languedoc-Roussillon next time too where you can get a taste of the Côte d’Azur’s glamour without the price-tag.
Top museum in France?
I love the state-of-the-art Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris. It’s at the top of a tree-lined avenue in the beautiful botanical garden, le Jardin des Plantes, which also shares its grounds with the zoo. Top tip: pop into the Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée on the opposite side of the gardens. It’s home to a vast collection of animal skeletons, lined up side by side like a macabre army. With a ‘medical abnormalities’ section to boot, this is eeriness on par with the catacombs.
Favourite French film?
Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine was the first French film to make a big impact on me. I keep coming back to it year after year.
Souvenir for friends back home?
Boxes of macarons always go down well!
Boutiques where you shop during the semi-annual soldes?
I can never resist an afternoon trawling through the vintage and second-hand shops in the Marais, which don’t pay much attention to the soldes – you can snap up bargains all year round.
A destination in France that you’re dying to visit?
Tip for first-time visitors to France?
Don’t be shy – strike up a conversation! Don’t be intimidated by grumpy Parisians on the metro, they’re alright really. And remember: in France, even cheap wine is good wine. Hit a happy hour and order a basket of fresh bread with a slab of brie…heaven.