Get under the surface of Gay Paree
You know you are in Paris when the waiter comes over to your table to tell you, ‘your coat is on ma floor’ and then flounces off without picking it up. Some might say Pariseans can be a bit haughty but I would say they are just proud and busy city folk, fiercely protecting their language and culture. And looking around, you can see that they have done a good job of resisting the large chains that have turned so many cities into dull brand-led shopping malls that all look the same. The culture of thriving small businesses selling cheese, bread and charcuterie, etc, is no accident – the PARISEANS HAVE AN ACTIVE POLICY of keeping the large supermarkets out and long may it last.
Getting under the skin of the real Paris can be hard not least because even the touristy spots are pretty dam fine and appealing. But on this trip I wanted to explore an area a bit further out that sounded like a London version of Hoxton. BELLEVILLE and Menilmontant are old working class neighbourhoods, about 15 minutes by metro from the centre where Edith Piaf is reputed to have been born on the pavement in 1915! Today the bobos ‘bourgeois bohemians’ have moved in with their art, bars and live music to create a buzzy unpretentious vibe and it is very much the trendy place to be.
If you are less inclined towards the gritty end of town and prefer the more picture postcard Paris with a village feel then SAINT GERMAIN DES PRÉS is the neighborhood for you. This central but self-contained neighbourhood is where the French prefer to stay when in Paris. Stuffed with art galleries, fashion boutiques, home furnishing shops, famous cafés and restaurants, it is a place where I could easily plonk myself at any pavement café, relax and stare into the middle distance for quite some time.
My favourite gay friendly hotel in this area is THE RECAMIER. A quiet location at the back of Place Saint-Sulpice and within walking distance of garden of Luxembourg for a morning jog or a romantic promenade. The Louvre and Orsay museums are two or three bus stops away. From some of the rooms you have quintessential Paris views over the square towards a dramatic church with the Eiffel tower peeping into view. The hotel has recently reopened its doors after a substantial renovation. All 24 rooms are beautifully and luxuriously furnished. Sylvie, the owner, takes great pride in the quality of everything and provides top tips on the best places to eat and shop including PIERRE HERMÉ: an exquisite and artistic patisserie in Paris. She warns of the queues to get in but says ‘it is worth it – you could make a hat out of the shopping bag – it is so stylish!
And we couldn’t leave without a visit to our old friend – THE MARAIS DISTRICT – famous for it thriving gay, fashion and design scene. It is still very much the hub of all things creative not to mention the home of the Musee Picasso and the Pompidou centre. Don’t miss the famous gay bar – THE OPEN CAFÉ – on the corner of Rue des Archives and Rue Sainte-Croix-de-la – Bretonnerie for the embodiment of all the great things about the Marais. Finding somewhere good and affordable to eat for a light bite can be tricky so try the cosy APPAREMMENT café for great salads and bruschetta, and Sunday brunch where you tick the ingredients you want. For a serious blow out designer boutique hotel in the Marais then it has to the Christian Lacroix designed HOTEL PETIT DU MOULIN where each of the 17 rooms is fabulously individually designed within an inch of its life but with respect for the building, which was once home to one of France’s oldest boulangeries.
And because we know that Paris can be pricey here is a great link to things to see and do in Paris FOR FREE. Yee ha.
Written by Simon Forrester, co-founder and owner of FURTHER AFIELD – hand-picked gay friendly places to stay.