Whenever I arrive in a new place irrespective of whether it’s by air, rail, or four-wheels, I often forget the infrastructure and systems we have in place today has not always existed. Probably the single most thing which symbolizes travel or tourism to it’s most compact form is the passport. And whilst we all understand what a passport is and does, it’s only a relatively modern travel protocol — a couple hundred or so years.
Tourism of the modern variety — travel for leisure — I assume it to have taken place by accident. By accident, I’m guessing it was a by-product of religious pilgrimages, those which necessitated interludes along a long-journey for rest, rejuvenation, and at times, medical recovery. I imagine the peoples of those in-between landscapes felt a duty to feed, shelter and entertain foreign passer-bys such that they would inform pilgrims, on the other end, making the reverse journey — to experience the same.
I assume many of you reading are well-versed travelers, and have your own reliable tools or local confidants to help you navigate a city’s nonsensical bus matrix or find the locals-only coffee baron. So, and instead, I’d like to offer a slightly different kind of city guide. One that’s biased to well-being (rejuvenation) and a bit of slow tourism. An incomplete guide that, I’d love to keep revisiting as the cities evolves (or me).
These micro-guides — as I’m coining for now — won’t cover a city from top to bottom, or follow right to left necessarily. They’re hurried notes, mental stickies, all which probably ended up in my iPhone’s note-taking app.
And with that, here’s my ‘Conscious City Micro-Guide’ for Paris, a ongoing piece I hope to do in each city I visit in the future.
It’s not hard to imagine arriving into Charles de Gaulle and being succumbed by the scent of French pastries. Then as you make your way to Gare du Nord, whilst sitting on the RER, you’re bumped by an accordion playing street-performer looking for his next Euro. Before you know it, you find yourself dropping your luggage at the hotel and making a beeline to the closest boulangerie to pick up a baguette to go with your French espresso. Then as the romantic Parisian architecture draws you in at each turn, irrespective of arrondissement, you quickly realize you’ve been eating carbohydrates for three-days straight, and forgotten what a vegetable is.
O.k., that might be a hyper-exaggeration, but it’s tough being a tourist in a city like Paris which doesn’t scream “juice bar” or “modern fitness studio” at every second corner — but that’s a good thing, right? And even though I was just passing through for an extended weekend, I was dreading I might have to eat gluten daily. So, my mission, was to find out what locals do for “health” in this great city.
This is the Paris Conscious City Micro-Guide, and probably best experienced over a weekend.
Ladda (32 Rue de Paradis, 75010 Paris)
Start your morning at Ladda, a wellness studio on the rooftop of a nondescript commercial building in the 10th arrondissement. Here you’ll find a self-care menu of: reflexology, yoga, and traditional Thai massage.
I attended a 90-minute Saturday yoga session (25€) taught by the instructor, Pam. The class was small (only five others), advanced (by my standards), and taught in French (mine is horrible)! But, I did just fine.
After your session you’re encouraged to spend time on their rooftop which features a sweeping panorama of the southern and western expanse of the city — with Sacré-Cœur in the distance. But, unfortunately it began to rain just as I emerged from my yoga class, so I spent some time inside studying their book collection instead.
Blanche (21 Rue Blanche, 75009 Paris)
If you’re seeking more vigorous exertion of your muscles (and joints) make your way to Moulin Rouge. And, once you’ve spent five-seconds at famous landmark, take a brisk five minute walk down Rue Blanche to the city’s newest premium gymnasium establishment in, Blanche. Blanche is a full-stack wellness club offering boxing, yoga, spin-cycle, personal training, weights, and a pool in the basement where you can sign up for aquatic classes. All of the equipment in the weights hall and spin-cycle studio is by Technogym.
Café Citron (60 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, 75008 Paris)
Simon Porte Jacquemus of the brand Jacquemus, opened a restaurant earlier this year housed within the new, Bjarke Ingels-designed, Galeries Lafayette Champs-Elysées. The restaurant, as you’d expect, is perfectly on-brand with his fashion namesake: Summer, fruity, and very, Mediterranean.
Staying in the same building, Galeries Lafayette Champs Elysées has a food court in their basement (-1), which is worth visiting. The food court is “market” style, where various vendors, some known for their already successful establishments in the city, have abbreviated their healthy and seasonal menus for Galeries Lafayette. I stopped by the Maisie Café counter where they serve a bevy of healthy to-go options and juices, similar to their full-scale version near the Tuileries. I picked up a green juice to rehydrate me on my walk back to the hotel. Food court prices vary from reasonable to very-expensive.
Partisan (36 Rue de Turbigo, 75003 Paris)
If you’re looking to break up your café sittings and wander from the traditional French bistro, then artisanal coffee shop and torréfaction, Partisan, is where you need to go. Situated in the Le Marais (3rd arr.), the coffee shop has an industrial, minimalist, and calm soul. Coffee is served either traditional (Italian) or “new-wave” (current roast). However, beware, they have a slightly-loony one-hour laptop policy. Other restaurants and cafés have rules like this, but they don’t make you feel awkward when trying to enforce it. Basically, be prepared to be informed about the rule as you take your seat, first sip, and show any sign of reaching into your tote bag for your laptop. Thankfully, their coffee is good.
Ob-La-Di Café (54 Rue de Saintonge, 75003 Paris)
If you’re a runner — casual or professional — you’ve likely heard of the brand Satisfy Running, which happens to be based in Paris. Their founder Brice Partouche (who founded April 77 too) also has a café in the Le Marais, Ob-La-Di, which you should visit. If you scroll Satisfy’s Instagram you’ll find the café often features as a meeting point for various runners and running clubs. The café is quintessentially Parisian small though, so be prepared to have your coffee to-go, but not before you snack into one of their healthy treats whilst waiting. I recommend the granola if you can secure a seat.
Café Kitsuné Palais-Royal (51 Galerie de Montpensier, 75001 Paris)
Kitsuné the French-Japanese fashion house has been serving coffee for years all around the world. Their penchant for just serving coffee (and the odd sweet) is something I respect. Too often these hybrid café-types try to serve full-scale menus which is hard to do reliably well if it’s not your main business, and that loses the appeal for me. O.k., maybe I spoke too soon, because Kitsuné is also opening a restaurant (next week) near their Palais-Royal café and if the menu looks as good as the initial interior concept, it should be just as satiably appetizing.
If you’re near the Louvre and need to find a hiding place to escape the tourist coaches and keychain salesmen, I advise you to pick up a cup of coffee from Kitsuné’s original espresso slinger at Palais-Royal, before finding patch of grass in the garden. Then people-watch or meditate, both can be rewarding. A quick tip, if you find the queue extending out of the entrance — like I did — pick up your coffee at Kitsuné’s newest location and just outside of Palais-Royal at 2 Place André Malraux.
Musée Rodin (77 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris)
Nearly ninety-million humans visited France last year — the most of any country. So, if you’re not visiting Paris for the first time, I highly recommend avoiding the overtourism taking place at popular attractions like the Louvre, and instead visit some of the lesser known museums, galleries and landmarks. Since my schedule was tight, I chose to visit Musée Rodin which displays the works of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), and all donated to the French state. The museum features his works chronologically with Rodin’s paintings first, followed by his famous sculpture work, before leading you out onto the expansive gardens where you can sit, contemplate, and just take a moment from the world.
Centre Pompidou and Atelier Brancusi (Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris)
Another gallery of donated works is Atelier Brancusi which is part of the Centre Pompidou site adjacent to Châtelet (4th arr.). Even though crowds prohibited me from setting foot inside the monolithic Centre Pompidou building, I was pleasantly relieved to learn the studio of Constantin Brancusi was unremarkably tucked away externally and off-schedule. Brancusi, of Romanian birth, is another sculpturist who donated his works to the French state. The studio gallery is a 1:1 replica built by Renzo Piano, that features his living quarters and his artist studio. The sculptures, of course, are the originals itself which Brancusi masterfully constructed and arranged per his fascination with spatial relationships or “mobile groups”. It’s a small gallery, but the details and craftsmanship is, oh, so, heavenly.
Tadao Ando Meditation Centre (7 Place de Fontenoy, 75007 Paris)
Not far from Musée Rodin and still on the left bank, is the UNESCO Headquarters, or the World Heritage Centre as it’s also known. I wasn’t particularly looking to visit the centre but since it was en route to Rodin, I thought it might be nice to specifically visit the Tadao Ando Meditation Centre at the site, if possible. It was built in 1995 to celebrate UNESCO’s 50th anniversary.
Unfortunately access was closed on the Saturday I visited, so I can’t tell you what mysterious or calm enlightenment was to be found inside. Thankfully my Sony α7 III was able capture the building’s facade and do some justice for Ando’s work from afar.
Distance (13 Rue Cavenne, 69007 Paris)
Around the corner from Merci and at the top of the Le Marais, is a relatively new sports retailer called Distance founded by Stephane Summer in Lyon two-years ago. The concept store which stocks apparel, shoes, and accessories specifically for running features purposeful brands like Salomon, Ciele, Hoka One One, Satisfy, Patagonia and District Vision. The Distance community also regularly host events and runs right from their shopfront so it’s also a place to meet other enthusiasts. As for whether you should visit Merci, just scroll up to the part where I mentioned overtourism.
Buly 1803 (6 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris)
You’ve probably heard of the skincare and apothecary brand Buly by now. Since this micro-guide is about conscious commerce, if there is a single product which you should purchase, which is also inherently French, it’s Buly’s Pommade Concrète hand cream (35€). If you visit their Le Marais store (opposite Ob-La-Di), there’s also an adjoining café and florist’s corner where you’ll find a bird chirping by the name of Jean-Françoise.
Biologique Recherche (2 Av. des Champs-Élysées, 75008 Paris)
If you want something a little more substantial and luxurious for your face or body, head to Biologique Recherche at the Champs-Élysées for a skincare treatment like Cryo-Sticks or Second Peau. Their scientific formulation and generous concentrations is what sets them apart, along with the elevated retail experience. You’ll be able to purchase many products from their storefront too.
Hôtel Habituel (168 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010 Paris)
On this recent visit I stayed at two separate hotels, Hôtel Doisy (17th arr.) and Hôtel Habituel opposite Gare du Nord (10th arr.). My goal when booking accomodation is to find an establishment which offers more than just a place to sleep — if possible.
I wouldn’t exactly categorize either Doisy (pictured below) or Habituel as non-hotels, by my definition, but each presented good amenities, a modern remodel within an old Parisian building, and an above-average healthy breakfast menu without the overload of bread and pastries. Habituel was the cheaper of the two (starting at 120€/night), but was subject to the glitch you would expect being opposite the largest train station in Paris — noise. Luckily being on the top floor (6) it was a non-issue and my mind was pleasantly offset by the myriad of South Indian diners, like the humble vegetarian-only Saravana Bhavan, at my doorstep.
If you’re interested in hotels which are openly vocal about their sustainable efforts then two options I was recommended by others are, Hôtel Le Citizen (10th arr.) and Hidden Hotel (17th arr.). Each hotel has policies on waste disposal, energy conservation and plastic usage, yet don’t exactly present themselves as greenwashers and instead just like any other good hotel. Expect reviews of these in the future.