An Israel-inspired jaunt through Paris

Where to stay, shop, sightsee and nosh on the best shakshuka

By SHARON FEIEREISEN
August 14, 2019 16:48
An Israel-inspired jaunt through Paris

THE ICONIC Eiffel Tower, named for engineer Gustave Eiffel, lights up the night.. (photo credit: SHARON FEIEREISEN)

It had been a few years since I traveled to Paris. News of anti-Zionism and antisemitism halted plans to go there on more than one occasion, however, circumstantial reasons prompted a recent trip. Given the ongoing “Yellow Vest” protests that have been linked to a rise in hate and violence against Jews, I was on high alert more than ever before. Needless to say, I was blown away when two hours after rolling my luggage off the El Al flight from Tel Aviv I was not only noshing on hummus and eggplant, but was snapping a photo of my Israeli husband with his arm around Israeli celebrity chef Assaf Granit (more on that later).

There’s no denying that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are major problems in Paris – and sadly, far beyond – but in my week-long stay as a tourist I felt none of it. In fact, quite the opposite. It seems Israeli culture is making a major impact on the foodie landscape, and Israelis know more than anyone the power of food to bring people and cultures together.
With that in mind, here’s a cheat sheet for an unforgettable Parisian vacation – no Jewish guilt warranted.

Getting around
Getting around Paris is easy and cheap. Subways and buses are €1.90 (including a free 90-minute transfer) and if you buy a booklet with 10 passes, the price drops to €1.40. Most lines are fast and operate on a frequent schedule. Note, however, public transportation tends to be crowded and not air-conditioned. Luckily, Ubers are also easy to come by and reasonably priced should you be traveling during peak months.

Where to stay
There are countless hotels running the gamut of prices in Paris. You could spend hours – days – reading through reviews. Here’s the long and short of it: If you’re looking to splurge, the palatial Le Meurice, which opened in 1815, won’t disappoint. From an Alain Ducasse-helmed kitchen to views of the Eiffel Tower, the legendary hotel is walking distance from major attractions like the Louvre Museum and just about every designer shop you can imagine. While not all rooms have been renovated, many have, including their sprawling €22,500 per night Belle Etoile Suite – perfect for engagements and other special occasions for any money-is-no-object folks. 
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly five-star option, Le Narcisse Blanc Hôtel & Spa has beautifully appointed, relatively spacious rooms in a very central location. For those that need little more than a clean room and bathroom, checkout Hôtel du Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées. Even at peak season you can find rooms for under $200 on Expedia, which is near-impossible to beat given the location.

While the location isn’t top-notch, the 25hours Hotel Terminus Nord is a brand-new hotel with an unforgettably quirky design. Rooms start at under $200, and while they’re small, they’re whimsical, colorful and perfect for the Instagram generation. Everywhere you look there’s something to take a picture of! As mentioned, the location isn’t luxe, but if you plan on traveling to Versailles or will be taking public transportation to and from the airport, it’s very convenient, as the hotel is located directly across from Paris’s train station. Plus, the hotel gets brownie points for bringing the famed Middle Eastern restaurant, Neni am Naschmarkt, from Vienna to Paris, now redubbed the Neni Paris. When you walk into either the hotel or the restaurant, you see the Neni book, called Tel Aviv, proudly displayed (and for sale). 

Where to eat
My culinary tour of Paris began at Balagan, owned by Assaf Granit of Mahaneh Yehuda fame. It’s a spot that comes up in conversation often when speaking with in-the-know Israelis about Paris. Turns out in-the-know non-Jewish Parisians love it just as much. It’s worth highlighting that unlike many chefs-turned-celebrities, Granit is actually in the kitchen cooking.  Within five minutes of walking into the high-energy spot, my husband spotted Granit and snapped a selfie. As for the food, it’s arguably even better than what you’ll get at his Jerusalem hot spots. Insider tip: Ask for seats at the bar where you’ll not only get gratis shots throughout the night, you’ll get small food samples as dishes are being prepared.

Granit isn’t the only Israeli game in town. Famed Israeli chef Eyal Shani has an outpost of his ever-popular – and kosher (though there is no rabbinical supervision) – Miznon in Paris. Meanwhile, local chefs like the siblings behind Le Potager de Charlotte, a trendy vegan spot, vacationed in Tel Aviv and brought some of the inspiration back to France. Everything on the menu – which includes chickpea pancakes and roasted eggplant with hummus – is meticulously made using locally sourced ingredients. It’s one of the few vegan spots even meat-lovers would love.

France’s equivalent to Major Food Group is Big Mamma Group. They own a half dozen restaurants throughout Paris, among them the ever-popular Pink Mamma. No reservations are accepted and the lines tend to snake around the block so come early because their charcuterie and crispy, thin pizzas are worth it, especially if you can snag a table under the skylight. Another worthy, casual destination spot is Rivié, a brasserie located in the courtyard of the new Hoxton Paris Hotel (there’s also plenty of indoor seating for colder months). It’s the perfect spot for a steak-frites and an Aperol spritz. Aside from Rivié, The Hoxton has seemingly endless bar and lounge options scattered throughout the property, so meander around till you find a preferred spot for an after-dinner cocktail.

If you can afford to splurge, opt for one of Alain Ducasse’s options at Le Meurice or The Hôtel Plaza Athénée. While you won’t find any traces of Israeli inspiration, you’ll find unrivaled attention to detail and quality of service. Insider tip: Cedric Grolet is the pastry chef at Le Meurice. Known for his fruit sculptures, he’s widely considered one of the world’s best – if not the best – pastry chef. While he has a take-away spot at Le Meurice, the lines are almost always long and the shop sells out quickly. Save yourself time and indulge in an unforgettable experience by making a reservation at the hotel’s restaurant, Le Dali, for dinner or for their afternoon tea. In either case, all of the sweets come courtesy of Grolet.

While the food isn’t anything to write home about, for people-watching you’ll want to make reservations at L’Avenue, LouLou, and Hôtel Costes’s restaurant. Just remember when you get your Black card-worthy check that you came for the scene, not the food, and any place worth their Louboutins will cost a pretty penny.

What to see
You could spend years in Paris and still not step foot in every museum, palace and gallery. The city is so uniquely gorgeous even the worst areas beg for photo ops. There are nonetheless some standouts worth making a special effort to see. When possible, you’ll want to buy tickets in advance as lines, especially in peak season, can stretch for HOURS. This is especially true for the Louvre and Versailles.

Speaking of the Louvre, if you’re vying to see the Mona Lisa, be aware that the wait can be north of two hours if you come at peak times. Also, be aware – should you come to the nearly always-crowded museum when it’s warm – that the Louvre gets hot and stuffy. Insider tip: To recover from the long wait, head to the Carrousel du Louvre after your visit. The airy shopping area provides a much welcome respite. Stopping at the recently renovated La Maison du Chocolat is highly recommended. It’s located right near a staircase that leads almost directly to the Louvre Pyramid. Weather permitting, load up on sweets (they now have ice cream as well!) and take them up to the Pyramid for an impromptu picnic.

Versailles is another worthy trip, but note that if you use public transportation a lot of walking will be inevitable – a good 20 minutes separate the train from the palace, and with 700-plus rooms and sprawling gardens, the tour will include a great deal of walking as well. Insider tip: Give your legs a rest and rent a golf cart for about €35 to tour the gardens.

A much buzzed about recent addition to the cultural scene is L’Atelier des Lumières, or “Workshop of Lights.” Located in a former 19th-century smelting plant, the industrial space offers 30-minute visual and musical immersion into the works of artists like Gustav Klimt and Vincewnt Van Gogh via 120 video projectors.

The Fondation Louis Vuitton is another relatively recent addition. It’s located slightly away from the center, but worth the trek. Here, too, be prepared if you opt for public transportation, for it’s a good 10- to 15-minute walk before reaching your destination. The stunning building, which was designed by Frank Gehry and cost nearly €800 million, features indoor and outdoor spaces. Focused on modern art, the facility holds an impressive permanent collection, including works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons.

While there are plenty of other gems including Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, and Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris that you can visit based on individual interests, an oft-overlooked destination and museum is the Petit Palais. It’s a fashion industry favorite – Giorgio Armani recently staged a show there – and admission to the permanent collection is free. They also have a beautiful garden with a self-service restaurant that’s perfect for lunch.

Where to shop
Cult-favorite Colette, known for its exclusive collaborations, may have shuttered to make room for a Saint Laurent store, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something special waiting for those ready to shop in Paris. While it’s hard to compete with online, you’ll find exclusives at some of the designer stores as well as in department stores like Galeries Lafayette. Insider tip: While shopping, schedule your food break at Galeries Lafayette, which is brimming with food options including, weather-permitting, their stunning outdoor eatery, Créatures, which has sweeping views of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower. The restaurant is spearheaded by up-and-coming celebrity chef Julien Sebbag who was heavily influenced by Israeli cuisine for his menu. Trust when we say that you won’t find a shakshuka in Israel that tops Sebbag’s in Paris. Zaatar, tahini, labaneh and eggplant are just a few of the other traditional Middle Eastern ingredients that color his mouth-watering dishes.

If you’re looking to roam around, Boulevard Haussmann and the Grands Boulevards, Le Marais, Avenue Montaigne and the Champs-Élysées are the best spots for leisurely shopping. Note however, that if it’s bargains you’re after, sales are state-regulated in France meaning they only occur twice a year: once in summer beginning around the end of June and once in the winter following Christmas.

Where to work out
Work out? In Paris? Yes! Working out isn’t part of French culture the way it is in Israel. But in true Parisian style, the CEO of mega-luxury fashion brand Balmain recently opened a Barry’s Bootcamp in Paris. Naturally, the opening was timed to a launch of an exclusive Barry’s Bootcamp/Balmain athletic wear collaboration. Classes are taught in both English and French and follow the traditional Barry’s Bootcamp franchise format of mixing strength training with cardiovascular exercise via treadmill runs. Fittingly – remember the French don’t tend to love working out – classes in Paris are 50 minutes in length versus the standard 60 minutes. The sprawling space, complete with a chandelier, also has a full bar serving post-workout shakes and a retail section stocking swanky athleisure from brands like Koral and Alala.


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