24 hours in contemporary Paris: where to stay, find pastries and seek the light

And not a latticed tower in sight...

For those with a particular soft spot for Before Sunset; who dip in and out of the odd Hugo novel; and have a preference for Lonely Planet over Monocle, it may feel like you know the Paris of the collective imagination – the one of dark back alleys and the hidden boulangerie only insiders know about, the city in which lovely gardens bleed into the liveliness of some outer arrondissement, and the place where you think you’ll always catch a glimpse of the famed tower in any corner of town, even if you need to squint a little while doing so.

Of course, Paris is all of these things, to a certain degree, at least. However, such experiences are often sought out by the Canon-wielding masses. Below, to circumvent the mess and chaos, we’ve compiled a neatly curated edit of the spots where refined design is the focus, locals frequent and the average holidaymaker is likely not to go anywhere near…

Where to stay: The Peninsula Paris

One of the city’s most sprawling boltholes, The Peninsula Paris is respected and loved for its melding of high-end tech (guest room tablets, bedside control panels) with the plush, high-grade service expected of a palace hotel, and a sophisticated, clean scheme that appeals to the international crowd. Two-star L'Oiseau Blanc, replete with cityscape views, is the crowning glory.


Where to pick up a coffee: Tapisserie

Angelina, Pierre Hermé and Cédric Grolet are the leading beacons for those seeking caffeine and fine pastry – but their popularity is much to their detriment, with each attracting seemingly endless lines. Tapisserie, from the team responsible for Clamato and Septime (below), and located in the 11th, is one of the city’s most accomplished café spots, but is rarely thronged – all the better to get your hands on creations such as its modern take on the Paris-Brest and Mont Blanc.


Where to lunch: Clamato

A balance of French-countryside rusticity and edge-cutting city ambition, Clamato’s seafood menu is a winner in a capital appreciated for its seafood towers and oyster platters. For an afternoon of exploring, fuel up on Galician sea urchin; mullet ceviche with squash and coriander; and bonito rillettes. The maple syrup tart, slicked with whipped cream and which can also be ordered at Tapisserie, is a legend among culinary circles.


Where to get your culture fix: Palais de Tokyo

The Mona Lisa’s smile has been long documented, and the Centre Pompidou’s exposed-pipe exterior would be a lovely thing were it not for the intensity of the masses outside. Palais de Tokyo, a behemoth of a space, all concrete and raw finishes, offers respite from the main attractions, with a focus on contemporary installations that span the mediums – in October, 2023, for example, Berg saw artist Blackhaine undertake a 40-minute performance that combined ‘body contortions and the pressurisation of space through sound.’


Where to see the light: Sainte-Chapelle

Paris is, as many know, renowned as the city of light, and, as a result, many feel that the best places to witness all the glinting are at rooftop viewing spots. We, however, like to make a beeline to Sainte-Chapelle to witness the beams blaze through the stained-glass windows, a wonderful occurrence that enhances the structure's patchwork of purples, reds and blues to an almost celestial effect.


Where to cap off the day: Septime

The most accomplished restaurant here is not a white-tablecloth fine-diner, despite what many of the Ducasse school of enthusiasm might think. On the same drag as siblings Tapisserie and Clamato, Septime packs an understated but envelope-pushing punch, its singular, juxtaposed platings a magnet for chefs across the globe. One day, there may be Provence butternut squash with saffron-infused savagnin squash butter, biquinho pickles and pimentón oil; on others, you could be treated to peeled heirloom tomatoes topped with fig pulp, beef gelée, fig-leaf oil and shiso.


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