Author and natural-wine expert Alice Feiring has been visiting Paris for 30-plus years. Enamored, in particular, with the city’s “aesthetics, food, bread, and style,” Feiring says she never ceases to find the city “exquisitely beautiful.” But more than that, she says, what she admires about the French capital is that it’s a place where “ideas still matter, and people still find time to hang out and be with each other.”
And, she adds, “it’s the place where I love to go and drink.”
Eschewing the Left Bank for the Right and centering on the neighborhood near Canal Saint-Martin, Feiring shares her tips for finding Paris at its natural best.
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Charles de Gaulle is an international airport served by most major cities. From there, it’s an easy trek into the city center by the regional train, RER (B), which runs frequently, takes less than an hour, and costs about 10 euros. Arrivals from elsewhere in Europe are served by six major train stations; the Eurostar from London is also an option. Once in the city, the metro system is well-priced; the best deal is a “carnet” of 10 tickets for 14.90 euros.
Where to Stay
Because Feiring spends most of her time outside, her lodging preferences are modest. “I don’t care for a really lovely hotel because I don’t want to be tempted to stay in,” she says. “The important thing is that it be near the metro and places where I want to eat and drink and get good coffee.”
She favors the area around the canal and La République, where the 3rd, 10th, and 11th Arrondissements meet; it’s a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood chock-full of coffee shops, wine bars, and reasonably priced hotels.
Feiring typically seeks out smaller hotels, often using an online service like booking.com. Picks include Absolute Hotel (1 Rue de la Fontaine au Roi; ask for a private bathroom) and Hotel Garden Saint-Martin (35 Rue Yves Toudic). On the bank of the canal, Hotel Amour at 8 Rue de Navarin, in Pigalle South, offers a leafy outdoor patio. In the 11th Arrondissement, Hotel Exquis is her choice, at 71 Rue de Charonne—this is also a favorite neighborhood of Feiring’s for vintage shopping, sipping, and snacking. For a “grand hotel experience,” she recommends Hotel Lutetia (45 Boulevard Raspail), a recently renovated landmark on the Left Bank.
Where to Eat
“If I arrive in the morning, I drop my bags, get a coffee, and go directly to the Marché Biologique,” Feiring says (Boulevard Raspail in the 6th Arrondissement). Her first stop is at the Gustalins stall, where she has a potato, onion, and Gruyère cheese galette. “It’s a fun market to walk around,” she says, “and there are some great groceries—really great dried-fruit bread with big chunks of figs and dates.”
For a casual lunch in the Marais, she likes Miznon, an Israeli-Mediterranean lunch spot (22 Rue des Écouffes). If that’s full, she pops in for falafel at L’As du Fallafel (32-34 Rue des Rosiers). Back in the 11th Arrondissement, “without a doubt I have to go to Mokonuts (5 Rue Saint Bernard),” Feiring says, describing it as “a diner-like spot that has two-star food.” Other casual haunts include the two locations of Ten Belles—10 Rue de la Grange aux Belles for coffee, and the shop at 17-19 Rue Breguet for bread and breakfast. Holybelly (19 Rue Lucien Sampaix) is a favorite place for coffee and out-of-hotel laptop work.
Where to Drink
Feiring says she’s always searched out natural-wine venues in Paris, and with the growth of the trend in the 2000s, it’s become “fabulously easy” to find quality lists and seasonal food to match. A longtime favorite is Le Verre Volé (67 Rue de Lancry), an unpretentious bar with wine-filled shelves and rickety wooden chairs and blackboards that announce the plats du jour. “Their wine list is deep, so ask to go back to the wine room as opposed to just looking at the shelf,” Feiring advises. “They won’t offer that unless you ask—and back there is where they have the vintages and the rare stuff.”
Feiring likes the extensive natural-wine list—some 500 bottles—at the simple, wood-toned Le Grand 8 (8 Rue Lamarck), which serves “very comfortable bistro food under Montmartre, so it’s very beautiful too.” The dishes are traditionally informed and it’s one of the few nontouristed options open on Sunday night. She also recommends stopping for pizza at Coinstot Vino in the historic 18th-century Passage des Panoramas, where “the list has always included lesser-known natural producers, so there is always something to discover, such as [the wines of] Caroline and Patrice Hughes Béguet from the Jura.” For years, Feiring has followed the career of long-time manager Guillaume Dupré, who recently opened his own restaurant, Goguette (108 Rue Amelot), and plans to visit on her next trip to the city.
In the 11th Arrondissement, her top pick is the natural-wine bar Aux Deux Amis (45 Rue Oberkampf), a late-night spot for tapas and other small plates, such as the signature house mozzarella and boudin noir, roasted eggplant, and pork cheek ragout. Don’t miss the gazpacho when it’s in season, she says. As for the wine list, Feiring points out, “there are the old favorites, such as Thierry Puzelat, but there will always be some great wines from Mâcon, Loire, and lesser-known regions like Haut-Savoie in the Rhône Alps and Gaillac in Southwest France.” Reservations, she adds, are a must at all places.
Where to Shop
“I am a shopper, and I try to arrange going during the sales,” Feiring says, referring to the city’s twice-yearly les soldes. The upscale Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann (9th Arrondissement) is a hunting ground at sales time, and Merci, a concept store with clothing and home goods, is a destination for upscale gift shopping (111 Boulevard Beaumarchais).
On Saturdays, Feiring heads to the Puces de Vanves (flea market) in the 14th Arrondissement, just off the Porte de Vanves metro stop. And while it’s a bit farther out, when she’s in that general vicinity she’ll also stop by fromager Marie-Anne Cantin (12 Rue du Champ de Mars), near the Eiffel Tower and not far from the Marché Biologique. To go with the cheese, she likes artisan bread from Du Pain et des Idées in the 10th Arrondissement (34 Rue Yves Toudic).
“As a writer, I’m obsessed by writing instruments,” Feiring says, so back in her home neighborhood, she heads to Lancryer Papeterie (34 Rue de Lancry), where she finds her favorite pens for autographing, along with beautiful French notebooks.
What to Do
Though Feiring spends most of her time in Paris eating and drinking, she says, “I try to make sure I do at least one thing cultural while I’m there.” Inaugurated in 1962, the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, on the Île de la Cité in the shadow of Notre-Dame, is a favored place without long lines—ideal for someone with only 48 hours to spend in Paris. Says Feiring, “There’s something about that place that just brings me back to it.”
Lana Bortolot has written on food and wine for Dow Jones, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, and other magazines of the wine and spirits trade. She reported on community development and arts and culture for the Wall Street Journal and New York Post and on design for Entrepreneur magazine. She holds the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Level 3 Advanced Certification and is working on the Level 4 Diploma. Having covered most European wine regions and a few in South America, she is always looking to add a new wine-stained stamp to her passport.