I have had these questions and comments so many times:
"How do you manage to find all those beautiful places in Paris, that we've never even heard of ?"
"Jeez, it's incredible you know so much about all those secret places !"
"You were so lucky to find that courtyard open !"
Thanks, that's too kind of you. But I'm afraid your are grossly overestimating my abilities. I don't know a lot about Paris. Honestly, I don't ! Nor am I extraordinarily lucky. So what's the secret ?
It's all about reading the right books
- take notes, do a lot of Googling, browse, do research, try to find answers.
So here are the guide books that have been my personal inspiration. Without these I would still think, as my friend Megan said, that "Paris consisted of wandering along the Seine and going to Galeries Lafayette !".
80 pct. of the lesser known places, squares, alleys, gardens, courtyards, buildings that I write about in my Travel Diaries are mentioned in one or more of these books.
Luck has nothing to do with it. It's all in the preparation.
And then of course in praying to the Travel Gods to send you just a little bit of serendipity, which will bring you those magical memories to last you a lifetime.
The absolute crown in the jewel. None above it, none at par with it. If you want only one travelbook, then this is what you need. I can't remember when I bought it, but I will never let go of it !
All you dreamt about seeing in Paris - or rather: never dreamt you were going to see ! Once you start feeling you have had more than your fair share of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Champs Elysées: this is the book that will revive your Paris infautation.
Taking you through all 20 arrondissements, showing you remarkable, astonishing things which you may have passed without noticing -or most likely: would never have found, because you wouldn't know where to look. I owe so many wonderful Paris moments to the author of this book - thank you, thank you !
More than 150 (almost 200 in the new French edition) exquisite jewels in this treasure chest. And each of them presented with a story, telling you of the past, origin, drama, special events that lies behind or took place. All accompanied by a seductive photo, beckoning you to come and see for yourself.
If you want the French version, which is brand new from 2009 and considerably expanded, you go to this French AMAZON
The English version, which is still from 2003, you get from this English AMAZON
I bought my copy in 2007 in the souvenirshop at Musée de Montmartre (didn't go in to see the museum, though. Still on my list !) - and it became my first eyeopener re. the hidden beauty and secret places of Paris. Therefore it holds a special place in my heart and on my shelf.
This is such a cute and pretty book - and even if you could only get it in French, you should still buy it, because the beautiful, flowering photos say all there is to say. And what else do we need, plus directions for where to go ?
If you prefer your copy in English you go to this English AMAZON shop.
For the French version you go to the French AMAZON shop.
Thirza Vallois has lived for the better part of half a century in Paris. She holds a doctor's level at Sorbonne and her knowledge about Paris, both its history and present appears to be inexhaustible.
But she is a writer of stories, much more than of history - and you read her books as if they consisted of 20 fascinating shortstories. Each chapter starts with a stroll back in time for this particular arrondissement, followed by suggestions for walks, with an incredible richness in detail.
Thirza Vallois's 3 volumes are the basic must haves on your travelbook shelf. Not that you would carry them around with you - they are not at all suitable for that purpose - nor is it likely that you are familiar with even a third of the historical names or incidents mentioned in her books. Still to me, they are the "bread and potatoes" of my Paris database.
You order her books from her website: http://www.thirzavallois.com/
Now opinions will divide ..........
This book will take you to the next level in the Paris treasure hunt, looking for that special Art Déco window in such-and-such courtyard, where you'll have to slip in behind a resident. In short: we are approaching the real gourmet tidbits.
It is a magnificent book, an absolute find !
BUT ! it's in French. And I haven't been able to locate any English translation.
Now what ?
The structure of the book is the same as in the others: taking you through the arrondissements from 1 to 20. And as you can see from the pages I have scanned in (above), we have the same "story+picture" design.
So even if you don't read a word of French, I promise you: you can get much joy out of this book and use it to guide to the most amazing locations in Paris. This said, however: being able to read at least some French will be a help for some of the suggestions. Not a "sine qua non", not an absolute necessity, but still.
You buy this book with FNAC (click to open website).
As you can see from the scanned pages, this is a book from which you will not derive much pleasure if you cannot read French.
The book offers 20 walks, one in each arrondissement and although you could follow the walks as sketched on the maps, you would not be pleased with it, without understanding the text.
However, for those of you who do read French, there is no doubt: this is an exquisite guidebook for experienced Paris lovers. Lots of brilliant information and suggestions. One little downer, though - or as they say in French restaurant reviews: "un petit bémol":
The book is very difficult to use, unless you read the full itinerary for a given walk. You don't just open a random page and scribble a quick note-to-self, because the spectacular goodies are integrated (hidden !) within the text in such a fashion, that you only notice them if you take your time to read the full text carefully.
I did meet a French lady in the 13th arrondissement (in May) who used this book for walking around, but personally being a non-native-French-reader I would not do that.
You buy this book with FNAC (click to open website)
No use possessing a wealth of tips for where to go, if you only carry around the Galeries Lafayette map, which you can have for free at the hotel lobby.
And although precise, the humungous "fold-out-but-never-manage-to-fold-back-in" maps aren't much fun either.
My all time favorite Paris map is this one. You can have it in all kiosks, e.g. at railway stations like Gare du Nord or at news paper stands.