Paris Stories and Tips

Stylish Paris: Place de la Concorde to the Opera

The Opera Garnier Photo, Paris, France

Now where on earth is snootier then this section of Paris. Not the Upper East Side, Not Knightsbridge, Not Vienna''s Kohlmarkt, even Beverley Hills cannot beat this area for exclusivity. This is gold expense account country where the super-rich of Europe wear the latest fashions from Versace, dine at the Paris Ritz and spend the night at the Opera. They may live in posh Autueil or Passey but they come to shop, dine and pose at the stylish boulevards stretching from the Place de la Concorde all the way to the Paris Opera.

For me this is a wonderful place to stroll even if it is just to dream and look in the windows. And everybody who comes here may not be poor, but they come away feeling it. Paris must be the best place to live in the world if you have money. So stick your nose in the air, take on a brisk place and pretend you are a rich Parisian.

The best place to start is the Place de la Concorde. Everyone knows the story about how this was a place of execution during the revoloution with Robespierre, Marie Antoinette and Danton meeting grisly ends here. You wouldn''t think it today with the traffic belting pell-mell across the Place. To reach it take the metro to Concorde or Elysee/Clemenceau or any bus that goes along the Rue du Rivoli. I think the best approach is from the Tuileries gardens where Cheveaux de Marly (rearing horse statues) guard the entrance to the traffic spinning square. It''s bigger then you expect and in the very middle are four traffic islands with gushing fountains and goldtipped statues. In its centre is a tall Egyptian obelisque and the western side is the start of the Champs Elysee (and nearby in prime position is the American embassy). But architecturally it is perfect with two brownstone neoclassical gems on the northside - the Hotel Crillon and the Naval ministry. The south side leads to the Seine where the opposite side is guarded by the Assemblee Nationale - the French Parliament. You are now in the heart of the French Republic.

Between the Hotel Crillon and the Naval Ministry - if you haven''t been killed by the traffic trying to reach it - is Rue Royale. This ends at the impressive Doric Madeleine church and is bisected by the poshest shopping address in Paris - Rue Faubourg St Honore. This street drips with designer shops and courturiers including Hermes, Lagerfeld, Gautier, Westwood and Yves St Laurent. You need a second mortgage to buy the perfumes in the shop windows and the best dressed women you have seen in your life patrol this street. Opposite Versace was the fortress-like British Embassy and literally the nextdoor neighbour was the Elysee Palace - home of the French President. The last time I was there crowds were gathering and women were gathering up their little poodles as a motorcade accompanied by police motorcycles emerged. Was that the French President Jacques Chirac - who knows?

Following Rue Royale to the north takes you to the Church of Madeleine. This is one of Napoleon''s monstrosities (anyone who has read these journals knows that I am not a fan...) The Greek porticoed church was rather dark and atmospheric inside with a gold filigree altar and flickering candles. Outside is a flower-market but the best thing to do is head north-east along Boulevard Capucins. You now enter an area known as the grandes boulevards - immense thoroughfares lined with white apartment blocks and lined with plane trees. Every vista is spectacular and epic although it does mean more noise and traffic congestion. This part of Paris used to be as tangled as Le Marais before it was bulldozed by Baron Haussmann to create these epic boulevards. They were not made for aesthetic reasons but so the establishment could get the army across Paris quickly if the proles started a revoloution.

Boulevard Capucines has endless French language cinemas, restaurants and galleries but ends in the spectacular Paris Opera (see photo). The Second Empire facade of this legendary building was so vast that I had to step onto a traffic island to get it all in. The interior is very opulent with gold and claret decor but expensive ticket prices. For 40 Francs you can go on a tour of the building which even takes you down to the cellars abode of the ''Phantom of the Opera''. Behind its grime-ingrained bulk are two of Paris'' great department stores Galleries Lafayette and its sister - Printemps. The stalls outside are fascinating but the interior with its bottle-green faux arts dome is magnificent. Once again prices are expensive and whenever I go in I am chased by salesgirls trying to spray me with eau de cologne. Are they trying to tell me something?

There is one more set-price before you leave this arondissement - the Place Vendome (see photo). Reached from the north by the Rue de la Paix - this is the world of the Beau Monde and only the deeply rich can shop there. It consists of a vast cobbled square dotted with lamposts, 17th century ornate townhouses surround it on four sides and under their eaves are the creme de la creme of French chicness - Van Cleef, Cartier, Boucheron, the Rothschild bank and the Paris Ritz. All watched over by a 100ft statue of Napoeleon made out of green bronze.

All this wealth and opulence may be getting to you and you may be cursing your luck at not being born a millionaire. Don''t worry it is a short walk or bus ride back to Les Halles or Beaubourg and there you can be back with ordinary Parisians. So find a cafe, order a bottle of vin and enjoy the simple cheap pleasures that Paris has to offer...

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