The moment I dropped my bags on the blonde wood floors of my apartment in the chic Parisian Haut Marais neighbourhood, I knew I'd made the right choice.
Having travelled to the French city of light numerous times during the past decade, I'd ticked off all the usual tourist suspects. This time, I simply wanted to pick an area and sink into it, to grasp how daily life might be for a Parisian. Feeling instantly at home in this light-filled, sixth-floor apartment overlooking the neighbourhood's rooftops, I was confident I'd made the right accommodation decision.
Booked through Apartments Actually, a small group of hand-selected apartments exclusively in the Marais neighbourhood, my one-bedroom apartment was, in the manner of all things quintessentially French, simply and elegantly styled. I immediately settled onto the dove-grey couch in the white-walled lounge with its exposed roof beams, and poured myself a glass of the complimentary Laurent-Perrier champagne I'd discovered in the fridge. Soon, after watching the sky dim from rose to lavender as the Friday evening murmurings began to drift up to me, it was time to step out. I needed only to amble around the corner, through a few streets buzzing with stylish restaurants and boutiques, for a decadent meal at Les Enfants Rouges, a restaurant recommended by Apartments Actually's well-curated guest dossier. In the understated space with room for just 20, housed in a 17th-century building, I feasted for hours on Japanese French fusion cuisine.
The next morning I was met out the front of my apartment by Ute Biefang. A former producer of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival who for the past eight years has been running bespoke gastronomic and cultural tours around Paris, Biefang works with Apartments Actually to give guests her edited, local perspective on the Marais. It's the only Parisian arrondissement that's split into upper and lower areas, she told me immediately. And while the lower Marais has long since had its boom, until a couple of years ago this upper portion remained sleepy. "It's just a bit cooler up here," said Biefang, "it's really big with the fashionistas."
I could see why. As Biefang steered me through the sunshine-drenched laneways to the area's best patisserie, Du Pain on the Boulevard Beaumarchais, we passed the "mother of all concept stores" Merci, Parisian high-fashion favourites Acne and A.P.C, as well as the most glamorous supermarket I'd ever seen, Maison Plisson. She showed me the best cafe for people watching, Le Progres ("It's on the best corner in the area, it's cheap entertainment!"), which I dog-eared for later, as well as the delightful mini-eclair shop Popelini. Next, we walked through the Marche des Enfants Rouge, Paris' oldest food market that has been running for more than 400 years, where some say the best crepes in all of Paris are made by a cheeky man named Alain. We walked around the Carreau du Temple – a 19th century covered market that has found new life as a handsome centre for exhibitions, performances, eating and drinking – the reopening of which, in 2015, is said to have officially signaled the hip-ification of the Haut Marais.
We finished our morning in the local park, sitting and watching locals read books in the spring sunshine. "People come to Paris and have everything planned," said Biefang. "But I say, scrap half of it. Just take time out to smell the roses, to sit like the French do and watch the world go by."
She didn't need to tell me twice. I spent the afternoon giving my best imitation of a flaneuse, a French word for someone strolling a city's streets without any specific purpose except for capturing its essence. I wandered the streets and the shops, ducking back to the apartment to set down bags and refresh with a cup of tea. I magicked away a couple of hours at Le Progres, where I sipped champagne and watched what had to be some of Paris' most fashionable people pass by – including a man in the three-piece suit and top hat smoking a cigar while whirring by on his bicycle. Later, I walked to Clown Bar, another of Apartments Actually's spot-on dining suggestions, where I devoured an artichoke veloute with sea urchin, and steak tartare with burrata, washed down with a sampling of their completely natural wine list under sexy string lighting. Then all that was left to do was head back to the apartment, to watch the evening lights twinkle like stars over the rooftops.
The next morning, I organised a yoga class with Apartments Actually's private teacher, and we downward-dogged and sun-saluted as the morning rays streamed into the apartment. Before long, though, I found myself at another corner bistro, this time the achingly trendy Cafe Charlot. I had some plans for the morning, but I forgot what they were. I was happy to just sit there, like a true flaneuse, watching the world pass by.
Etihad flies to Paris via Abu Dhabi from every capital city from about $1340 return. See etihad.com.
Apartments Actually offers a small selection of unique apartments throughout Paris' Marais neighbourhood, as well as sprawling houses in Provence, for weekly rentals. From $1950 (€1380) a week; neighbourhood tours, private yoga and cookery classes can be arranged at an additional cost. See apartmentsactually.com.
Nina Karnikowski travelled courtesy of Apartments Actually and Atout France.
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