Paris’s charms are inexhaustable, but even the City of Light can be a drag in July and August, when vacationing city workers leave tourist destinations closed for the summer. Happily, not everything in Paris shuts down for summer. Try these on for size.
Hit the beach . . in Paris?
In July and August, the city hosts Paris Plage, when 3,000 tons of sand are deposited along the banks of the Seine to create beaches by the Pont Neuf, Notre-Dame, and the Pont au Change. You can’t actually jump in the river (would you really want to if you could?), but the imported sand creates the desired effect for those who can’t leave town for the traditional holiday. There are all kinds of thoughtful additions: hammocks, picnic tables, lounge chairs, live music, beach volleyball, tai chi in the morning, and a library that loans out books. Do remember to plant your umbrella and lounge chair early — the beaches are popular, especially with locals.
Even frugal fashionistas can enjoy a taste of the haute life at the iconic Parisian department store, Galeries Lafayette. Each Friday at 3 p.m., the well-heeled and sneaker-clad alike make a pilgrimage here to see absurdly tall models from top agencies strut down the catwalk in designer duds. Featured outfits from names like Jean-Paul Gaultier and John Galliano come with hefty price tags attached. But the 30-minute “performance” (complete with English commentary) is absolutely free. Simply email [email protected] to secure a seat. Not surprisingly, rival department store Printemps hosts its own free fashion shows across the street. Models take to the runway at 10 a.m. Tuesdays, on the seventh floor of the Printemps de la Mode building. Reservations aren’t required for this one unless you’re attending as part of a group.
Catch a flick in the park
French cineastes who like a little nature with their art should check out Cinéma en Plein Air, hosted by the Parc de la Villette July 4-August 13. The films, screened outside in the elements, range from classics to fresh American releases. You can also see movies outdoors with the Thursday-Sunday film series Cinéma au Clair de Lune, running August 2 through 20 at various locations throughout Paris. The programming deftly balances scratchy classics (think Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Doulos”) and slick product (think Philippe de Broca’s “Le Bossu”).
Meet the Folks
Parisians are often labeled as aloof, even downright snooty. But you can bust past old stereotypes by taking advantage of the Paris Avec Parisians program. Unlike most Local Greeter schemes, which require registration months in advance, this one takes a laissez-faire approach. Simply put, the city tourism board gives visitors the opportunity to interact with residents in their “native habitat” by organizing come-as-you-are events, including dances, walks, concerts, picnics, and (mon dieu!) political debates: all of which are billed as “low-key occasions to make new friends.” Of course, if you’d prefer to be in a home rather than just on home turf, www.meetingthefrench.com can arrange for you to dine at the residence of a carefully screened Parisian host. You won’t get home cooking (meals are actually catered at the guests’ expense), but you will be embraced like long-lost kin.
Museums Old and New
Paris is home to many museums, and at any given time more than a few of them can be closed for renovation, sometimes for years. This summer sees the return to business of two popular Paris museums, the Petit Palais (photo, right) and the Musée de l’Orangerie. The new basement addition at the Petit greatly expands exhibition space while the Musée de l’Orangerie now has a stunning tempered-glass roof over Monet’s “Water Lillies.” The collections of African, Oceanic, and Asian art on display at the Musée du Quai Branly are not new to Paris, but the building now housing them is (it opened for business a year ago). Architect Jean Nouvel’s loosely connected assembly of buildings, which snake along the Seine, aren’t to everyone’s liking, but they’re certainly not dull.
Paris’s Best Ice Cream?
Cafés all over sell the haute couture of ice cream, but Berthillon is the place to come for this delectable treat. More than 30 flavors are served, including Grand Marnier and the mouth-puckering cassis (black currant). Expect to wait in line. The shop is open Wednesday-Sunday but closes for part of August. 31 rue St-Louis-en-Île.
Plop down in the shade
Take a seat underneath a plane tree in the Jardin du Luxembourg to observe the goings-on in one of the city’s most popular parks. Jubilant children ride ponies or vie for brass rings on the merry-go-round. Students nap in the green metal chairs around the fountain and grey-haired men take a turn at pétanque. This is as picture-perfect Parisian as it gets.
Photo Credits: (1,2) Paris Tourist Office, Amélie Dupont; (3) Mairie de Paris; Christophe Fouin