Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Paris with Perks: Insider’s Guide

Jennifer Virgilio | November 13, 2016

The insider advice on this page is from one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for the France and Monaco: Jennifer Virgilio

Trusted Travel Expert
Jennifer Virgilio

When you need something special for a trip to Paris, Jennifer waves her magic wand, et voila.  She can make the line at the Eiffel Tower disappear, snag front-row seats for Fashion Week, or turn a seven-hour layover into a holiday. Her VIP meet-and-greet starts at the aircraft door (or the train car if you’re arriving in Paris on the Eurostar) and includes fast-track entry through immigration and customs to a waiting car—particularly helpful if you have small children, mobility issues, or lots of luggage. While Jennifer is best known for her à la carte concierge services—not just in Paris but in London (where she used to live) and Rome (where she currently lives, married to the general manager of one of the city’s most illustrious hotels)—her background in the airline and hotel businesses, and her stable of stellar guides (experts in a variety of fields), enable her to flawlessly execute elaborate multi-day itineraries as well. Her reach extends throughout France to Monaco, where she can get you tickets to the Ferrari pit during the Grand Prix or provide you with a well-stocked private yacht off the coast, and beyond Rome to the rest of Italy, where her fleet of cars with English-speaking drivers can get you seamlessly from point A to point B.

Prices start at $170 for expedited entry at the airport, $920 for full-day transfers in luxury vehicles with sightseeing stops, and $950 per day for two travelers for custom-tailored trips including accommodations, guides, and all the trimmings.

Things to Do and See

The Eiffel Tower and surrounding gardens, Paris

The Eiffel Tower and surrounding gardens, Paris. Photo: Anthony Delanoix/Unsplash

Most overrated experience
Dinner at the Eiffel Tower. You can’t actually see the tower when you’re inside it; there are better options nearby, where you can have a table with a grand view of the tower itself.

Most underrated places
There are many chateaux around Paris besides Versailles: Vaux le Vicomte (which was actually the model for Versailles), Fontainebleau, and Chantilly are historic and grand but lesser-known, so they’re not overrun by tourists the way Versailles is.

Hidden gem
Père Lachaise Cemetery. Many great talents are buried here—including Jim Morrison and Frédéric Chopin—most beneath impressive monuments that tell a story. It’s like an outdoor museum, though you won’t forget that you’re in a cemetery.

The 61-acre Parc des Buttes Chaumont, in the 19th Arrondissement, is one of the city’s original parks, and it’s a convenient place for a rest if you’re already visiting Montmartre. It’s known for the Temple de la Sibylle, which sits atop an island in the middle of a lake, and for its bridges and waterfalls.

How to spend a lazy Sunday
Sunday mornings are the best time to walk around Paris while the city is still asleep. Take advantage of this quiet moment. Arrive for brunch early, especially if you’re dining at a hip Montmartre spot. Afterward, visit the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, a flea market that is open only on Sundays and Mondays. It’s in a very non-touristy area of Paris, and you’ll find antiques, inexpensive clothing, and North African dishes to taste.

Prime picnic spot
For first-timers, there’s nothing better than sitting on the Champ de Mars in the heart of Paris with that iconic view of the Eiffel Tower. Or set up in the Jardin du Luxembourg, a beautiful park near the Left Bank that’s perfect for a picnic after you’ve explored the Latin Quarter.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica, Paris

The Sacré-Cœur Basilica at the summit of Montmartre, Paris. Photo: ADGraphics/Pixabay

Where to Stay and What to Eat

Best splurge hotels that are a good value
France has a unique designation, “five-star palace,” for the hotels with the highest standards of service (which often aren’t actually historical palaces). The best value is typically found at the four-star level—such as the Hotel California or the Residence Nell. If you want a view of the Eiffel Tower, book a junior suite at the five-star Hotel Regina, in a great location near the Louvre, and you’ll pay a lot less than you would at Le Meurice, a five-star palace hotel just down the street. Travelers who book a room at the Regina through me get free breakfast and upgrades when available.

Restaurant the locals love
Restaurant Pages, in the 16th Arrondissement, is a Michelin-starred spot that doesn’t feel stuffy. It has an open kitchen and an affordable prix fixe lunch menu at about $45 per person.

La Closerie des Lilas, a formal restaurant and more casual brasserie on the Left Bank, has a long history that includes names such as Emile Zola and Paul Cézanne, and an authentic Parisian ambiance and décor. When dining in the brasserie order the escargot, a classic preparation of this quintessentially French dish.

Dishes to try
Pierre Hermé is one of the country’s best pastry chefs, and his macaroons never feel mass-produced; they melt in your mouth. For sweet and savory crepes and galettes, follow the locals to Breizh Café in the Marais.

Meal worth the splurge
The experience of dining once at a three-star Michelin restaurant is often enough, but not so at L’Arpege, where chef Alain Passard keeps people coming back again and again. His dishes focus on the vegetables he grows at his biodynamic farm just outside the city.

Macarons Pierre Hermé bakery, Paris

The macarons at the Pierre Hermé bakery are some of the best in the world. Photo: Incase/Flickr

Best Times to Go

Spring or early autumn: The weather is lovely (not too hot or too cold), and school is still in session so the city is not overrun by kids. In June, the days are longest, the temperature is pleasant, and the cherry blossoms are in bloom. And it’s when Parisians spend many an evening on the docks of the Ile Saint Louis with a musical instrument, a bottle of wine, and some playing cards. Plus, there are events galore, from Shakespeare en plein air in the Bois de Boulogne to the Paris Air Show.

Worst Time to Go

August. Many French companies and their employees go on holiday, and some restaurants, shops, and businesses are closed. Parisians are mostly gone, with only tourists left in the city.

Biggest Rookie Mistake

Don’t wait until the last minute to book the Eiffel Tower, or you will waste time queuing for hours. Buy your tickets online ahead of time (they can sell out three months in advance in high season); arrive 20 minutes before your scheduled entrance for the security screening.

Beware trickster thieves. They are known to ask you to sign a petition or play a game, then try to pick your pocket or snatch something from you.

Can't-Miss Photo Op

The Louvre at about 9pm, when it’s illuminated and there aren’t any crowds.

The Pont des Arts (formerly known as the Love Lock Bridge) before sunset, to capture the Seine at twilight.

For Eiffel Tower shots, go to Pont Bir-Hakeim at sunset, or take a stroll on Île aux Cygnes for a beautiful view of the tower from afar.

The Souvenir

For something truly unique, I can arrange for you to design your own clothing with a designer or create your own perfume with a perfumier. We also sometimes hire photographers to trail you while you tour the city, artfully blending family portraits with vacation snapshots.

Scam to Avoid

Some taxi drivers will take the longest route possible once they hear your accent. Negotiate the price before getting in, or ask your concierge or bellman for assistance.

Some vendors at the Saint-Ouen antiques market will also take advantage of foreigners. It’s a fun place to stroll, but if you are serious about buying and you don’t speak French, bring a guide who knows the sellers and will recognize pieces that aren’t authentic.

Must-Have Apps

Citymapper is the best way to figure out how to get around the city efficiently by foot, bus, or metro.

Meteo Paris provides accurate weather conditions, which are always changing in Paris.

Bragging Rights

I can arrange for you to go behind the scenes at the Louvre with one of the museum’s art curators, visiting rooms not open to the public and learning in depth about the collection’s most famous works and undiscovered gems. Or take a “wine tour” through the Louvre: A curator will show you the role that wine plays in various works on display, followed by a wine tasting and dinner inside the museum when it is closed.

Airport Intel

Do not trust the unlicensed taxi drivers who stand inside the airport offering rides; go to the queue outside for a licensed taxi, or arrange a private transfer ahead of time (Uber is another option, but not always a prompt one).

Tipping Tips

Tips are normally included at meals; check your bill to be sure. Typical guidelines are 10% at restaurants, one or two euros in taxis, 20-25 euros per day for a private driver, and 25 euros per half-day for a private guide.

Don't Forget to Pack

Rain is a possibility at any time of year, so always bring closed-toe shoes, layers, and an umbrella.

Reviews

Private River Cruise on the Seine

Robyn Parry | July 19, 2017

Jennifer is candid, smart, charming

Laura Morse | June 20, 2017

Excellent recommendations and ...

Lynette Rasmussen | May 30, 2017
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