Virtual Vacation: Visit Paris Almost As If You Were There. Ça va ?
I’ve been longing to go somewhere, anywhere, for quite some months now. And while the COVID-19 pandemic makes nonessential travel not the most responsible — or safe thing to do — there’re still some alternative ways of transporting yourself to a different city.
I’ve been wandering to Paris quite often in the last few weeks thanks to two French Netflix shows: Lupin and Call My Agent. And I realized there are many other ways to keep revisiting one of my favorite cities without enduring an 11-hour flight — or having to pay for it.
The good news is, in this list I’ve also included some alternatives to feel Parisian that don’t even require the use of a computer, because we all need some screen disconnection right now. On y va !
Forget the Big Attractions and Go For the Real Estate Voyeurism
Sure, you can always resort to Google Earth and take a virtual promenade by the Seine; get to the top of the Tour Eiffel sans the lines; or admire the Scaré-Coeur cathedral without having to climb to the top of Montmartre.
There’s also the possibility of admiring some of the highlight paintings at the Louvre’s site. The Mona Lisa and The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne are among those highlights, but other masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, like Saint John the Baptist, are impossible to find. And the whole Louvre website is a bit painful to navigate. You could go the Impressionist route with some Musée d’Orsay’s selection of works or even take Claude Monet’s Water Lilies virtual visit at the Musée de l’Orangerie. But the whole virtual museum experience pales in comparison to the real one, even if at home and in front of your computer you don’t have to endure Instagram-obsessed tourists with selfie sticks.
I’d say instead of going for high-brow Paris, take a more uncomplicated detour. Dabble on some real estate voyeurism by finding the perfect 19th-century apartment with mirrored walls and gold moldings on Airbnb. Maybe you’re more a recently renovated Haussmannian-style penthouse kind of person. Anything goes.
And since you’re not paying for any of these lofty accommodations anyway, why not take a look at one of the suites at the five-star Hôtel de Crillon at Place de la Concorde? You can even imagine yourself in one of the Parisian mid-century-style rooms at Le Roch.
Don’t Forget To Nibble on Some Croissants, Brioche and Macarons
Let’s face it, the biggest tragedy of not being able to actually go to Paris is all the food (and butter) you won’t be able to eat. But you can still find methods of feeling almost as if you’re there. Take a look at the colorful Instagram account of macarons specialists La Maison Ladurée, Parisian boulangerie Du Pain et des Idées and bakery and grocery store Terroirs d’Avenir. Be advised though, you might feel like eating croissants for breakfast for a whole week after doing it.
And if all that scrolling on social media doesn’t feel like enough, bake some chocolate bouchées (snack cakes) or buckwheat madeleines at home instead. You can find recipes for those and a lot of savory dishes in The Sweet Life in Paris and My Paris Kitchen, two memoir cookbooks from blogger and professional cook David Lebovitz. He moved to Paris in 2004 after having worked at legendary Bay Area restaurant Chez Panisse for 13 years and has been writing about French cuisine and ex-pat living ever since.
Find Some Fiction Set in Paris
Nothing can carry you to a place like some good literature. So grab a copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog or even reread The Da Vinci Code for some Parisian setting. If you feel in the mood for period Paris, opt for the adventure page-turner The Scarlet Pimpernel, which is set at the beginning of the French Revolution. The Paris Wife will transport you to the 1920s Paris Ernest Hemingway used to frequent and James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room will bring 1950s Paris to life.
And, we’ll always have the movies (and TV shows). This might be the perfect time to rewatch the films Amélie and Before Sunset, which were both set and filmed in Paris. And I’ve already told you about the shows Call My Agent and Lupin. The first one is set in the world of movie agents and features a real-life movie star each episode. Jean Reno, Monica Bellucci, Juliette Binoche and Sigourney Weaver all cameo in the show. Lupin reinvents the figure of French literary character Arsène Lupin, a gentleman thief (and another good reading recommendation). There’s a heist plot in Lupin, but also a lot of moments for talks in charming little cafés and walks by de Jardin du Luxembourg or the flea market.
Go For the Virtual Retail Therapy
Let’s finish our tour splurging on some online shopping or just some virtual window shopping. There’s always the big French fashion houses. The shows from the last Paris Fashion Week are available online and they’re a good opportunity to see what Chanel, Julien Fournié and Christophe Josse have in store for the upcoming season.
For more of a prêt-à-porter look, head to the online stores of French brands American Vintage — though it’s not a Parisian but Marseillais label — Comptoir des Cotonniers and Sézane. Sézane even ships to the United States, in case you’re feeling the urge to rock some Parisian style.
And, of course, not everything has to be tinted thru the glossy lens of the more touristy side of Paris. You can also be in touch with the city and the struggles Parisians are facing right now by following the international news outlet France 24 or the Europe section of your source of news.