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Doni Belau

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4 Big Trends in Paris

Posted: 02/16/2012 4:30 pm

Year after year, Paris remains the No. 1 travel destination in the world. Some 30 million people visit the City of Light chaque année. While most tourists are out in force, crossing off the must-dos on their bucket list by climbing to the top of the Eiffel tower and lighting a candle at Notre Dame, there is another group of Parisaholics who travel to their favorite city quite often. This list of trends and new, hot and happening Parisian places is for the true Francophile.

Natural wine bars have become all the rage in Paris. The trend might have started in 2007 with the opening of Racines in the Passage des Panoramas, or even earlier with Le Verre Volé, which opened back in 2000. But there is no doubt that Pierre Jancou, the founder of Racines, which now has a different owner, helped put natural wine bars on the map (in Paris, that is). Natural wine, simply put, is wine that has undergone minimal chemical or technical intervention during the wine-making process and may or may not be made with organically grown grapes. Les Papilles, which opened in 2003 in the 5th Arrondissement, began to draw a crowd after it was written up by blogger David Lebovitz and the Anglophone press. Now, it seems every cool restaurant must have its own wine bar. Spring Restaurant has its own boutique and wine club; Le Comptoir du Relais has the tiny yet adorable L'Avant Comptoir; Jadis has Aux Verres de Contact; and Frenchie has Frenchie Bar à Vins, which some prefer to the actual restaurant. These places tend to be more bohemian cool than fancy, and this relaxed, friendly feel is exactly what everyone loves about them.

Saturne, a wine bar and restaurant that opened in 2010, has received its stamp of approval from the former Racines sommelier Ewan Lemoigne. The meal I had there shortly after it opened was sublime. The mushroom dish was so fresh I felt like I was eating it on the forest floor. The beautiful, minimal room has a Scandinavian look. Saturne offers a superb collection of natural and biodynamic wines, and said sommelier will happily pick out the perfect bottle for your meal.

Le Garde Robe, a much more relaxed wine bar, remains a perennial favorite and is a good stop before or after Spring Boutique, as both are located on the same street. Les Fines Gueules is around the corner, making this area of the 1st Arrondissement ideal for natural-wine bar hopping, if such a thing exists.

Verjus, run by Braden and Laura, the American couple from Hidden Kitchen, just opened near the Palais Royal with a small wine bar downstairs that serves some of the best fried chicken found in France. Other newer places that are enjoying praise are Jeu de Quilles, Au Passage and Vivant, which was opened recently by none other than the originator of the craze, Pierre Jancou. A good list of wine bars can be found here and here.

Another trend in Paris that has been on the rise is hammams, or Turkish steam baths. Typically a hammam experience takes about two hours or more. You begin with a shower, and then you parade from one steam room to another, taking time to cool off when necessary. You'll then go for a gommage, during which attendants use a special black lava soap to give you an intense scrub down. Next, you shower and shampoo, and then you cool down via a pool or a colder (not steamy) room. There are often lounge chairs available, as the steam heat is very relaxing and rest is often in order. Finally, if you aren't relaxed enough, you might go for a massage, then sip sweetened mint tea while nibbling on Turkish or North African sweets made with almonds and honey.

I am crazy for this unique "spa" experience. My go-to place is the O'Kari Hammam, because it's for ladies only and I know the darling owner, Karima. But there are many others. La Mosquée de Paris is the original steam room, and probably the most beautiful and authentic, complete with original Moroccan tiles from the 1920s. The Hammam Medina Center has an enormous pool. Les Bains du Marais is more fashionable than most of the hammams and has excellent masseuses.

For those who want a personalized tour and would like to take home a unique souvenir, a new idea that's become popular in Paris is to head to several of the spots where you can make your own perfume. Perfume pros will lead you through the steps of creating a bespoke scent, and you'll walk away with one that is yours alone. It makes for an ideal mother-daughter afternoon.

Cocktails in Paris have recently come into their own. Numerous cocktail hot spots have been popping up all over town -- in a city where not too long ago you couldn't even get a decent vodka and tonic. Some notables are the Prescription Cocktail Club (this team now has several popular outposts, including the Experimental Cocktail Club); Le 29, which is a clandestine cocktail club open very late and decorated in boudoir style; and Candelaria, an artisanal Mexican restaurant with a secret cocktail bar via a white door in the back. Paris has finally caught on to cocktail hour.

Doni Belau is the founder of Girls' Guide to Paris, a Web site and blog about everything in Paris.