Western Europe, smack in the middle of France’s northern half, bisected by the River Seine.
Because any way you cut it, Paris is among the truly great cities. If you’ve got any appetite at all for fashion, food, art, wine, architecture, culture or intellectual history, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself drawn into its orbit.
From elsewhere in Europe, rail is by far the most humane option. From farther afield, Charles de Gaulle is among Europe’s busiest airports, directly connected to just about everywhere — it’s not hard to wrangle a Parisian stopover.
Once you’re in town: consider walking. It’s a more compact city than you might think. Though if you’re in a hurry, the Metro, with its distinctive visual style, eccentric manual latched doors and near-silent rubber-tired cars works well, while Vélib’, the public bike-sharing program, is another excellent above-ground option — just don’t bother with the taxis.
While it’s virtually impossible for a shopper to miss the haute handbags and designer dresses in Paris, there’s a world of obscure collectibles that rewards a bit more effort. However unusual the prize you’re after, whether it’s a particularly fine work of taxidermy or a vintage perfume advertisement, it’s probably somewhere in the city, waiting on a shopkeep’s shelf or buried deep in a dusty old box.
Le Dokhan’s Hôtel certainly makes good use of the city’s deep troves of collectibles. Located in a Haussmannian building dating from 1910, the hotel is home to a menagerie of antiques and objets d’art, including an 18th-century Italian console, works by Piranesi and Veneziano, and, most notably, an elevator upholstered in Louis Vuitton canvas from 1930s trunks. Antiques-lovers should feel right at home.
For those after something more contemporary, there’s the trippy Royal Monceau — Raffles Paris, with its boldly striped hallways and profusion of chandeliers. As art concierge Domoina de Brantes tells us, designer Philippe Starck seeks to “dedicate places and their décor to living artists.” Thus, contemporary art by the likes of Thomas Boog, Stéphane Calais, and Marie Maillard is exhibited throughout the hotel, and there’s also an in-house gallery.
Beyond the hotels, the treasure-hunting awaits, beginning at the city’s myriad markets. Jean Philippe Beaudenon, the concierge at Le Dokhan’s, recommends the famed Puces de Saint-Ouen, a labyrinth of stalls packed with a dizzying variety of merchandise. (It’s among the world’s largest flea markets.) He also suggests the lesser-known Vanves, the only flea market within Paris’s city limits, as well as the Louvre des Antiquaires and the Village Suisse, each a collection of dozens of dealers and galleries selling everything from jewelry to weapons.
Specialty shops have plenty of esoterica on offer as well. Shelves and boxes of ephemera like vintage temporary tattoos and sardine cans fill the tiny, musty Tombées du Camion (“Fallen from the Truck”), while the airy taxidermy shop Deyrolle is a veritable Noah’s Ark — there’s even an entomology room with cabinets and drawers full of insects that appear to have come from the set of a sci-fi flick. And those seeking a faster-paced shopping experience should head to public auction house Drouot-Richelieu. Each day, shouted prices, occasional curses, and the phrase “Sans regret?” (a common way of ending each lot’s proceedings) can be heard emanating from Drouot’s no-frills red rooms, where items ranging from vintage postcards to fashion pieces are sold.
Should the bidding wars get out of hand, there are cost-effective — but still quirky — alternatives. The collection of the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) is spread across two mansions, one dating from the 17th century. Most of the cleverly appointed rooms contain art and artifacts relevant to specific animals, such as unicorns and wild boars. De Brantes, meanwhile, recommends the Bibliothèque Forney, a public library established in 1886 and focused on fine, decorative, and graphic arts. They have a generous lending policy, so if all else fails, you can always borrow and renew until forced to come back to Paris and return your selections — hardly the worst of punishments.