I wouldn’t be caught dead taking tours in Paris or anywhere else. I hate feeling like a tourist. I prefer to discover a city on my own, ambling around and finding that corner café as if I were the first one in the world to see it. But there are certain things that even I can’t figure out on my own. Sometimes I have to turn to the pros, but I won’t do so unless they’ll show me Paris in a way that’s special and unique, not in a way that I can find in every guidebook.
Looking at Paris through a certain lens makes the city come alive. For example, through the lens of history, art, or literature, or by viewing the city through the eyes of a gourmet, you’ll get a different perspective on Paris. Depending on my mood, each lens can be enticing. If I’m in an inquisitive mood, I turn to Pamela Grant at Paris Perspectives, because she can take me around the streets of the Marais and make history come alive. Suddenly, instead of seeing my favorite shops and restaurants, I will begin to imagine the characters who roamed these same streets in the Middle Ages, or the life of literary greats, such as Victor Hugo. When I was in college, I was obsessed with Ernest Hemingway, devouring everything he ever wrote. Pamela can take me around Hemingway’s Paris, coloring my vision again and making his life in Paris come alive for me.
If I’m in a shopping mood, I turn to Toma Clark Haines, who founded the Antiques Diva. She guides me around Paris, hitting not only the marché aux puces but also helping me find the best deals at all the brocantes around town. She can help me itch my scratch for French antique bargains, and I know I can’t get these deals without her negotiating ability. What’s more, she can take care of any shipping for me.
If a friend is in town who is a Paris virgin and wants to see the Eiffel Tower, I won’t come along—I’m not that nice—but I will share the number of Easy Pass Tours, which will arrange for a tour of la tour without having to stand in the terribly long lines. Frankly, this is the only way to see Paris’s iconic landmark without ruining the whole day by waiting around for hours. Julie, who’s in charge at Easy Pass, also has a spectacular tour of my favorite museum, the Pompidou, which includes entry in the morning before it officially opens so I can have it all to myself. This experience is 100 percent unique and special.
If I’m in the mood for something extremely special and VIP, and if I want to impress a friend, I turn to Manuel of Exclusive and Private. He can take us for the day to the Loire Valley, and we can have lunch at the private château of one of his friends, with a tour of its private gardens. Anyone can go to Villandry and Chenonceaux, but seeing a private castle, and meeting the owner, feels infinitely more special.
And if I can’t decide what I’m in the mood for, I’ll call Solène at Meeting the French. She can help me decipher which of its many tours and experiences I want to take part in. There’s no end to the workshops and ateliers that I can visit—those of pastry chefs, fashion designers, leather artisans, hat makers and more. There’s also a plethora of foodie tours. Deciding is the hardest part.
Editor’s note: All the tour companies mentioned above offer Girls’ Guide to Paris members a special discounted price or something extra special for our friends.