I think a lot of us would like to die and come back as Erica. Here’s a woman who runs a very successful business and a hip blog about Paris (called HiP Paris Blog), and who divides her time not just between Paris and New York (Brooklyn, ahem) but also Genoa, Italy, and a beautiful lake in Maine. And did I mention she has a charming French fiancé who loves to bake for her and is a physical therapist? (as in he can fix your back when it’s sore and feed you lovely pastry)? Is this the newest offering of Parisian fantasy chick lit? No, it’s just Erica Berman’s everyday life as a part-time Parisienne.
Erica Berman, originally from outside Boston, found herself in Paris 19 years ago for what was supposed to be a stay of six months to a year, and has been involved in one way or another in the Paris vacation rental biz since its earliest days back in the 1990s. This was back when she’d have to fax or snail mail photos to potential clients and advertise mainly in magazines. She began her current company, Haven in Paris, in 2006 and now has over 30 vacation rentals in Paris, Provence and Tuscany, and 1 in London! Three years ago she began the HiP Paris Blog as a way to share with Francophiles many of the more interesting, off-the-beaten-track things to do in Paris, beyond the same-old tired tourist suggestions.
Erica and I have had a series of meals over the last year or so, in New York and Paris (OK, she beat me and found an even better place to take me here in Paris than I did in NY), and I have been impressed by her from our first meeting. Her cool, calm demeanor belies her daily whirlwind of a life, in one country one day and another the next, all while operating two successful websites and businesses.
Recently I had the pleasure of talking to Erica as she sat and stared peacefully at the remaining fall leaves at her lake house in Maine, via Skype, while I sat at my desk in my freshly cleaned apartment in Paris on a drizzly gray day.
So of course I’m so jealous that you get to gallivant around the world a lot more than I do. Tell me what drew you to these four different places where you spend your time.
I adore Maine for the beautiful nature and tranquillity, Brooklyn because it’s Brooklyn and just so cool. Alain [my fiancé] and I adore the local food movement happening there and all that goes along with that. Paris, of course, is Paris! I love Paris and have for 19 years. And I adore Italy for the Italians, the food and the beautiful countryside. I’m in love with Italians and with the country. This year I spent a couple of months in Italy, and next year I’d love to spend even more.
What’s the biggest difference between France and Italy or the French and the Italians?
France and Italy, well, the day-to-day lifestyle is more relaxed, friendly and pleasant in Italy, whereas in France it can be challenging. On a daily basis Italians are just so sweet, open and lovely—it seems like everything is OK by them.
Then, what would you say you love most about Paris?
I love the diversity of the people, culture and food. That there is so much art and culture—one could spend their whole life in Paris and never do everything that there is to do.
How and why did you start Haven in Paris, your apartment rental firm?
I hoped that I could fill a niche by offering fabulous luxury apartment and villa rentals at reasonable rates and with wonderful service.
What has changed in the business over the past 17-plus years?
When I started out, we’d fax descriptions and photos or send all the information by snail mail. I barely had e-mail; in fact I didn’t have e-mail at all until 2005, and I started out in 2004. Now of course it’s all online, and there are lots of players. Initially renting an apartment in Paris was a novel idea. Now it’s an extremely popular alternative.
What is your most recent apartment find?
The newest apartment we have, which has a lot of availability for 2012, is on the Place de Furstenberg, one of the most charming squares in Paris. It’s a duplex, with a great view and very funky yet chic, bohemian decor. It has two bedrooms with a panoramic Paris view and a wraparound terrace—it’s lovely and owned by a serious world traveler.
I know you used to specialize in decorating some of your apartments but that you don’t have much time to do that anymore. Do you have any on your roster that you personally decorated?
Yes, there are a few. In another life I’d love to be a decorator, but I prefer clients who give me free reign to do as I please. [Said with a giggle.]
What are some of your personal apartment favorites, ones that might reflect your own taste?
Well obviously I like all of the apartments on my site or they wouldn’t be there. I am very picky about what I put on my site. Nevertheless, here are two of my favorites. [See links below.]
Since you started the blog HiP Paris about three years ago, are there any favorite posts that come to mind?
Yes, well, I love Tory Hoen’s writing; she sadly is back in New York and is no longer able to write for us regularly. These two pieces were quite popular. [See links below.]
What areas do you think are the most interesting in Paris right now?
I love the Canal St.-Martin area, the Palais Royal neighborhood, Montmartre, where I live when in Paris, and the Marais. I’m definitely more of a right bank kinda gal.
How do you advise people on where to stay in Paris?
I try to chat with them to find out what they like, what kind of taste they have and what their budget is, of course. I really try to fit the apartment and area to their personality as much as possible.
If you had to leave Paris, what would you miss most?
The beautiful light and, of course, the food.
What’s the most embarrassing faux pas you’ve ever made in France?
When I first got to Paris, I brought a mum plant to a friend. It was in November, and the plant seemed appropriate for autumn. Afterward she carefully told me that those kinds of plants are only for gravestones in France. Also I learned the hard way that you should never give a French person soap as a gift, even a beautiful set of lavender soaps, because it tells them you think they are not clean. Whoops!
Editor’s note: Erica’s company, Haven in Paris, gives Girls’ Guide Travel Club members special discounts in low season. In fact, Travel Club members will get special prices at more than a dozen different apartment rental companies in Paris.