The French adore London. More than 400,000 French nationals reside there full-time, enjoying their own embassy (with its huge cultural complex, maternelle, lycée, French-language school, etc.), their own magazines (Ici Londres and London Macadam) and even, beginning in November 2010, their own radio station (French Radio London). Every weekend the Eurostar brings waves of visitors to Paris. Many come to shop, but even more come for the culture—which, bien sûr, is heavily influenced by their own. For Parisian visitors, these are currently London’s most seductive attractions.
Red Sun Pavilion
Every year the Serpentine Gallery unveils a temporary summer pavilion by some famous name. Each lasts until October, hosting films, talks, events—and visitors. Architect Jean Nouvel’s all-scarlet masterpiece has proved a hit with everyone; its bar-café and free Ping-Pong are always busy. But things quiet down after teatime, which makes it perfect for drinks in one of the city’s prettiest parks.
Free admission. Open daily, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; through October 8, Fridays until 10 p.m. Through October 17, 2010.
The Perfume Diaries
Harrods, Knightsbridge, SW1
Harrods’ perfume counters are always a magnet; the French love their gift boxes, bargains and special offers. But this museum-quality expo is packing them in, not least because the history of scent is so tied to fashion. The show is filled with fascinating tidbits and artifacts, almost all from French and English fragrance history. The shimmering array of bottles (antique, Lalique, Baccarat, bespoke) absolutely hypnotizes. Curated by Roja Dove, author of The Essence of Perfume, the expo also features a boutique where you can try or buy many vintage scents. Only problem: “The Perfume Diaries” is hard to find in such a vast store. Go to the fourth floor and enter through the Way In teen boutique.
Free admission. Through October 2, 2010.
Camille Silvy: Photographer of Modern Life, 1834–1910
National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square
This mid-Victorian photographer was French, but he worked and made his reputation in London. There, his atelier near Hyde Park (still visible, at 38 Porchester Terrace) welcomed the era’s royals, socialites and celebrities. Silvy’s sitters were presented in modern dress—a change for photography—and a carte de visite from his studio was the equivalent of a Vogue cover today. One of London’s best, most acclaimed exhibitions in years.
Free admission to gallery; admission to exhibition: £5. Through October 24, 2010.
12 Lowndes Street, SW1
Just opened in late September with minimal fuss, the renowned patissier’s first London location—in the heart of London’s swankiest shopping precinct—is easier to shop than any of the Paris premises. Nevertheless, the store has already suffered shortages. According to staff, the top customer choices are cubes of Cake Ispahan (almond, raspberry and rose jelly) and the Hermé Pietra (chocolate and hazelnut praline).
36 Hermé cubes: £28.50.
The Wallace Collection
Hertford House, Manchester Square, W1
A 1776 mansion only blocks from the main shopping drag Oxford Street, the Wallace Collection is one of the English capital’s best-kept secrets. Its stunning 18th-century French interiors house an extraordinary collection of furniture, jewels and paintings. (There are works by Titian, Canaletto, Gainsborough and Watteau, as well as Fragonard’s famous The Swing.) Three things especially intrigue French visitors. One is the salon, which reunites more of Marie Antoinette’s possessions than anywhere else. Two is the world’s largest collection of French Sevrès porcelain. Three: the stunning central courtyard restaurant by Oliver Peyton—where one can enjoy delicious meals, cream teas or champagne and foie gras.
Free admission; open seven days a week, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Note: Check out Travel Stride for Luxury European Trips and Adventures.