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  • Writer's pictureNicola Chilton

Nicola in Paris, or my perfect day in the City of Light

Emily in Paris seems to be polarising the world at the moment. Some viewers hate it for its stereotypical view of Parisians, with scathing magazine articles berating Emily's eye-wateringly bad taste in fashion, the impossible-to-believe storyline (non-French-speaking American millennial is sent to leading PR agency to teach the locals how to do social media), the "wooden acting" of the good-looking neighbour downstairs (which I'm more than happy to forgive. Swoon.) Others take a more sympathetic view, seeing it as healthy escapism at a time when we all need it. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, you can't deny that at least it brought some of the beauty of Paris into our homes at a time when the destination remains a distant dream for most. And it made me reminisce about trips I've made there over the past few years. So here you have my Perfect Day in Paris, with plenty of opportunities to capture some of the city's most Instagrammable places for your feed, as Emily would want you to do. One day in Paris is never enough, but we'll try and squeeze in what we can. We won't hit many of the big sights - let's assume you've already seen those on previous visits. Wear comfy shoes (Parisian women are always smart enough to wear flats when they're walking around the city) as we have a few kilometres to cover. I'm terrible at remembering the different arrondissements - I genuinely can't tell the 3rd from the 18th, if there even is an 18th - so we'll focus our navigations on landmarks.

But first, a caveat. I never used to be a fan of Paris. I thought it was too show-offy, too clichéd in its beauty, too much loved by everyone else. But it grew on me. And it continued to grow on me until I couldn't pretend not to love it any more. And now I'm a fan. So let's go. Allons-y!

6:00am This part won't be for everyone, but the early morning summer skies in Paris are magical, criss-crossed by vapour trails and gradations of colour from pink to yellow to blue, shining a golden light on the city as the sunbeams start to touch the rooftops. I can't miss it. An easy run (or walk or jog) can take you past all of the main sights from the Eiffel Tower, up the Avenue George V, down the Champs-Elysées, through the Jardins des Tuileries, past the Egyptian obelisk in the Place de la Concorde, down to the Louvre and its glass pyramid, and still have you back in time, showered and ready to head out for breakfast. You'll mostly have the city to yourself at this hour, along with a few others out for a morning run and the inevitable Chinese couples doing their pre-wedding photoshoots in full costume. If you've chosen to walk this route rather than run, just keep strolling as far as Montmartre, our breakfast destination - it's not as far as it looks and you'll feel like the city belongs to you.

8:30am You could start with breakfast in your hotel, and if you happen to be fortunate enough to be staying at the George V, you can have what may well be the world's best French toast (featured in my Breakfasts of Champions blog post). But there are few things better than starting your day with breakfast in the private garden of what used to be one of the homes of the Hermès family. The Hôtel Particulier is just the place for us. The garden is filled with dappled sunlight and tall trees (and, rather incongruously, the odd chicken wandering around), and we'll sit in those white metal chairs so typical of European gardens that manage to be simultaneously charming and incredibly uncomfortable. We'll have fresh juice, coffee (skip tea in Paris - maybe it's the water, but I've never yet managed to find a decent cup), buttery croissants and perhaps a coupe de champagne to get us in the mood. Don't forget to step inside the hotel itself for a nosy around - the decor is extraordinary, reaching just that level of kitsch that remains impossibly chic in a beautifully Parisian way. Tasselled velvet chairs, taxidermy on the bookshelves, oversized potted ferns, black and white tiled floors, and wallpaper featuring forest scenes with combinations of animals that would never be found together in nature. It's practically perfect, and makes me smile at each detail. When I grow up I want to live in a house like this.

10:00am As hard as it is, let's tear ourselves away from this lovely spot for a wander around Montmartre. Head in the direction of the Rue des Saules where on my last visit the street was decorated with framed artworks including a portrait of Van Gogh with multiple ears (I guess you could say he was "all ears"), a naked turtle decorating his own shell, and a sad-looking featherless goose in a down jacket. This is also the place to snap that pic of one of the most Instagrammed sights in Paris, the pink Maison Rose café (extra points if you can capture it with a Citroën 2CV driving past), and if we carry on up the hill, we'll stumble upon the Clos Montmartre vineyard. It's a secret hiding in plain sight, created in 1933 by foresighted city authorities to protect the land from real estate development. It's closed to the public for most of the year, but you can look (and point your camera) through the railings to get a glimpse inside. Just a couple of minutes' walk from here is the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, a big white confection of a building located on the top of Paris's highest hill. I was surprised to discover that it's only just over 100 years old. I thought it had been there for centuries.

11:00am There's always great street art to photograph around Montmartre, so we'll snap and walk in the direction of the Moulin Rouge for the obligatory photo of its windmill. I attended a show a few years ago which started with a fascinating backstage tour to see the costumes. The theatre itself is a beauty, all billowing red canopies and table lamps. But the show itself... let's just say it wasn't quite the glamorous experience I'd expected, with very dated themed performances and a rather ghastly scene of a woman wrestling with a poor python in a pool of water. I'm pretty sure that if they changed it to a stage version of Baz Luhrman's film they would generate a completely new fan base, but alas, it's still all about the boobs, which are revealed without even the slightest tit-illation, if you'll pardon the expression. From here, if our legs still have enough energy, we'll walk (or hail a taxi) to the lovely Jacquemart-André Museum on Boulevard Haussman, a private museum in a monumental mansion with 19th century furnishings, a beautiful double spiral staircase, the art collections of the original owners, and the opportunity to doff a rather fetching hat and sit behind a gilded baroque frame to take your own portrait.

12:30pm We've worked up an appetite by now, so let's head to the other side of the river to a little seafood brasserie in the rue de Buci called L'Atlas where we'll eat buckets of moules marinières washed down with copious quantities of Chablis. This is one of the most delightful streets in Paris. When it rains you sit under the red canopy of L'Atlas, feeling cosily content as you watch the Parisians splashing their way by. When it's sunny, the outdoor cafés are full and the whole street comes alive with that particular joie de vivre that seems to permeate the air here. If you're there on a weekend, you might be lucky enough to bump into the Dixieland jazz band who play the most wonderful music on the street corner, with an elderly lady in a green hat and coat who dances to her own rhythm alongside them. There are plenty of shopping opportunities around here too, including lovely little Allison where they always have great selections of fairly reasonably priced dresses and soft sweaters, the pavement shops where you can pick up the usual Parisian tchotchkes including berets in bright colours (yes, I have bought a couple, and yes, Emily would approve), and the Philippe Starck-designed Taschen book store where I could browse for hours.

2:00pm From rue de Buci, we're just a short stroll away from some of the most storied cafés and brasseries in Paris, in the neighbourhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, so we should dedicate some time to sitting, sipping and people-watching. Skip Brasserie Lipp for now - we'll come back tonight - but let's plump for a seat at Café de Flore, my personal favourite. Located opposite its arch-rival Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore opened in the 1880s and has been frequented by artists, writers, philosophers and intellectuals ever since. It claims to be the birthplace of the surrealist movement, served as the "home" of existentialist philosophers during World War 2, was the hang-out of Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda and Alain Delon in the 1960s, received Hollywood celebrities through the '80s, and still has its share of regulars alongside the tourists who like to sit at one of the outside tables and watch Parisian life go by. It's the perfect place to sit with a coffee or a glass of wine and to nibble rillettes with crusty bread or dive into a bowl of French onion soup. It's also where Emily met her rather unpleasant boyfriend in the show, but don't let that put you off. Should you prefer somewhere slightly more low-key but with equal charm, one block back is the charmingly chic Le Bonaparte with its tricolore canopy and red and blue street-side tables. A good way to spend an hour or so and gather some more energy to continue our walk.

3:30pm If we're in the mood for a bit more shopping we can head in the direction of Les Invalides along Boulevard Saint-Germain. On the righthand side is Fragonard, a lovely perfumer from Provence where we can pick up scents (try the Orange Blossom - it's like being in a Mediterranean garden in summer), soaps, room sprays and scarves. At the intersection with rue du Bac, we'll take a left (if you take a right, you can visit Deyrolle, part taxidermist, part museum, full of stuffed animals - it's been closed every time I've walked past, which I suspect in my squeamish case is probably a good thing). Rue du Bac is home to everything you would need if you had a little pied à terre in Paris, and is likely to make you want to sell everything you own to buy one. From the super-stylish fishmonger and butcher to the flower shops, furniture stores and other little boutiques full of things you need to decorate your home, it's worth spending an hour or two wandering here. Pop into Chatelles to buy the perfect slip-on pumps to wear on your Parisian wanderings - you can have them customised with your initials or multi-coloured tassels. Carry on a few more blocks and you'll arrive at the uber-elegant Le Bon Marché, which stakes a claim to being the world's first department store, and its accompanying "food hall" across the street, La Grande Epicerie de Paris. If you manage to leave here without being laden down with jars of truffle-infused salt, tapenade, olives from Nice, marrons glacés or calissons you're able to resist far more than I can, but to be honest, why would you want to? Perhaps it's time to make a quick detour to the hotel to drop off our purchases, before heading out for some fun.

5:00pm Something that Paris seems to have an abundance of is carousels and flying swings. So it would seem churlish not to go for a spin. Let's head to the 150-year-old Jardin d'Acclimatation, where we'll find the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton which is well worth a visit for its collection focusing on four themes - Contemplative, Pop, Expressionist, and Music & Sound - and for the views over the treetops of the Bois de Boulogne from its terrace. But back to the park. I long wondered what the slightly odd name (literally "acclimatising garden") meant, and it all goes back 150 years to the time when France had colonies spread across the globe. Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie wanted to create an English garden in France, with a zoo featuring animals from across the French territories who would be able to acclimatise to the weather and conditions of Paris right here in the park. During the 1870 Siege of Paris, many of the animals were killed and eaten as the city entered a period of great food shortages, and the park entered an even darker phase when it became a popular spot for "ethnographic exhibitions", effectively a human zoo, from the late 1870s up to as late as 1931 when the park's owners eventually saw sense - but not until more than a million visitors were visiting the park to see these "attractions" annually. With those days long behind it, today it's a pleasant green spot with plenty of rides for kids, but we're here to ride the chairoplanes. Once is enough (I had to ride them three times successively for a video shoot a couple of years ago - and I really don't recommend it) but it's also worth spending some time taking pics too. It's beautifully photogenic. And if once really isn't enough for you and you're in the mood for yet more dizzying rides, there's a lovely old carousel by the Eiffel Tower and a ferris wheel in the Place de la Concorde. Give 'em a whirl.

7:00pm Put on your dancing shoes as it's time to head to the riverside Jardin Tino Rossi, 600 metres of weeping willows, contemporary sculptures and small amphitheatres that turn into dance floors on summer evenings. From tango to salsa to African drumming, everyone is welcome to join in anywhere they like. You can grab a beer from one of the wandering salesmen (who, I assume, just pop over to the supermarket for their supplies - it's all very informal) and watch the show. Or if you're brave/talented enough, you can dive right in. If you're a complete novice, there's always someone willing to help you learn a few moves. It's all very well organised - each music type takes over its own amphitheatre, and there are lighting and sound systems and DJs. There's a real sense of community and it's all very friendly - and yet it still manages to remain completely off the radar.

9:00pm All that dancing has got us in the mood for dinner, and whilst Paris has endless opportunities for dining, ranging from the gastronomic to simply grabbing a baguette, brie and bottle of wine wine and sitting on the banks of the Seine, we're going to head back to Saint-Germain-des-Prés to Brasserie Lipp, an old-school bistro that's been on the same site since 1880. Just look for the white and orange canopy with "LIPP" written in capital letters and a retro neon sign of a frothy pint of beer above the door. The interior is covered in green and yellow tiles featuring flowers and plants, large mirrors, and old signs with various instructions to guests not to let their dogs sit on the chairs, not to feed their dogs at the table, and not to wear shorts. You will dine well here, on bistro classics such as choucroute or duck confit, perhaps with oysters and champagne to start with if you're in the mood, all of which will be delivered by the type of endlessly professional and efficient bow-tied waiters that you only find in France. There's great people watching here too. For dinner, sit inside; for apéro or morning coffee, sit out. There's always a great cast of characters, locals and tourists alike. Last time I visited, tables of women were swooning over what I assume was an ageing rock star, a French Keith Richards type. I never found out who he was, but that was all part of the intrigue.

11:00pm As midnight approaches, we have plenty of options for how to continue our night. We could go to one of the city's underground clubs or cocktail bars and carry on to the wee hours. But for me, the best way to end a day in Paris is with a final glass of wine street-side at a pavement café, before taking a long walk home along the Seine. We'll criss-cross bridges, walk through the parks, the gravel crunching deliciously under our feet. And before we head to bed, we'll make one last pit stop at the most obvious of Paris's sights, but one that somehow never loses its allure - La Tour Eiffel - to watch the dazzling nighttime light display. The tower flickers, twinkles and shimmers on the hour with 20,000 lightbulbs and a rotating searchlight on top. It's spectacular. But before you get too excited about posting videos all over the internet, due to French copyright law it's illegal to take photos or video of the tower and its light show at night. There are exemptions for us lowly tourists allowing us to post our own pics on social media, so no one is going to come and ask you to take your selfies down. But if the images or videos are being used for commercial reasons, it's illegal to use them without express permission. I bet smarty pants Emily didn't know that.

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