Paris: Culture Capital

Fondation Louis Vuitton, a museum dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions, has been designed by Frank Gehry.

Not that you need another reason to return to Paris — there is always something new to discover in the City of Light — but a host of new cultural venues is luring the world’s culturati to the capital that’s already prized for its rich heritage. Beyond the Louvre and the traditional art scene, Paris has unveiled exciting new museums and arty destinations. Leading the charge is the Fondation Louis Vuitton, designed by star architect Frank Gehry at the edge of the Bois de Boulogne. This museum alone is worth a trip to Paris, but don’t forget Picasso. 

More than a decade in the making at an estimated cost of more than 100 million euros ($116 million), the Fondation Louis Vuitton opened to much fanfare in October 2014. The three inaugural days were free to the public, who came to gape and snap photos of the giant ship-like structure, all glass and wood, which changes like a kaleidoscope as it reflects the sky, the passing clouds, the swooping birds and the water that flows beneath. As you stroll from the metro stop (Les Sablons) toward the Jardin d’Acclimatation, the charming children’s “amusement park” created by Napoleon III, the museum slowly emerges into view, perched at the edge of the woods, appearing to “sail” toward Paris.

 

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Oliver Beer’s “Composition for a New Museum” exhibit reveals the acoustics of the building by placing three singers in different corners of a room that cause the space to vibrate.
 
Oliver Beer’s “Composition for a New Museum” exhibit reveals the acoustics of the building by placing three singers in different corners of a room that cause the space to vibrate.

Imagine Gehry’s triumphant Guggenheim museum in Bilbao — the scale and scope of the masterpiece — and you’ll conjure something equally awe-inspiring in Paris. It was the long-time dream of Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, who approached Gehry about creating a home for his contemporary art collection. Thus began a partnership that conceived groundbreaking technological innovation in its design; 100 engineers and architects worked to put Gehry’s vision in place, inventing a new process for bending curved panels of glass. Arnault has described it as a great “gift” to the city of Paris, which will assume ownership in 50 years.

Luxury Travel Advisor attended the official press launch event, where the buzz was almost palpable. Frank Gehry spoke to a captivated crowd about his love of Paris. “When I first visited the site, it brought tears to my eyes, as the Jardin d’Acclimatation is filled with memories of all of those who have played there, like Proust, whose works I like to read,” he said.

Inside the museum, there’s a 400-seat auditorium for concerts, a bookstore and a soaring restaurant called Frank that’s helmed by Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Louis Nomicos. Open to the elements, the museum’s terraces afford views over the treetops to the Eiffel Tower in the distance. The first temporary exhibit, “Contact” by acclaimed Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, reveals LVMH’s ambition as a major patron of contemporary art. Staged in the building’s basement, “Contact” creates a thought-provoking journey through dark caverns tricked out with optical illusions. Tips: On days when the museum is closed, it’s possible to host private events and arrange private guided tours. For more information, e-mail (contact @fondationlouisvuitton.fr.)

Philharmonie de Paris was designed by starchitect Jean Nouvel to create a “new kind of concert hall” in the Parc de la Villette.
 
Philharmonie de Paris was designed by starchitect Jean Nouvel to create a “new kind of concert hall” in the Parc de la Villette.

In other big news in the contemporary art world, Monnaie de Paris has undergone a major restoration as it morphs into a cultural destination on the Seine. Founded in 864 by Charles the Bald, Monnaie de Paris is the oldest institution in France. The current structure dates from the 18th century and continues to create currency coins, medallions and metal jewelry. In late autumn 2014, this monumental landmark opened up some of its salons as exhibition space for contemporary art shows. The first exhibition was a startling creation by Los Angeles-based artist Paul McCarthy, who created a “Chocolate Factory” where actors represented workers in a chain of production (making actual Christmas chocolates). The smell of chocolate permeated the space, a sensory immersion that also combined video and audio effects to depict the inner workings of an artist’s mind. Most impressive was the setting inside the sumptuous Salon Dupré, initially designed as a grand reception hall in the 18th century, with windows opening out onto the Seine.

A highlight of the Monnaie’s “MétaLmorphoses” (as the project has been named) will be the new restaurant by Michelin three-star Chef Guy Savoy, which will open in spring 2015. The chef will move his acclaimed eatery from rue Troyon to the gilded halls of the Monnaie, in a space restored by interior architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. Large windows will afford magnificent views of the passing boats on the Seine.

Tip: Don’t miss a stop at Monnaie de Paris’s boutique, where you can find unique treasures made onsite. To arrange private guided tours of Monnaie de Paris, contact Solène Tiberghien ([email protected]).

Another highly anticipated opening was the Musée Picasso, which finally reopened, after many controversial construction delays over a five-year period, on the artist’s birthday (October 25, 2014). Housed in the Hôtel Salé, a magnificent townhouse in the Marais district, the museum is the largest in the world devoted to Pablo Picasso’s works. The restoration has tripled the exhibition space, and the collection includes some 5,000 works by Picasso, 200,000 personal artifacts and 150 paintings from the artist’s personal collection featuring painters like Renoir, Matisse and Cézanne. The building alone is worth a visit; the architectural details (like the grand marble staircase) provide a glimpse of how the 17th-century aristocracy lived in Paris. The top-floor rooms, under ancient timber beams, overlook the rooftops of the Marais district.

The Picasso Museum is understandably quite popular, the first days of its opening witnessed a record number of visitors, and we recommend buying tickets online prior to your visit. Public group tours (in English) take place on Thursdays at 3 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m. (1 hour, 15 minutes; 18 euros or $21.34). The museum also offers space for private events; contact Anne Cornet ([email protected]; 011-331-8556-0036) for more information.

Overbudget and behind schedule, construction of the new Philharmonie de Paris, designed by starchitect Jean Nouvel, was also mired in controversy. The idea was to create a “new kind of concert hall” in the Parc de la Villette in the northeast corner of the city, with the aim of attracting a new audience, hence democratizing classical music to a younger, less affluent audience. The previous home for the Orchestre de Paris was the Salle Pleyel near the Arc de Triomphe. Designed with a movable stage and flexible seating (2,400 seats), the building is innovative from both an architectural and acoustic standpoint. As the magazine goes to press, the Philharmonie de Paris is on track for a January opening, with a program of concerts and events. 

Advisor Insight

Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel in McLean, VA, plans a trip to Paris, a city she adores, at least twice a year. Here she shares some addresses from her little black book. “There are so many extraordinary five-star hotels and good four-star hotels, the trick is to get to know your client to make the right match. One of my favorites is the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome — I just love the location, the open-plan bathrooms, the fact that the concierge is right there when you enter the hotel to assist you with questions, perhaps something you forgot while you’re walking out.

“For restaurants, La Fontaine de Mars in the 7th has the best duck confit, and I never miss a chance to dine at Marius et Janette on the Avenue George V. It’s like being inside a boat, and they serve the best seafood. I start with oysters and a glass of Montrachet, then I order the Dover sole — the best outside Normandy. Spring restaurant, run by an American chef from Chicago, is also wonderful.

“I love shopping in Paris, particularly on the Left Bank, and I always stop at Maison Ivre [38 rue Jacob], a boutique near Ladurée that has the best tea towels in the world. Fabrice, the jewelry boutique, is also nearby.

“One of the best things to do in Paris is to leave the city for a day and then have the pleasure of returning. I like to recommend a trip to the Loire Valley, an hour away by car, to see one of the beautiful chateaux and to stop at a wine cellar. The Loire wines are excellent.”

Where We Dine in Paris

La Dame de Pic invites diners to smell perfume blotters, and then choose the menu based on the fragrance that appealed to them.
 

La Dame de Pic invites diners to smell perfume blotters, and then choose the menu based on the fragrance that appealed to them

Paris is one of the world’s great food cities, and whether you’re looking for a hearty steak frites on a red-checked tablecloth, a seafood platter at an iconic brasserie or couture-style plates at a temple to haute gastronomy, you’ve got your bases covered.

One of our favorite spots for lunch is Aux Lyonnais, an old-timey bistro where the three-course lunch features hearty classics and costs just 33 euros ($39). Now owned by celebrity Chef Alain Ducasse, Aux Lyonnais has been around since 1890, and its authentic bistro spirit prevails. A highlight is the friendly service, which is consistently excellent on every occasion we’ve dined.

For another classic Parisian culinary experience, head to Le Train Bleu, the gilded brasserie in the Gare de Lyon train station that unveiled an extensive restoration in autumn 2014.

One of the most buzzed-about winter restaurant openings is Clover, from star Chef Jean-Francois Piège, a judge on the French version of “Top Chef” and owner of the popular Thoumieux brasserie. Piège opened the 10-table restaurant with his wife Élodie, the former communications director at Hôtel de Crillon. Needless to say, this pocket-sized eatery in Saint Germain is currently one of the toughest tables to book.

Aux Lyonnais, now owned by celebrity Chef Alain Ducasse, has been around since 1890.
 
Aux Lyonnais, now owned by celebrity Chef Alain Ducasse, has been around since 1890.

Additionally, there’s been a lot of press about a new urban development called La Jeune Rue (“the young street”). A mysterious millionaire businessman (Cédric Naudon) bought up an entire street in the 3rd arrondissement, part of the hip Upper Marais district, with his eye on creating a utopian “gourmet village” with a top-notch fish shop, butcher, cheese shop and more — all sourced ethically and sustainably. Formerly empty and derelict, the rue du Vertbois is coming back to life as a destination for food and design, as 40 different shops have been designed by top artists and architects (like Tom Dixon and the Campana Brothers). Currently only a few of the shops are open, including a Korean restaurant called Ibaji.

Last but not least: One of our best meals of the year was at La Dame de Pic, the Michelin-starred Paris restaurant from Anne-Sophie Pic, oft hailed as the best female chef on the planet. The concept is innovative: diners are invited to smell perfume blotters, and then choose their menu based on the fragrance that appealed to them. Each menu is a sensory experience highlighting spices and scents found in the perfume. We appreciated the view directly into the open kitchen, where we could watch the theatrical artistry of the brigade at work. For such culinary excellence, the ambiance is delightfully casual, with smart waitstaff sporting blue jeans. In big news for 2015, Pic will cross the pond to open a New York outpost of her popular restaurant.

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