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Insider's View: Astrīda Vītols, Paris

Author: Astrid Vitols

It is one of the most famous historic places of Paris, and a very trendy and confidential address at the same time. You cannot visit Paris without setting foot in this peaceful and elegant haven right in the city centre, in the 1er Arrondissement. Although it is located quite near the Louvre, you will be engulfed by a complete feeling of quiet and timelessness, the perfect mood to discover some very original shops and excellent restaurants along the Galleries.

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The construction of Palais-Royal, originally the home of Cardinal Richelieu, was started in 1624 under the supervision of the architect Jacques Lemercier; it was called Palais Cardinal at the time. Later it became the seat of the Dukes of Orléans, the military branch of the ruling House of Bourbon, beginning with Louis XIV's brother, Philippe. Today, everyone can admire this square formed by splendid Colonnades all around the garden, and the sixty historic residential properties (the writer Colette lived there). Of course, spring and summer are the perfect time to come here and enjoy the walkways lined by green lime trees, the blooming flowerbeds and the absolute pleasure of lunching on a terrace.
If you are coming from the Louvre, cross the Rivoli Street and take a look at Comédie-Française (the classical French Theater) and then discover DANIEL BUREN'S striking columns in the Cour d'Honneur (forecourt) and the famous steel balls by POL BURY.

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If you begin your visit from the left, Galerie Montpensier, you will notice the shops of military and civil decoration makers (A.M Stuart and A. Bacqueville n°6). People from the Baltic states will be enchanted to see LA MAISON DE L'AMBRE (Amber House, n°15), an exclusive and creative selection of jewellery from amber imported mostly from Lithuania.
At n°24, DIDIER LUDOT owns the most famous vintage clothing store in Paris and possibly worldwide; here you will find clothes and accessories of the fabulous French couture houses of Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Lanvin, Courrèges, Hermès, etc. Everything is quite unique here and might interest any collector.
Small and discrete is the recently opened training hair salon called TRÈS CONFIDENTIEL (n° 44-45) with the new collection Art of Hair by Shu Uemura. The restaurant VILLALYS (n° 50) is appreciated by everyone for its lovely terrace and tajines on sunny days. The fans of the American designer MARC JACOBS, also creative director of Louis Vuitton since 1997, will be glad to choose quietly from his complete collections here (n° 56-62).

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A few steps further the restaurant and tea-room MUSCADE (n°67) is a perfect combination of Breton and Mediterranean traditions. Everything here is home-made from quality products, such as smoked wild salmon, and fresh ingredients including vegetables, fruit and pasta. The pastry selection is prepared by the owner, Catherine Allain, a self-professed cake-making fanatic.

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The neighbour, LE GRAND VÉFOUR, a top Parisian address, is founded in... 1760! The 18th century decor of this elegant restaurant, resplendent with gilt-edged mirrors and chandeliers, was once admired by Bonaparte, Victor Hugo, Colette, Malraux and Cocteau. Chef Guy Martin carries on the gourmet tradition of the place, for instance with his sublime «ravioles de foie gras à l'émulsion de crème truffée», served with the finest French wines (17 Beaujolais street).

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If you are looking for a lovely gift, enter the shop owned by ANNA JOLIET and listen to her mechanical tunes (Passage du Perron): choose your favourite music box with an opera, classical or Beatles' melody, great for adults and kids.
Now turn into the Galerie de Valois, and if you like roses and fragrances, discover first of all LES PARFUMS DE ROSINE (n°104), a shop owned by Marie-Hélène Rogeon and centred on her love for the aromatic flower.

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Another excellent place for a meal in the garden is THE RESTAURANT OF THE PALAIS ROYAL (n°110) run by the chef-owner Bruno Hees, very much appreciated on the first beautiful days of spring. Advance reservation is highly recommended since everything here is so tasty and fine.
The next addresses are for fashion fans who like singular things. LA PETITE ROBE NOIRE from Didier Ludot again (n° 125): a collection of black dresses, featuring designs by Chanel, Balmain, Balenciaga, Gaultier and others. Photographs of these dresses are juxtaposed with archive photos of Romy Schneider, Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau, Sofia Loren, Edith Piaf, Paloma Picasso, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor - all in their black dress finest.
On n°130-133, the Californian RICK OWENS, who was the artistic director of the French fur company Revillon, offers women's and men's collections dominated by a minimalist palette of colours (mastic, black, grey, white linen, a touch of fur). Look for functional and wearable clothes and accessories here as well as for jeans, shoes, bags, opera DVDs and books. The place is in sharp contrast with JÉRÔME L'HUILLIER (n°138), a shop designed in a lively and artistically colourful spirit.

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My absolute favourite address of this secret ecrin is unique in the world, you will not find anything like that anywhere else, not even in Japan - I am referring to the SALONS DU PALAIS ROYAL SHISEIDO, a place to visit for the sumptuous perfumes by SERGE LUTENS for men and women (n°142). Once in your life you have to come here and discover the 24 exclusive fragrances created only for this magic boutique by Serge Lutens. For French perfume connoisseurs, this creator is a master; he is extremely well-known in Japan and the United States too. His creations are so particular, so very noble and artistic and reveal strong individualities. Some of the most famous fragrances are Ambre Sultan, Chergui, Fumerie Turque, Cuir Mauresque, Chêne, Bornéo 1834 and the latest, Sarrasins. Women must see the Set of Beauty, the Nécessaire de Beauté - so pure, essential and splendid.

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Don't miss the footwear haute couture of PIERRE HARDY (n°156). He was named the Creative Director of the women's and later also men's shoe collections at Hermès in 1990. In 2001, he also became the Creative Director of the fine jewellery collection for the famous leather goods fashion house. Since 2003, his collections have their own jewel-box setting in the Galerie de Valois. With his penchant for open-toe stilettos, sculptural volume and graphic lines, the designer's style is a mix of elegant classicism, glamour and a touch of fantasy.

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So, enjoy the Palais Royal garden as a Parisian treasure and the embodiment of the French art of living - spring is coming soon...

ADDITIONAL INFO:

- Didier Ludot et La Petite Robe Noire: www.didierludot.com
- Très Confidentiel : +33 (0) 6 61 52 84 33
- Marc Jacobs: www.marcjacobs.com
- Muscade: www.muscade-palais-royal.com
- Le Grand Véfour: www.grand-vefour.com
- Les Parfums de Rosine: www.les-parfums-de-rosine.com
- Jérôme L'Huillier: www.jeromelhuillier.com
- Salons Palais Royal Shiseido / Serge Lutens: www.salons-shiseido.com
- Pierre Hardy: www.pierrehardy.com

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Keywords: Paris, garden, gardens, gallery, galleries, fashion shop, shops, tea house, tea, restaurant, restaurants, perfume shop, perfume, shoes

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