‘I love Paris in the winter, when it drizzles,’ crooned Ella Fitzgerald, ‘I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles.’ The First Lady of Jazz may have had a taste for the French capital in all seasons, but anyone truly acquainted with the City of Light knows that autumn is when it comes into its own. Parisians, who abandon their city en masse during its long hot August, have always had a special relationship with autumn’s la rentrée. In theory, it’s the ‘back to school’ season of pressed uniforms and new pencils, but it also represents a wider reinvigoration of intellectual and artistic life – leaves might be falling, but the city blooms into a fantastic array of cultural events that continues for months. For the last 10 years, the crowning glory of this annual efflorescence has been the Nuit Blanche (White Night), a no-holds-barred dusk ‘til dawn free festival of art and culture that remains the city’s defining invitation to experience its talents in new and exciting ways. Time Out’s expert guide to an autumnal sojourn in the city of Picasso and the Pompidou, Lautrec and the Louvre therefore beings with Nuit Blanche, but it’s just one element of a rich autumnal palette of culture, drinking and dining to get excited about.
Nuit Blanche and beyond
If you hit Paris in time for the Nuit Blanche festival itself (it takes place throughout the night of Saturday October 6, from 7pm till 7am on Sunday), expect achingly hip and modern works from the likes of Michel Blazy and Tania Mouraud, new visions from up-and-coming artists Camille Henrot and Emma Dusong, and hordes of Parisians out for a night on the tiles. This year’s festival curator Laurent Le Bon is creating a fluid line of events following the length of the river Seine, which will also provide opportunities to access buildings and public spaces in new ways – from museums and universities to gymnasiums and hollow bridge struts. What’s more, usually inaccessible rooftops will offer exclusive vistas over the city. For details on the artworks on display, venues and special events associated with Nuit Blanche, check www.timeout.fr/paris/en/nuit-blanche in the run-up to the event.
Shortly afterwards is FIAC, an enormous art fair held in the glass-vaulted halls of the Grand Palais, the elegant green spaces of the Tuileries and the among the waterways and flower beds of the Jardin des Plantes. The event, which this year runs from October 18 to 21, brings together around 180 galleries from 24 countries in an orgy of contemporary art, design, sculpture and performance. The fair’s four short days attract around 85,000 visitors, so savvy art lovers book ahead. FIAC is followed in November by Paris Photo, now in its third year, which celebrates photography in all its forms. Private collections, the recent acquisitions of three major international institutions and a show on the history of the photograph are all on offer, as well as events, interviews and round tables.
As autumn turns to winter, the events only gather pace. Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated blockbuster art show this year is the Dalì exhibition at the Centre Pompidou. Dalì’s vast talent, eccentricity, success and productivity were matched only by the contentiousness of his ideas, as this collection of more than 200 drawings, paintings, objects, screenings and sculptures will demonstrate.
All those artistic excitements get the city going in other ways, too. La Semaine du Goût (Tasting Week) kicks off in late October, an educational festival that celebrates the diversity and flavour of French produce while encouraging healthy lifestyles, especially among children. Workshops and lectures take place throughout Paris, and chefs in numerous restaurants invite diners to interact with them in creating new menus. Ballet gets a boost, too, with the return of Maguy Marin’s Cendrillon(Cinderella) to France. Created in 1985 at the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon, it has been touring the globe ever since. A masterful piece of contemporary choreography, the dancers are wrapped up in chocolate-box costumes and doll-like masks; Prokofiev’s ballet as you’ve never seen it before.
For music fans, Festival Les inRocks, the annual gig-fest from lefty music and culture magazine Les Inrockuptibles, brings diverse sounds from around the world to Paris for its 25th edition: Alabama Shakes, Michael Kiwanuka, The Maccabees, Electric Guest and many more.
This being Paris, the feast of culture doesn’t have to stop once you leave the gallery or concert hall. Restaurant Le Dalì at sumptuous hotel Le Meurice pays homage to the artist who lived in one of its presidential suites for over 30 years. Nods to the surrealist master are everywhere in Phillippe Starck’s striking design, while in the kitchen, multi-Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno offers glorious if understated fine French cuisine, teasing the flavour out of every leaf, frond, fin or fillet.
Out in the west of the city, glassed-in Le Zyriab on the 9th floor of l’Institut du Monde Arabe isn’t just a fantastic Lebanese restaurant with a prime view over the Seine, but also sits atop the city’s stunning, unmissable tribute to art and culture in the Arab world. Come here also for the literary café and evening concerts.
If postmodern posturing is more your bag, head to Le Georges, which has one of the best terrace views in the city from the top of the iconic inside-out Centre Georges Pompidou. The restaurant’s industrial-chic design wouldn’t look out of place in Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, and top class catering from celebrated hoteliers Gilbert and Thierry Costes (glamorous reinventions of regional French classics) make this one of the most thoroughly artistic (if predictably expensive and snooty) places to eat and drink in Paris.
Far from all these highly-priced fancies, Le Charlus is more about cheap grape and charcuterie to go with your culture; but if your French is up to scratch, it’s heaven – it’s even named after a character in Proust’s La Recherche du Temps Perdu. Raucous weekly improv sessions and public dictées (literary dictation exercises) mean that this theatre-cum-bar-cum-café attracts beautiful literary youth like bees to honey.
Hôtel Particulier Montmartre Nestled in a quiet passage off rue Lepic, in the heart of Montmartre and opposite a mysterious rock known as the Rocher de la Sorcière (witch’s rock), this sumptuous Directoire-style house is dedicated to art, with each of the five luxurious suites personalised by an avant-garde artist. BD190-287 a suite. 23 av Junot, 18th (+33 1 53 41 81 40/www.hotel-particulier-montmartre.com).
Hôtel du Petit Moulin
This turn-of-the-century façade masks what was once the oldest boulangerie in Paris, lovingly restored as a boutique hotel with décor by Christian Lacroix. The result is a riot of colour, trompe l’oeil effects and a savvy mix of old and new. Each of its 17 exquisitely appointed rooms is unique, and the walls in rooms 202, 204 and 205 feature drawings and scribbles taken from Lacroix’s sketchbook. BD92-170 a suite. 29-31 rue de Poitou, 3rd (+33 1 42 74 10 10/www.hoteldupetitmoulin.com).
Hôtel Marceau Bastille
This slick boutique hotel has 55 rooms divided into two different styles: urban or écolo (eco-friendly), some with a balcony. The bar-lounge, overlooking a pleasant, bamboo-planted patio, is surrounded by a gallery that exhibits works of contemporary artists. BD170-219 a double. 13 rue Jules César, 12th (+33 1 43 43 11 65, www.hotelmarceaubastille.com).
This hotel has managed to strike a great balance between price and sustainability. The simple en suite bedrooms are all equipped with low-energy lamps, and corridors are fitted with sensor-operated lights. Clients and staff are encouraged to recycle, and biodegradable waste from the organic breakfast gets turned into compost in a barrel in the garden. BD33 a double. 22 rue Boulard, 14th (+33 1 43 21 08 20, www.solarhotel.fr).