The Counterpoint

August Is the Best Time of Year to Visit Paris

By Cynthia Rosenfeld  •    •  August 2, 2019

August Is the Best Time of Year to Visit Paris

By Cynthia Rosenfeld  •  August 2, 2019


Each year, one of Europe’s most popular destinations transforms from a bustling metropolis to an under the radar haven of calm and charm. Welcome to Paris in August.

The bliss lasts only four fleeting weeks: every August, Parisians, like their parents and grandparents before them, flee the French capital. By car, train and plane, they decamp for the Côte d’Azur, the Atlantic Coast, or further afield.

This mass urban exodus is deeply ingrained in French society. By law, all full time workers here are entitled to five weeks annual holiday. Many are obliged to take the majority of these days off in August because their workplaces actually close. And with school out, it’s the optimal time for French families to go en vacances. There’s even a word for August vacationers: les aoutiens.

The time-honored dedication to vacation has evolved into an insider’s secret for those who stay or visit.

I for one, have come to love the smaller crowds in this short annual window. Strolling leisurely across the Tuileries gardens to see a show at the Louvre without waiting behind queues. Bien sûr! Getting a table at this city’s top eateries? Pas de problème! And a growing cohort of city dwellers is discovering the charms of Paris in August.

“There’s even a word for August vacationers: les aoutiens.”

 

“It used to be so melancholy here,” says American food writer and longtime Paris expat Alec Lobrano, reminiscing with me about Parisian summers past. The author of Hungry for Paris moved here some thirty years ago as a junior editor. “Being stuck here then felt like punishment,” Lobrano recalls. “Stores covered their windows with brown craft paper, which really emphasized that you were left behind.”

I shared his feelings of embarrassment: My own first Parisian summer, more than two decades ago, came at the start of a first post-college job. Trawling the streets of the 7th arrondissement around the Eiffel Tower one Sunday in August, I looked for anywhere open for dinner, only to find prepackaged snacks at a gas station and eat them on the floor of my attic walk-up apartment. Vive la France?

But efforts to liven up the summer have paid off. Take Festival Paris L’Éte, a summer arts festival that launched in 1990. What began as a small collection of arts events has become an annual fête, showcasing dance, music, visual arts and theater at 40 locations within the city.

“Now I adore Paris in August,” says Lobrano with the emphatic conviction of a convert. We toast this veritable, if subtle, French revolution as we debate Paris’s best summer picnic spots. He’s partial to the lush botanicals, soaring sequoia trees, waterfalls and expansive green spaces at the 37-acre Parc Montsouris in the 14th arrondisement on the Left Bank. I love a good morning run around the Luxembourg Gardens, if only to earn a late morning stop in at Bread & Roses just outside the park’s gates on the leafy Rue Madame. The bakery only stays open for part of August, yet even then the usual line is gone, allowing me to order one, or sometimes two, of Paris’s tastiest raspberry tartelettes (they are very small, I swear) in peace. Then I jog back to people-watch from my perch on one of the Luxembourg’s iconic, but usually occupied, green metal chairs.

Both Lobrano and I agree that the gardens within Palais Royal, created by Cardinal Richelieu in 1633, make an idyllic summer picnic backdrop. It’s a peaceful, relaxed spot despite its pedigree, having housed France’s royal families until the Palace of Versailles was built. It’s also a favorite of Laura Adrian, who, with her husband, American chef Bradan Perkins, owns the adjacent Ellsworth and Verjus. The two restaurants have cult followings, and, 11 months out of the year, require long waitlists to book a table.

“August was just for tourists when we moved here in 2007. Now even Parisians want to be here.”

 

“For the past few years, things have really been changing, ” observes Adrian as we dine on Perkins’s famous buttermilk fried chicken at Ellsworth’s cozy bar. “August was just for tourists when we moved here in 2007. Now even Parisians want to be here.” The couple closes their two spots on August 11th for ten days to give their teams a break, but they themselves stick around, citing the chance to ride their scooter without traffic to the outdoor movies shown at La Villette, and to bask under the sun at Paris Plage. The government initiative turns the Seine riverbanks into something of a beachfront, with parasols, deck chairs and palm trees, as well as watersports in the La Villette canal basin. I find myself nodding in agreement, between bites of crispy chicken. “Everyone just seems happier.”

Even for these celebrated restaurateurs, Paris in August also provides unfettered access to the city’s culinary citadels. “There are restaurants nearly impossible to get into the rest of the year, like Clamato, which doesn’t take reservations,” Adrian says, revealing one of her favorite Paris dining addresses, the seafood bar in the 11th arrondisement from Michelin-starred Septime chef Bertrand Grébaut. “When there are fewer people in Paris, your odds improve dramatically.”

“What lured them from holiday homes at France’s far corners? The long anticipated opening of Beaupassage”

 

Of course many of the city’s top ranked restaurants do close, especially the more formal affairs. But August is optimal for hopping among the sharing plates at Paris’s hippest bars, like Le Mary Celeste in the Marais, with its creative cocktails and Brooklyn beers on tap, and Candelaria, the bare bones yet beloved taqueria mexicaine near the Picasso Museum (where long lines form from September through July for the spicy meat tacos and tostadas).

Proof that August has come into its own: one evening last year at the tail end of summer I happened upon a gathering of model-like Millennials on the street, Champagne glasses in their suntanned hands. What lured them from holiday homes at France’s far corners? The long anticipated opening of Beaupassage, a 100,000-square feet, glass-clad shopping arcade connecting rue de Grenelle to rue du Bac and boulevard Raspail in the 7th arrondissement. This sleek modern twist on the Parisian penchant for street-linking passages, a practice dating at least to the 15th century, sits in that very same neighborhood where I once struggled to find food. Now, I could take a seat at a host of buzzy restaurants: Daily Pic, to dine on marinated rose shrimps with Granny Smith apple and celery from chef Anne-Sophie Pic, of 3-Michelin star Maison Pic. And then there’s Pierre Hermé café, with its comfort-food menu of croissants, grilled-cheese sandwiches and a rainbow of his famous macarons. The smorgasbord continues at Mersea, a seafood stall from Olivier Bellin; Arabica, a Japanese coffee bar from Latte Art world champion Junichi Yamaguchi; Fromagerie Barthélémy from arguably Paris’s best cheesemonger. Now that’s more vive la France for sure.

It would be a mistake to think Paris in August is all about racing around to see and taste what’s new. As summer’s third month approaches, what most comes to mind for me is the sweet, soft lingering light. Like a magnet, it draws me into the streets and makes me want to walk around, staring at every carved metal doorknocker and admiring the artisanal geometry of each streetfront doorknob. Late summer turns Paris into a living outdoor museum, its avenues and narrow lanes lined with historic structures embellished with a treasure trove of decorative sculptures, shiny finials and curvy balustrades that ornament this city as it basks in an ethereal natural glow long into the night.

The Details

Festival Paris L’Éte: multiple locations

Parc Montsouris: 2 Rue Gazan, 14th Arr.

Luxembourg Garden: 6th Arr.

Bread & Roses: 62 Rue Madame, 6th Arr.; +33 42-22-06-06

Palais Royal: 8 Rue de Montpensier, 1st Arr.

La Villette: 19th Arr.

Paris Plages: multiple locations

Clamato: 80 Rue de Charonne, 11th Arr.; +33 43-72-74-53

Le Mary Celeste: 1 Rue Commines, 3rd Arr.; +33 42-77-98-37

Candelaria: 52 Rue de Saintonge, 3rd Arr.; +33 42-74-41-28

Beaupassage: 53-57 Rue de Grenelle, 7th Arr.

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Written By: Cynthia Rosenfeld

8.2.19

Locations: Paris

See more: Experiences

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