Getting the inside scoop on Paris from Élodie Berta of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau
For the past 28 months, I've been devoting most of my waking moments to learning about Paris. I walk her streets, unearth her secrets, study her moods and talk with her residents. And like most serious students who are keen to learn more about their chosen topic, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with someone who's an expert in my field of research.
Élodie Berta: Leisure marketing travel industry relations and ParisNews editor, Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau
Can you tell me a little bit about the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau?
It was created by the Paris City Council and Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry as a non-profit making association in 1971. Our three missions, which we never forget, are to welcome, inform and promote. This means that we welcome and provide visitors with information; promote the capital’s attractions, in France and abroad; and provide assistance to Paris tourism professionals.
What advice would you give to a first time visitor to Paris?
Take a look at our website! It can be a little bit hard to navigate because there's so much information, but you'll find suggestions for places to stay, information about all of the museums and monuments, guided tours, as well as itineraries for visiting Paris.
I would also suggest that people plan what they would like to do and book their activities in advance. It will save them from having to stand in long lines during their vacation. At no additional charge, they can book museum passes, metro passes, river cruises, cabarets and tours on our website. We'll have everything ready for them when they arrive in Paris. All they'll need to do is pick it up from the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau. It's very easy. For an extra charge, we can have a package with all of their tickets delivered to their hotel in Paris or have it shipped to their home address via Federal Express.
If someone hasn't had time to do much advance planning, what should they do when they arrive in Paris?
Stop by one of our six tourist information centers and pick up a free map. It's the first thing that I always do when I go on vacation! The reception team will be able to answer your questions and to tell you about current exhibitions and festivals. But since we get many visitors, it helps if you think of which questions you would like to ask in advance. We also have a lots of free brochures, like the "Paris Shopping Book", "Paris Gourmand Good Food Guide" and "Paris for You!" [a walking guide for discovering Paris].
But please don't wait until you have a problem to visit us. Unfortunately, some visitors only come to our office when the weather is bad and they need suggestions for indoor activities, or if something goes wrong. Sometimes we only see people if they've gotten separated from their family or tour group. That reminds me, one of the first things that you should do when you arrive at your hotel is to make sure that everyone puts a hotel card with the address in their pocket. You would be surprised by how many people don't know where they're staying because their spouse or tour leader did all of the planning. It's important to know the address of your hotel because Paris is a big city. One time a taxi driver dropped off a woman at our office after she asked him to drive her around the city street-by-street to look for her hotel.
ParisNews, the monthly newsletter of which you're an editor, is one of my favorite sources of information about Paris. If you don't mind telling us, where do you get your information?
We receive a press review with the most important news about Paris on a daily basis. I also read the free online edition of Le Parisien and the weekly Figaroscope.
It's good to know that you like the Figaroscope. Even though I buy it every Wednesday, I've always wondered if their restaurant reviews are biased.
Oh, no. Francois Simon is the most feared food critic in France. He's completely anonymous. No one knows what he looks like so he's treated the same as you and me. If he doesn't like a place, he says it. He has a blog, Simon ~ Says !, that not only tells us about new restaurants but also about places where Simon went as a child. If the restaurant is still good and worth a visit, he tells us. If it's not, he's very honest about it. There's also an English and Japanese version of his blog.
What do you wish that more people who visit Paris would do?
Try taking the bus, even if it's only the bus line that's close to their hotel. I know it can be intimidating for visitors who aren't familiar with the system, but you're above ground and get to see the city. And a bus ticket costs the same amount as the metro. There are some very picturesque routes, like the 95, that take you past some of the most scenic sights in the city. I almost always ride the bus.
What are some of your favorite spots in the city?
(Laughing) I'm going to give you a typically Parisian answer and say that I won't tell you because I want to keep them to myself! But seriously, I always go to Le Ciel de Paris when I pick my parents up at Gare Montparnasse. If you go to the restaurant, you have the same view as you do from the terrace of the Tour Montparnasse but you don't have to pay anything. I go for a coffee either before or after lunch. It's always quiet and the view is great. And they have a bar à millefeuille with delicious savory and sweet millefeuilles.
The place with the best view of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower is The Raphael Terrace at the Hotel Raphael on Avenue Kleber. There are terraces on different levels so it's really quiet and private. There's even one of those really large chess games. But the terrace is only open in the summer [Note: advance reservations via internet are required for lunch and dinner]. Hotel Raphael also has a painting by J.M.W. Turner in the lobby.
Do you have any recommendations for visitors to Paris who think that they've seen it all?
Yes! I recently did an interesting street art tour with the non-profit organization Paris Par Rues Méconnues. They offer tours in districts of Paris where visitors rarely go.
It's obvious from your enthusiasm but I have to ask -- you love your job, don't you?
(With a big smile on her face) Of course. I get paid for knowing about what's going on in Paris. Who wouldn't love to do that?
If you would like to receive regular insider's tips about Paris, follow Élodie on Twitter and register for the monthly ParisNews. [Note: Elodie said that since it will be difficult to register for ParisNews online before September, anyone who is interested in receiving it can send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to see the June edition of ParisNews.
|A small sample of the FREE brochures available at the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau|