Paris is a relatively small metropolis, but it’s stuffed with sights, boutiques and historical landmarks that you could spend your whole life discovering. Though I live here and spend as much time in the Marais as I do in my own neighborhood of the 18th Arrondissement, I know very little about the buildings I so often walk past. That’s why I was excited to go on one of Richard Nahem’s Paris trips, specifically the downtown trip of the Marais, during which I learned more about this small area of Paris than I know about most places in my own hometown.
Nahem, a former chef from New York, was drawn to Paris by its plethora of culinary delights, transplanting himself to the city eight years ago. He decided to start doing trips about six years ago when he realized how much he enjoyed showing visiting friends around his neighborhood. He noticed that there weren’t many Paris trips similar to the ones he had in mind, so he began Eye Prefer Paris Trips.
“One of my goals is to provide clients with a unique, memorable experience of Paris, to take them to places they usually wouldn’t find on their own,” Nahem said. “The experience I like to give people is more like having a good friend share the ins and outs of the city and its secrets, rather than a guide just telling them history and reading from a script. I speak to my clients the same way I would speak to my friends, with no formality.”
That warmth and casual sense of fun was part of the experience I had when I met him at the Saint-Paul metro stop, along with a family from Vancouver, for a discovery trip of the Marais. Guiding us effortlessly through the neighborhood, Nahem explained the rich history of the area, from the days of royals through the Industrial Revolution and Jewish migration to its current status as ultrahip shopping destination. Although today it’s considered one of the coolest areas of Paris, the Marais retains a dense cultural history; it has one of the oldest buildings in Paris, on the rue François Miron, and there are many former royal mansions, or hôtels, dotting the area.
Nahem led us through a handful of the mansions’ stunning courtyards and, with a conspiratorial humor usually reserved for divulging secrets to best friends, described the their juiciest stories, such as how the Hôtel de Sens, the gorgeous edifice now housing the Bibliothèque Forney, once housed Queen Margot after she’d taken two young lovers—one when he was 21, another 19. When the 21-year-old found out about the 19-year-old, he became consumed with jealousy and killed his young competitor. Queen Margot was so enraged that she had the older suitor executed.
Looking at the ornate and ancient Hôtel de Sens, one would never guess at the storied history of its former inhabitants, but Nahem’s natural curiosity and passion for the Marais fuel his expertise. With a relaxed and friendly demeanor, he led us down streets and to squares into which I’d never ventured, divulging to us his favorite modern spots, too—specialized paper and calligraphy stores, hat shops and, of course, favorite cheese and pastry shops. My two favorite stops were unassuming, small places I’d passed a million times: Puyricard, a gorgeous chocolate shop with free samples to tempt your taste buds, and Heaven, a one-of-a-kind boutique where the owner, Lea-Anne Wallis, designs and produces the shop’s clothes in the back room.
Nahem’s girlfriend trips are a perfect combination of historical meandering, shopping guide and culinary discovery, guaranteeing a fun and satisfying time no matter what you’re into. Nahem’s good nature and resident ease give you time to shop and explore, never feeling rushed or bored. He seems to have an answer for every question you throw at him, from why there are gargoyles on the Gothic churches (they were early rain gutters) to how to choose the best foie gras (be sure to select a label with the word entier, and buy fresh if possible). He even makes sure to take photos of your party, because so often we travel without the benefit of a personal photographer, and he knows the best spots for a memorable, framable photo.
“Paris in the winter and summer is like two different cities,” he mused on our trip. “In the winter, it’s like a black-and-white movie—the sky’s gray, the buildings are gray. But in the summer it becomes Technicolor, all the flowers everywhere bringing the city to life.” No matter the weather, Richard Nahem’s energetic spirit and positive attitude bring color and life to each spot visited on his trip, shedding light on hidden treasures and illuminating the past and present of Paris.
Eye Prefer Paris Trips
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