If you ever want to curse someone with an insatiable wanderlust to visit Paris, hand them Don’t Be a Tourist in Paris.
Unlike many “off the beaten path” guidebooks which qualify a location as non-touristy based on its relative significance in the mainstream (re: Sacré-Coeur is non-touristy relative to the Eiffel Tower, rue des Rosiers relative to rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré), Don’t Be a Tourist in Paris subverts the norm and explores locations away from the masses in search of “the true heart of Paris in all its creative, historic, romantic, idiosyncratic glory.”
Born from the blog, Messy Nessy Chic by British expat Vanessa Grall, this best-of-Paris-list-slash-travel-guide escorts readers through Grall’s Parisian world, full of quirky restaurants, strange museums, quiet courtyards, colorful streets, antique shops, and intimate dinner clubs. None of her recommendations will appear on a top 10 — or even top 50 — list of essential places in Paris. And yet, reading through Grall’s dreamy several-sentence descriptions, rife with insider information like which shopkeeper has stories about her past life as an exotic dancer and which café has a dog behind the bar, you have faith that each location, waiting patiently in the wings of the city, will be exceptional.
Divided into themed sections, this book is ideal for anyone who knows what kind of Paris they want to explore: a hipster Paris of relaxed, bobo locations; a heartbroken Paris with places to be alone, revive, and fall in love again; a summary of Paris via walking tour during a 10-hour layover. Each location is listed with an address, arrondissement, hours of business, and website or phone number. Grall’s best writing happens when she dives into the history of a particular passageway, an ex-brothel, a bustling immigrant community, or an abandoned town.
Not only does Grall want readers to not be a tourist in Paris, the book is not for tourists. Traditional “tourists” — wanting to order ice cream at Berthillon, stand atop the Arc de Triomphe, shop the Champs-Elysées — will not find what they need between these pages. The book contains no information on classic tourist hot-spots, key French phrases, Parisian etiquette, French culture, or public transit. A base knowledge of Paris (or a Fodor’s guide to Paris) is required to best take advantage of Grall’s recommendations.
Expats, frequent travelers, study abroad students, Francophiles, and those who feel — or are trying to feel — comfortable among les français will appreciate this book the most. Though on the cover it says “guidebook,” that might be too strong of a word. Don’t Be a Tourist in Paris is more of an homage to a personal, real Paris, one that starts as Grall’s and becomes the reader’s. Printed on notebook-sized, unlaminated pages with wide margins, the book should, at Grall’s own suggestion, be personalized with readers’ own locations and notes: “Dog-ear [the pages], circle stuff and doodle something wherever I take a pause on the page. This is your living Parisian scrapbook, a place to fill with memories, moments and mishaps…” So take your copy around, sketch a favorite bartender in the margins, spill Pinot Grigio on a page, and scuff the cover when it falls out of your bag as you speed away on the on the back of scooter — Grall would certainly congratulate you for living well in Paris.