Change is in the air
It's so evocative, so romantic, so damned gorgeous that Paris must be forgiven its occasional inconveniences and grumpy moods. So beautifully preserved is France's capital — whole neighbourhoods like the Marais date back the 12th century; spit-shined historic landmarks are in almost every quartier — that locals used to feel as if they were living in a museum. And it's true that Paris is where you come to revel in monuments like the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and Napoleon's completely over-the-top Palais Garnier, the seat of the Opéra de Paris. But today, change is all around. Formerly don't-go-there neighbourhoods like Pigalle and the entire 20th arrondissement have transformed into food, shopping and nightlife destinations for a new breed of urban bohemians. Paris remains the thriving centre of high fashion, where the industry's most established (Hermès, Chanel, Louis Vuitton) and directional (Balenciaga, Lanvin, Rick Owens) labels coexist, but it's become a mecca for low-priced vintage at friperies (second-hand shops) in dynamically cool neighbourhoods like Oberkampf and the Marais.
Paris has also seen a revolution in eating in the past 10 years. Creative neighbourhood bistros with ambitious young chefs have stolen some of the fire from the crusty, Michelin-starred grandes dames. Now, 'les foodies' save their reveries for humbler spots with market-driven, fresh and honest menus. You still can't find a taxi to save your life here, but you can rent a bicycle and, even more recently, Avis has introduced a self-service smart car, with the click of an online subscription. So it's not surprising that one of the most visited cities in the world topped its own tourism records in 2011. It keeps on coming up with more reasons to return.