Franco File Friday: Doni Belau, Girl's Guide to Paris

In recent weeks, I've been asked several times by both readers and new friends to share my Paris tale - why I came and how I was able to stay. With each iteration of the story, I feel two things: tremendously fortunate that the somewhat disparate elements of my journey commingled to create this life in the city I adore and completely overwhelmed by the realization that were it not for certain seminal choices I could be living a very different life, as a very different person. What would I be doing?

For one, I'd likely try to follow Doni Belau's example and split my time. The founder of the successful travel site Girl's Guide to Paris fell hard for the capital over twenty years ago and has striven to return full time ever since.  Though she hasn't (yet) become a permanent resident, she's done the next best thing. Investing in a pied-à-terre in 2000 turned her go-to destination into a second home. Frequent trips with her girlfriends shortly after landing the apartment sparked the idea for Girl's Guide which features restaurant reviews, recipes, shopping tips, lodging recommendations and cultural round-ups from a bevy of local contributors. I've never met anyone as connected with the city's pulsing cultural and culinary scene, typically from 3,000+ miles away, as Doni; she genuinely lives and breathes Paris.

Café in the Jardin du Palais Royal
Describe what you love about France in three words.
Beauty, Manger, le Ciel

Favorite spots for sweet and savory in Paris?
Tough one as there are too many: Sweet: Pierre Hermé for the rose macarons, Un Dimanche à Paris for the hot chocolate, Fouquet for salted caramels. Savory: Saturne for the sommelier and true farm-to-table, Guilo Guilo but only with my son (it's where he realized he was a budding foodie so I like to think of it as "our" place), Da Rosa for jambon iberico, Le Chateaubriand because the waiters are cute and the food is deliciously inventive and La Table d'Eugene because it was the best meal I've had in some time. And I always try to have a falafel at L'As du Falafel

Best under-the-radar place to visit?
These are under the radar for tourists but not necessarily for expats who live in Paris: La Mosquée de Paris for hammams, hooka smoking or simply to sip mint tea and tour the mosque. Shakespeare & Co – I've met too many people who live in Paris or who come a lot who haven't been which is terrible. You can't find a bookstore like it in the US, that's for sure. The Canal St. Martin area, it just keeps getting better. Any of the farm & produce food shows such as the Salon International de L'Agriculture. And a new shopping spot I've discovered, Perrin Paris – fabulous leather goods (purses, gloves & sunglasses with leather) by appointment only on the rue des Petits Champs. 

Fouquet chocolate/candy boxes
Something you can't leave France without bringing home with you?
Sadly now it seems to be caramels from Fouquet ! Since my husband doesn't like them as much as I do and I can't bear to give them away and my kids are at college, it seems I'm bringing them back for myself – shame! They're best when shared.

Most frustrating interaction with the French?
Recently I went to a dinner party at my friend's house in Montmartre with a group of only French speakers. I had started thinking that my French had gotten pretty good and figured I'd have no problem. But I was terribly wrong. I felt as if I was in French 101 again as the conversation went back and forth so quickly that by the time I thought of something to say they were miles past the subject. I managed to make it through dessert and then quickly said goodbye explaining that I had an early train. Turns out I still need a lot more practice before I'm ready for prime time!  

Thanks, Doni! Be sure to follow Paris updates from Doni and her team on Twitter: @GirlsGuideParis, on Facebook and of course, on Girl's Guide to Paris (be sure to check out her recently launched Travel Club). 

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