With the dollar under the kind of pressure that would make even the crispiest crème brûlée crumble, this may not seem like the ideal time for a Paris fling. But there's so much to see and do in the City of Light—and so much that's new—that it almost seems unfair to let the Parisians have all the fun.
Paris is still cheaper than many international cities like London, or even Moscow. In fact, the number of Americans traveling to Paris annually hasn't dropped off so much as their spending habits. The French Government Tourist Office's Patrice Doyon says "the depressed dollar" has slowed growth, but Americans are still visiting—they're just spending less. "They might go to a three-star hotel instead of a four-star hotel," he says. "Or do less shopping." But why not go against the grain—after all, the French have made a national sport out of doing just that—and go all out?
Few cities are as well-positioned for an exercise in indulgence as Paris, which is for many still the standard of luxury and culture against which other cities are measured. That said, if you know where to go, you can get more for your inflated euro in the French capital than you might think. Because Parisian luxury is not merely a tale of flamboyance and creature comforts, as in Las Vegas or Dubai, but about quality and authenticity of experience.
Case in point: Hotel Fouquet's Barriere, the newest hotel in Paris that falls into the "palace" category, and the only wholly French-owned one at that. That may be one reason flirty French President Nicolas Sarkozy chose to party there the night he won the election. Post-election, it's the place to see and be seen: With its butler service and exclusive U Spa (complete with underground swimming pool), it may discourage you from leaving to take that walk on the nearby Champs Elysées.
There are other recent boutique hotels that have put in a chic appearance—the Hotel Particulier Montmartre is a charming example—as well as a slew of upscale bistros and restaurants. The past few years have also been marked by a rollout of grandly refurbished museums, such as the Grand Palais, and the addition of a major new one, the dramatic Musée du Quai Branly.
There are new stores, too. A unique one mainly for men is the Gus Concept Store, designer Stéphane Plassier's funky alternative to what he calls the "rather austere universe of masculine consumerism." This bi-level store in the up-and-coming Sentier district is where you'll find everything from stylish Cardone motorcycle helmets to Plassier's own line of ergonomic French underwear.
You can even start your Parisian adventure in a newly elegant way by traveling on L'Avion, an all-business class airline that links Paris and New York. There are daily departures in either direction from Newark Liberty International Airport and Paris Orly—the latter a closer and more convenient airport for transfers into central Paris than the busier Charles de Gaulle airport. The refitted 757 cabin, with just 90 seats instead of the usual 220, will have you rubbing shoulders (at a comfortable distance) with the kinds of French and Franco-American movers and shakers who do lunch at Drouant, the famous literary restaurant recently given a posh makeover, and work off the calories at Paris's most glamorous gym, L'Usine (where a day pass can be had for $65).
Mix and match our Paris picks to experience the best of what's new in Paris now. After all, better to indulge your inner Parisian now than wait around until the real ones go on strike again. So go ahead, make the first move: Paris is such a flirt.