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The Joy of Walking through Paris

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Boot Café in Le Marais.

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Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

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Carette’s framboise sundae.

In the City of Light, wandering is a rite of passage.

We can trace a myriad of cultural innovations to Paris, but perhaps one of the most uniquely French is the flaneur. From the verb flâner (to stroll), the term describes an aimless wanderer par excellence, a passionate observer of urban life. First identified and then popularized by Charles Baudelaire in his 1863 essay “The Painter of Modern Life,” the flaneur is a figure (historically male, but complemented today by the flaneuse) of leisure and privilege, blessed with abundant free time and limited responsibilities.

I wouldn’t say I’m a person of excess privilege or time, but when I moved to Paris 16 years ago, I instantly latched onto the concept as a means of understanding the city and how it functioned. I never leave home without my metro pass, yet nothing anchors me here quite like my own two feet. Perhaps that’s because I grew up like most Americans, driving from one place to another – to get coffee, to buy groceries, and, perhaps most paradoxically, to exercise. The novelty of walking without direction, meditation in motion, amid the crowds and yet separate from them, lent me a sense of rootedness when I was a new resident.

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A Petit Palais arrival.

Buoyed by the city’s rhythm, I felt like I could become part of something – a well-choreographed ballet in some arrondissements, a more chaotic dance in others. After all these years, that hasn’t changed. The city’s natural rumbles make up the soundtrack to my forward movement. Un pas après l’autre. I’m a character in my own film, suspended somewhere between real life and fantasy, amid the tree-lined paths of the Palais Royal’s garden in one moment, the winding, hilltop streets of Belleville in another.

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Breakfast at Cravan.

The aimless wander, as one can only exercise with such life-affirming reverie in Paris and maybe a few other cities, is as much about connection to time and place as it is about the freedom of movement. A visitor, should they be able to free themselves from the tourist’s checklist, will benefit amply: Paris reveals its gifts most to those who embrace the present.

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The obligatory photo op on the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.

So slow down as you cross the Pont Neuf, pausing at its perfect midpoint, standing in rapt observation as locals shuffle along the riverbanks. Amble nimbly through Saint-Germain, peering into shop windows, while keeping your phone tucked away. Make your way up the Canal Saint-Martin, catching snippets of conversation as you pass by diners on café terraces.

It’s said that the best way to get to know a place is to wander, but doing so can be just as illuminating for your sense of self. If ever there was a place to give it a go, it’s in Baudelaire’s wonderland of flânerie, which lives on, 160 years later.

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Découvertes

Channeling your inner flaneur is an activity best done solo, but your travel advisor can work with one of Virtuoso’s on-site tour connections in France if you’d like to get your bearings first. Découvertes, for example, leads guided walking tours through the City of Light. Stop to admire some of the same stretches that Baudelaire and the flaneurs who followed him encountered in the late nineteenth century.

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Grand Powers Paris

The 50 guest rooms at the Grand Powers Paris, inside a nineteenth-century Haussmann building, feel like chic pieds-à-terre, with playful design touches such as pastel-pink walls and art deco chandeliers. The hotel’s location off the Champs-Élysées means some of the city’s best shopping and most iconic monuments – the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower – are short strolls away. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.

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The Ritz Paris

A French 75 at a beloved haunt like The Ritz Paris’ Bar Hemingway is a fitting finale after a day roaming the same boulevards and avenues that inspired literary greats. The 142-room Parisian legend has held court over place Vendôme since 1898, cossetting guests in tony salons, secret gardens, and sumptuous quarters. Virtuoso travelers receive round-trip private airport transfers, and breakfast daily.

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J.K. Place

For its first hotel outside Italy, J.K. Place chose a Left Bank maison in the city’s Latin Quarter. The 29-room J.K. Place Paris is infused with Italian style, thanks to design from Florentine Michele Bönan and hearty house-made pastas at Casa Tua. It’s worth putting flaneur ambitions on a brief pause to charter the hotel’s 130-foot riverboat for a cruise down the Seine. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 hotel credit.

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