In a few days, I’ll be heading back to Paris for my annual winter stay. Temperatures will be brisk (to say the least). There will be no flowers, colorful or otherwise, blooming in the parcs and jardins, and daylight will be fleeting. It’s for these reasons that my friends and family members question my sanity, wondering why, for Pierre’s sake, I would leave warm and sunny Miami for time in cold and dark Paris.
For that matter, my friends in Paris think I’m crazy, too. Those who are Paris born wallow in the gloom of the season, finding plenty to complain about (and it doesn’t take much). The expats in my circle have forgotten the wonderment they once felt upon arrival in the French capital, the romance that drew them there lost in the daily shuffle of city life. But when I explain to them all the reasons I find winter in Paris to be the best time of the year, I (sometimes) manage to get them to see the city with a fresh, excited perspective.
In winter, Paris is …
Right around the time Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, Parisians are getting ready for the Christmas holidays. The city’s rues, avenues and boulevards are lined by glittering white lights. The windows of the grands magasins compete with each other for the most spectacular, sometimes avant-garde displays. Inside Galeries Lafayette, oversized wrapped gift boxes dangle from the magnificent art deco dome and a Christmas tree bedecked in lights and ornaments rises up to meet them. Christmas markets spring up all around the city — along the Champs-Élysées, Place Saint-Germain-des-Pres, Abbesses in Montmartre, just to name a few — selling holiday-oriented treats, stocking stuffers and mulled wine.
…with tourists, that is. Of course, being Paris, there are still quite a few visitors to the French capital, but the spring, summer and fall crowds have thinned. Given the outside temperatures, many stay indoors, so while the museums and department stores may still feel full, outdoor spaces look more spacious. I’ve spent many a winter’s day strolling through the Jardin du Luxembourg, and Père Lachaise, and felt like I could enjoy my surroundings without being crowded out of them. And with less people, I can actually capture a photograph of my subject without a tourist blocking the view. Which brings me to Paris, in winter, being …
There are those who would argue that Paris is at its picture-perfect best when flowers are blooming and everything is lush and green. While I find Paris to be gorgeous and welcoming during the spring and summer months (and even into autumn), the best pictures I’ve taken — and my favorites from other photographers — are from winter. With tree limbs barren of all foliage, architectural details are in full display. In fact, a photograph of a naked tree set against the background of the Paris cityscape is incredibly rich and dramatic. Snowfall in the Tuileries can take even a color photo and make it look like a timeless black and white. And with sidewalks and walkways carpeted in the reds and oranges of fallen fall foliage, the vibrancy of Paris is made even more magnificent.
In a city where air conditioning is a rarity, the summer months don’t scream romance. It can be too warm to hold hands, let alone cuddle beneath the covers. In winter, sharing some body warmth brings a whole new level of romance to your time in Paris. And if, like me, you’re on your own, coming in out of the cold to enjoy a cup of chocolat chaud or mulled wine always brings a smile to your lips.
Other than the two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s, winter is considered “off season” in Paris. Airfares go down, as do hotel rates. You can find special discounts at Paris vacation apartments, too. While you won’t find any deals at the city’s restaurants, some tour companies discount their activities. And if you hold out for a January visit, you’ll get to enjoy the famous Paris soldes—and just about every single store in Paris runs big sales during this period.
I debated sharing these reasons why I love Paris even more in the winter … because if I convince too many people to visit Paris during this time of year, it might get a little too crowded.