Paris: An introduction to the most visited city in the world
Many intellectuals, artists and musicians have settled in Paris over the years, inspired by the beauty of the city and the collection of likeminded folk, interspersed between the hustle and the bustle, in cafes, restaurants, and dinky little clubs. Paris: iconic, starry-eyed, and historical, with a character defined by the good life, coffee and sunsets.
The American writer Ernest Hemingway spent some time there in his youth, working as a journalist, living a cultured existence, enjoying the space to ponder the power one has in arranging certain words. Naturally, the gifted writer that he was, he captured the experience of life there with deft eloquence: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Brits appreciate this, hence the 135,000 expats who have set up a home in the city, according to 2010 statistics compiled by the National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies in France. The establishment of the Eurostar in 1994, coupled with the growth of cheap flights, has further cemented it as a quintessential “home away from home” holiday hotspot too. Paris, je t’aime.
The city’s essence is decidedly idealistic, a sort of quasi-utopian dream, which makes sense of the perception that Paris is all about a romantic way of life. As the travel guide Lonely Planet describes only too well: “Paris has all but exceeded the superlatives that can reasonably be applied to any city.” As far as tributes go, that is as flattering as they come. Evidently then, it comes as no surprise that Paris remains the most visited city in the world.
In terms of how many expats and immigrants live and work the city, the Ministry of the Interior calculates that there are about 310,000 foreigners (out of 2.2 million), which accounts for a sizeable 14 per cent of the population. This makes Paris a culturally vibrant and multifarious place. It’s often said that nobody is actually from Paris, its heterogeneous population having relocated there for work and love. It therefore has a comparatively young demographic. It’s hip to be in Paris.
Karen Fawcett, president and owner of Bonjour Paris, a wonderfully rich and informative travel website, once wrote a “ten reasons why I love something” piece about the city that disregarded mathematical logic. Instead, her top ten was a top twelve, and could have been so much more.
It’s quite a good list, comprehensive, which is no surprise given that she has lived there since 1988. What makes it liveable? Well, to name but a few, as she writes, its architecture – Eiffel Tower, Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris – exceptional public transport, the ease in which one can switch from joyful solitude to good, social conversation, the magnificent gardens and parks, and the luxurious quality of food, both in eateries and in markets.
“No matter how many times I leave Paris and return, my breath is invariably taken away when I pass Notre Dame, the Pont Neuf and the Grand Palais,” she concludes.
“And I know it’s crazy, but what really touches my heart and my soul are Paris’s florists. Some are more haut de gamme than chic and très cher. But there are so many other flower stands where you can buy a bouquet for three euros and it can’t help but make me feel cheerier, even on a very grey day.”
The latter is rarity though, with Paris characterised as having a temperate climate and lots of sunshine – even in the winter – made possible by its location. Average temperatures in the city are around 20 degrees C in the summer (July being the warmest month) and five degrees C in the winter (January the coldest month).
Paris then, sizzles, come rain or shine. Sophisticated, cultivated and dynamic, it is a great place to live for those looking to move to Europe for a new life and commitments to work. Diverse but distinctly French, historic but utterly contemporary, relaxed but vibrant, it is a constantly moving and laidback city. It’s what you want it to be, or as Audrey Hepburn once said, Paris is always a good idea. A woman of discernable style, she knew a good thing when she saw and experienced it.