A moment with... Vanessa Grall

Vanessa Grall’s hidden Paris

Like a protagonist in a Jane Austen novel, British blogger Vanessa Grall likes nothing more than a good stroll around an area to discover its secret history. Her city of choice? Paris. It’s where she’s settled and where she welcomes Lancôme into her home to share a taste of her urban explorer lifestyle.

Profession: Blogger behind Messy Nessy Chic

Neighborhood: 5th arrondissement

As a Paris transplant, have you adopted any typically Parisian habits?
I’ve gotten into the habit of speeding up my pace when I see someone leave a building, so I can get a glimpse at what’s hiding behind the door before it slams shut.

When you’re back in England what do you miss about Paris?
The bohemian Parisian lifestyle that’s still very much alive and well in this city.

Do you have any favorite spots in the city which make you happy?
Anywhere I can play hide and seek with the Eiffel Tower (laughs). I don’t really love going up it tourist-style, but I just love finding unexpected views of her from all the way across the city. This weekend I spotted it in the distance from Villa Ottoz, a calm little road in Belleville Park.
Parc de Belleville, 47, rue des Couronnes, 75020 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 43 15 20 20.

Your blog is full of wanderlust, is there anywhere else in the world you could see yourself living?
I think Los Angeles would be my ideal destination. I’d love to live on the canals behind Venice Beach and head out on weekend road trips into the California desert. I also recently discovered Berlin and fell in love with the city, it’s also a very quirky place

Where do you go to relax and recharge?
If I feel like I’m getting bored, I love to go to the well-hidden Comptoir Général, behind Canal Saint-Martin. I always feel like I’m stepping into a forgotten place, somewhere that in a different lifetime could have been a grand African hotel, a colonial social club in Senegal or a Stanley Kubrick movie location. There are always unusual pop-up stores and inspiring exhibits to take in there on weekends.
Le Comptoir Général, 80 Quai de Jemmapes, 75010 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 44 88 24 48.

Name three places or activities that appeal to your romantic and nostalgic side and which still celebrate bohemian Paris.
La Petrelle, Jean-Luc André’s restaurant. He’s a bit of a mad hatter figure, a chef and gallery owner rolled into one. It’s decorated with piles of books and curious objects you might unearth in your eccentric grandparent’s attic and it’s rumored to be where French presidents take their mistresses.
La Petrelle, 34 Rue Petrelle, 75009 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 42 82 11 02.

Tango dancing on the banks of the Seine in the 5th arrondissement, where languid lovers meet by moonlight. If you don’t want to join in, sitting with a bottle of wine on the steps, watching these dancers is still absolutely mesmerizing and incredibly atmospheric. A little old man sits on the edge of the river with his radio playing tango music, strangers ask strangers to dance and it’s people watching with a very sexy twist – the perfect date spot in Paris.

A stroll around Père-Lachaise cemetery might seem like a strange recommendation for experiencing the city’s romanticism, but it’s like a mini-Paris. All the cemetery’s little walkways have their own names and signs and the tombs look like dollhouses (Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Maria Callas and Marcel Proust are all buried here, along with a number of other artists and celebrities). Strangely enough, going for a walk there hand in hand with my other half makes me want to make it the final resting place for myself and the love of my life.
Père-Lachaise, 16 Rue du Repos, 75020 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 55 25 82 10.

Where do you go to get in touch with old Paris?
Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève. Start by sitting on the old steps of the Saint-Etienne du Mont church, the time-traveling steps in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, then head to the record shop La Dame Blanche to rifle through its old jazz archives, treat yourself to a “Belle-Epoque” lunch at the l’Ecurie in the Latin quarter and then wave at the windows of Hemingway’s old apartments on the corner of Rue Cardinal Lemoine.
Saint-Etienne du Mont, Place Sainte-Geneviève, 75005 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 43 54 11 79.
La Dame Blanche, 47 Rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, 75005 Paris.
L’Ecurie, 2 Rue Laplace, 75005 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 46 33 68 49.

Name a truly well-hidden old Paris gem
I recently discovered a rose garden beautifully hidden by a big old townhouse. It’s probably the best kept secret in the whole of the Marais I’m sharing right now (laughs). Even when the roses aren’t in bloom it’s worth a little detour after Sunday brunch, it’s in Square Saint-Gilles Grand Veneur Pauline Roland.
Square Saint-Gilles Grand Veneur Pauline Roland, 9 Rue du Grand Veneur, 75003 Paris.

Who do you dream of spending a night in Paris with?
Ernest Hemingway and Frida Kahlo.

Where do you go to find beauty in Paris?
I think that the most beautiful spots in Paris are those that take you back to a different time and place. That’s the case at Clos Montmartre, close to the Montmartre vines, I’m always blown away by the surroundings at sunset. There’s also another more secret vineyard in the 19th (near the Parc des Buttes Chaumont) called Butte Bergeyre. It’s a little bucolic village on a hill overlooking a vineyard and a perfect view of Montmartre and Sacré Coeur in the distance. Paris still harbors plenty of little ‘villages’, all just ready and waiting to be discovered. There’s the little Ilôt Campagne in the 20th arrondissement, the Mouzaïa neighborhood, Butte-aux-Cailles, Cité Florale and the Cité de l’Ermitage. The list is long, but you can find them all on my blog Messy Nessy Chic.
Clos Montmartre, Rue des Saules, 75018 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 42 62 21 21.
Butte Bergeyre, 76 Rue Georges Lardennois, 75019 Paris.

What makes you smile on a daily basis?
Bumping into a French bulldog or a pug.

Name three energizing songs
Anything Motown or by the Buena Vista Social Club.

Name a feel-good movie.
Anything by Jean-Luc Godard or Wes Anderson.

How do you beat the blues?
By driving around Paris aimlessly on my moped.

What gets you out of bed on difficult mornings?
Reminding myself that I have readers waiting to read the latest story on my blog.

What do you say to yourself when you look in the mirror?
That I need to give my brows a touch-up.

What’s your favorite French dish?
Garlic wedge shell clams. My mom used to get them at the Uzès market in the south of France every day in the summer. The shellfish are very hard to find in Paris, especially prepared with garlic. Once I was lucky enough to find them at the Président Wilson market.
Président Wilson Market, Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 45 11 71 11.

Do you have any favorite energy-boosting recipes?
I like to make iceberg lettuce salad ‘boats’ with mango, avocado and red onion salsa, topped with a little shredded chicken tossed in Nam Pla (the Thai fish sauce you can find in a lot of little groceries). It’s like a skinny taco with an Asian twist.

Do you have any favorite sweet treats?
A “Mystère”. It’s a French dessert, often served in little regional cafés, you’ll see it on laminated menus and it’s basically vanilla ice cream covered in nut shavings with a surprise meringue hidden in the middle. It’s been a favorite of mine since childhood.

How do you stay in shape?
This sounds strange but running in the pool, preferably with water jets, while punching and boxing against the current– it’s a great all over workout. I sort of made it up myself because I just felt it was working for my body. I also tried the spinning class at Paris’ new Dynamo cycling studio and it kicked my butt, but I liked that the room was dark and the music kept you going to the max. I felt like a superhero afterwards.
Dynamo, 14 Rue Saint-Augustin, 75002 Paris.

How would you describe Parisian men and women?
Sitting at a café, probably wearing a breton shirt, smoking Gauloises, drinking red wine and either being overly affectionate or having an argument with their girlfriend/ boyfriend.

Name a typically perfect Parisian beauty habit

"Wearing an incredibly seductive perfume."

What makes your beauty regimen typically Parisian?
Because it doesn’t involve spending hours putting on heavy make-up. Parisian girls do the effortless look very well, as if all they need is lipstick and a little mascara. I don’t think you should spend more than 10 minutes applying make-up – any more and you’ve probably overdone it.

If you could only take one beauty product out with you on a night out what would it be?
A dark lip color.

What’s your favorite beauty product?
I like a good bronzing cream to enhance the cheekbones.

Have you made any recent retro Parisian beauty finds?
A funny hair salon with an extremely charming old façade near Canal Saint Martin. It’s filled with old kitschy mannequins and 1980’s hairspray products. Valérie still does 1960s style haircuts there, it’s hilarious.
Valérie Coiffure, 14 Rue de Marseille, 75010 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 42 39 66 41.

Do you have any beauty musts?
Get a skin coach to set you on the right path, even just for one consultation so you know what’s best for your skin type and don’t waste money on products that don’t work or do anything for you.

Have you made any life-changing beauty discoveries?
Perhaps it’s something that’s been obvious to lots of women, but I recently discovered primer, a makeup base which smoothes the skin and brightens the complexion. It’s like putting a cashmere jumper on over your skin, it’s wonderful and makes applying foundation feel so much lighter.

What beauty tips would you pass on to your daughter?
Never bleach your hair and use a hairdryer as little as possible.

Vanessa’s Paris address book

Where do you go:

To step back in time?
La Galcante, a bookstore and archive close to the Louvre that has plenty of old etchings, vintage school maps and New Yorker magazines from the 1960s.
La Galcante, 52 Rue de l'Arbre Sec, 75001 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 44 77 87 44.

To find gems?
The museum of hunting and nature (Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature), it’s probably the most underrated museum in the city. It’s set in two 17th century manor houses, the place is incredible. And the best part is it’s usually completely empty! There’s an eclectic collection of exotic taxidermy, natural history curiosities and modern art installations. The size of some of their collection is absolutely staggering. It’s a place I’d see Wes Anderson feeling completely at home in.
Le Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, 62 Rue des Archives, 75003 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 53 01 92 40.

For coffee?
Café Loustic in the Marais, it’s the perfect place to work and to curl up in their super comfy sofas with a nice chai latte.
Loustic, 40 Rue Chapon, 75003 Paris. Tel: + 33 9 80 31 07 06.

For lunch with friends?
13-a Baker’s Dozen a charming little restaurant hidden down a dead-end street. They serve hearty salads and homemade French/American inspired dishes.
13-a Baker’s Dozen, 16 Rue des Saints-Pères, 75007 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 73 77 27 89.

For homewares?
Nordkraft, for Scandinavian modern stuff and the Vernaison flea market, for older things.
Nordkraft, 20 Rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010 Paris.
Marché Vernaison, 99 Rue des Rosiers, 93400 Saint-Ouen.

For gifts?
I love making little gift baskets for my friends, filled with little things I’ve picked out for them. Maybe a little vintage desk accessory from L’Objet qui parle in Pigalle, a nice liquor or a jam from Maison Plisson and sometimes even a lovely candle from Cire Trudon.
L’Objet Qui Parle, 86 Rue des Martyrs, 75018 Paris.Maison Plisson, 9 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 71 18 19 09.
Cire Trudon, 78 Rue de Seine, 75006 Paris.

Photos: Saskia Lawaks