The Art Historians Behind Curated Touring Share the Pastries, Museums and Hidden Corners That Make Their Paris Come Alive
Introduction by Margaret Williams
Meagan Labunski and Matthew Woodworth first met at Duke University in 2006. Both Ph.D. candidates, they were wrapping up their doctorates in art history and quickly bonded over their love of medieval art and architecture. Later, as each spent years researching, teaching and living abroad — Woodworth in Scotland, England and France and Labunski in Italy — they were constantly disappointed by the (mis)information they heard guides sharing to crowds of tourists in their favorite churches, museums and markets. These places, which felt so alive to Labunski and Woodworth, were not being given the passion and education they deserved.
The two assumed that someone would eventually fill this void. “After waiting years for someone to create a tour that we would actually want to take,” says Labunski, “we decided to do it ourselves.” In the spring of 2018 Woodworth and Labunski left their university-level teaching jobs and Curated Touring was born. Their goal is to “radically transform group travel.” They love the idea of group travel, but feel the concept is in need of a more upscale and personalized approach. Starting in early 2019, the art historians and friends will lead small groups (no more than 20) through their favorite European cities (Paris and Rome to start) so they can authentically experience the art, architecture, food and culture of a place.
“Our academic backgrounds allow us to arrange boutique events available to very few travelers,” explains Woodworth. We couldn’t help but ask these well-seasoned travelers to share their Paris with us.
MEAGAN AND MATTHEW’S FAVORITES:
In its former life, the five-star Hôtel de Vendôme (1 Place Vendôme) was the embassy of the newly formed Republic of Texas; today, its 20 rooms and nine suites are beautifully appointed and uniquely furnished (fabrics sourced from Chanel and Dior). You’ll want to linger over a cocktail while enjoying the view down to the street below. Added bonus: This spot features some of the friendliest staff we’ve encountered in any country.
Julia Child once remarked that one can judge the quality of a cook by his or her roast chicken. Guy Savoy brings his Michelin-star game to Atelier Maître Albert (1 Rue Maître Albert), where the chicken, among other things, has that certain something. Ask for a table near the massive limestone fireplace, and tuck into a glass of Bordeaux while you mull over the menu. Don’t skip the heavenly seared scallops with pumpkin and hazelnuts or the desserts, which are some of the most decadent in the city.
Founded in 1761, À la Mère de Famille (39 Rue de Cherche Midi) is the oldest chocolatier in Paris. Its original shop façade, at 35 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, is a historic landmark, but the Saint-Germain boutique is full of vintage charm. Let the friendly staff introduce you to the delights of French confections, and make sure to sample the homemade iced chestnuts!
Une Glace à Paris (15 Rue Sainte-Croix of Bretonnerie) opened three years ago in the Marais. Its two pastry chef–owners have completely rethought the traditional approach to making ice cream. Their concoctions of cream, nougat, tropical fruit and cocoa are not to be missed. Their line of pâtisseries glacées, or “ice pastries,” merge the institution of French pastry-making with ice cream, setting a new standard for desserts best enjoyed while strolling.
Au Petit Versailles du Marais (1 Rue de Tiron) is one of our favorite pastry shops. The name is appropriate in every way, as the etched glass, decorated ceilings and crystal chandeliers do indeed invoke a “little Versailles.” It’s the perfect setting for possibly the best pain au chocolat we’ve ever had. This spot also makes fantastic sandwiches on crusty artisan baguettes. There is usually a line out the door, but we promise, it’s worth the wait.
Although France produces less than 1 percent of the world’s olive oil, the flavors of the French varietals at Oliviers & Co. (60 Rue Vieille du Temple) can certainly hold their own against Italian production. Made from the best batches of olives in Provence and Corsica, Oliviers & Co. offers unique oils that are both refined and aromatic. French olive oil perfectly complements French fare.
Nestled between the Canal Saint-Martin and Belleville neighborhoods, La Fontaine de Belleville (31-33 Rue Juliette Dodu) is a traditional French café that takes its coffee very seriously. Featuring beans from Belleville Brûlerie, one of the city’s most renowned roasters, La Fontaine is a hidden gem. The owners pay homage to the building’s history — it was once an after-hours jazz spot — with live music on Saturday afternoons.
Le Fumoir is one of the best salons de thé in Paris, serving up a wide range of tea, coffee and chocolat chaud with efficient and friendly service. The unvarnished floorboards and gleaming leather-covered seats evoke an Old World charm. Linger with a cocktail, glass of regional wine or a craft beer at a sidewalk table while you enjoy panoramic views of the Louvre’s rear façade.
The stately leather-decked Bar Hemingway (15 Place Vendôme), tucked within the labyrinth of the Ritz Paris, remains our number-one choice for Parisian cocktails, which happen to be having a moment. Sip on the Serendipity, a Champagne-and-Calvados-based drink that longtime head barman Colin Field promised would indeed be serendipitous (it was). This was Hemingway’s favorite bar. Who are we to argue?
Head to the small Romanesque church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (79 Rue Galande) for unforgettable live music. Multiple concerts are held here each week, and they offer a winning combination: intimate space (usually 100 tickets per concert), superior acoustics and world-class performances that allow the medieval interior to come alive. Sainte-Chapelle (8 Boulevard du Palais), built in the 13th century, is easily our favorite building in all of Paris. A masterpiece of the Gothic style, it was designed to showcase King Louis IX’s prized collection of holy relics. While traditional Gothic elements are present (hello ribbed vaulting and soaring verticality), architect Pierre de Montreuil departed from tradition by replacing the heavy stone construction of previous eras with enormous windows of stained glass, more than 6,650 square feet of it! The entire church seems to be constructed from glass. Musée Rodin (77 Rue de Varenne). Auguste Rodin is considered one of the most important and remarkable sculptors of the modern period, and nearly 300 of his works are displayed in and around the former Hôtel Biron, now the Musée Rodin. Not only does this museum feature some of the artist’s most important works (The Thinker and The Gates of Hell, to name two), but it also offers the visitor a rare glimpse into Rodin’s artistic processes. His casts, which still contain the original straws through which molten bronze would be poured, are displayed next to many of his sculptures.