Facing the Louvre and hiding behind the colonnaded façade of the Comédie Française, the oldest national theatre in the world dating back to 1680, is the very exclusive and arty Jardins du Palais Royal (Royal Palace Gardens). Lined with arcades where fashion designers like Stella McCartney and Jérôme Dreyfuss have opened stores, it's a wonder the square is never crowded.
Surrounded by grand Neoclassical buildings, the gardens harbour a handful of very high-end boutiques that draw a select crowd of Parisians. In the summer, alleys of neatly planted trees border the arcades, colourful flowers bloom in the hedges and the sun's rays catch in the fountain, dazzling canoodling couples on benches and young parents minding toddlers getting a feel for their first patch of grass, with a rainbow of colours. In the winter, the bare trees and depleted hedges aren't much to look at but the unusual mix of boutiques is worth stopping for.
Located next door to the Louvre, the gardens are in the courtyard of the complex of buildings created in 1633 by Cardinal Richelieu. Formerly a royal family residence until the Château de Versailles was built, the buildings now house the State Council and the Ministry of Culture. The colonnaded building on Place Colette, where Angelina Jolie was filmed having a coffee at the terrace of Le Nemours while shooting for Mr and Mrs Smith, is the emblematic Comédie Française theatre.
As well as history, the Jardins have one of Paris' largest permanent art installations: the Colonnes de Buren (Buren's columns). Found in the smaller courtyard adjoining the gardens, the 260 striped black and white octagonal columns have become a symbol of the city. Another art installation includes the metro station Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre, the closest to the gardens, which was customised by artist Jean-Michel Othoniel. And at nightfall, François Morellet's light installation Les Grandes Ondes (the large waves) envelops the Palais Royal.
Boutiques and art galleries surrounding the garden include the luxurious French Maison Fabre, glove maker since 1924, the trendy high-end ACNE, and the quirky perfume house Serge Lutens, to name but a few. As well as shops, there are also dining options such as Villalys Café, especially prized in the summer for its terrace, as well as the Restaurant du Palais Royal, and a Parisian icon, the 230-year-old Le Grand Véfour.
It is the latter that really transports visitors to the Parisian Belle Epoque: the sumptuous 2-Michelin-starred Le Grand Véfour was originally inaugurated in 1784 as the Café de Chartres. A listed restaurant, it is a symbol of the decorative arts and it is here, after the 1789 French Revolution, that the restaurant concept as we know it today was born. A number of historic figures came to enjoy the upscale brasserie fare in the small hushed space adorned with gilded walls and mirrors, including Napoleon, George Sand, Victor Hugo and later Cocteau, Colette and Sartre among many others.
For discerning luxury travellers there is also a beautiful pied-à-terre at the recently refurbished Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal (4, rue de Valois, 75001 Paris). It is one of a number of recently refurbished hotels in the city. Peaceful and full of understated opulence, the hotel was entirely renovated by designer Pierre-Yves Rochon and it reopened in 2013. Discreet both in its allure and in its marketing, the Grand Hôtel is still a neighbourhood secret. Its 68 rooms and suites are generously sized and lavishly designed with plush carpets, toile de jouy wallpaper, luxurious linens and fabrics. The highlights includes views of the Palais Royal, and the Panoramic suite, served by its own elevator, which has a terrace with impressive views of the Parisian rooftops spanning from the Sacré Coeur to the Eiffel Tower.
With its secluded location, the unconventional selection of boutiques, its historical icons, and the beautiful gardens in the summer that provide the ideal setting for the magnificent Neoclassical architecture of the former royal palace in the winter, the relatively unfamiliar Jardins du Palais Royal is a well-kept secret that exudes that famously adored quintessential Parisian chic.