The pandemic has forced us to travel and celebrate life’s milestones a bit differently. 2021 marked two really big ones for me – turning 50 and celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary. My husband and I have a tradition, that every five years we return to our favourite city of Paris, to celebrate our anniversary. Sadly, this will be the first time we break that tradition.
I want to make the day a little extra special, and dare I say it, add a little Paris vibe to our day. That means spending the day in Canada’s biggest city – Toronto. If you are missing the City of Light, why not inject a little French into your day. So how does one spend a Paris-themed day in Toronto? Follow along for a little inspiration.
Begin at a Boulangerie
Without fail, we would always kick off our day with a visit to a boulangerie (a bakery/bread shop) or patisseries (a pastry shop) in Paris. There is one literally on every corner. So how do you know which one to go to? For starters, there’s always a lineup. When Parisians find ‘the one’, they won’t settle for anything less. Let your nose be your guide. The best ones will always stop you in your tracks because of the delicious warm bread smell waffling through the air.
We decided to kick off our day with Hannah’s Café and Bakery, conveniently located at the High Park’s entrance. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but step inside and you may feel like you are in a chic modern Paris café. My go to favourite is always an almond croissant or pain aux raisin.
Stroll in a Park
Just as we did in Paris, we often would start our day by grabbing a croissant and slowly stroll one of the city’s most beautiful parks. I just love how Paris has created so many pretty public places to sit and relax as you walk from one landmark to the next.
We decided to visit Toronto’s largest public green space – High Park. Although known for its cherry blossoms in the springtime, High Park offers much more. Endless walking trails, beautiful lakefront views, a dog park, greenhouse and even a mini-zoo! One of the best parts of the park to visit is Hillside Gardens. It starts by Grenadier Café in the middle and ends by the lakefront. It’s a nature lovers escape while in the city.
Visit a Museum
Paris is a city of museums. Each time we go, we like to explore a new one. From the world-class artifacts of the Louvre to the priceless artworks of the Musée d’Orsay. So, how could I not visit one of my favourites in Toronto – the Art Gallery of Ontario, or AGO.
The AGO was founded in 1900 by a group of private citizens, and is considered one of the largest art museums in North America. It showcases a vast selection of art from all over the world. The stunning architecture, designed by Frank Gehry, is to be admired just as much as the art. Anyone else see the similarities to the Louvre with its use of light, glass and repetition of lines? We headed straight towards the featured exhibit by Andy Warhol, the 20th-century Pop Art icon. Campbell’s soup cans and celebrity portraits became his signature pieces.
Savour a Meal
We adore the Parisian dining culture. Where food-loving locals make the mid-day meal last about 2 hours. The meal is savoured and usually enjoyed with a glass of wine. Then there is the late night dinner, under the glow of city lights and candlelight. Tables are tiny to create that cozy intimate dining experience. J’adore!
We chose Lavelle, with its uber chic rooftop experience. It’s Toronto’s hotspot for dining, lounging and well, being seen. So, it might not be oozing with classic Parisian charm, but it does channel a great memory of dining on the rooftop of the Galeries Layfette. So, swap out the iconic view of the Eiffel Tower with the CN Tower and viola it is a perfect choice!
Rivaling for attention, you can’t miss the other main attraction and that is of the 155-foot pool; one of the longest rooftop pools in North America. Lavelle has its own vibe – perfect for those chill summer days.
Tour the Islands
Wandering around Île Saint-Louis or Île de la Cité feels like you are taking a holiday from the rush of Paris. Both are two natural islands sitting in the middle of the Seine with the left and right banks on either side. As you can image, both offer a lovely view of the Seine and the Parisian buildings.
Toronto Island offers the same magical experience. A short ferry ride and the bustling downtown core feels like a million miles away. The Toronto Islands are filled with parks, beaches, amusement park, and not to mention the best skyline views.
Experience Immersive Art
The latest trend making its way across North America is the Immersive Art exhibits. What began in France in 2008, ‘Beyond Van Gogh’ and now ‘Beyond Monet’ is essentially creating theater experiences out of art. It is undeniably Instagrammable. Love it or hate it, in the end it’s introducing art to a whole new audience. I personally love it, equally as much as seeing it in a gallery. It’s just two different experiences.
Hang out at an Urban Beach
One of the advantages of visiting Paris in August for our anniversary is seeing the pop-up beach, or ‘Paris Plages’. A long stretch of the right bank of the Siene is transformed into a beach boardwalk, complete with sandy areas, mist showers, chaises lounges, and beach bars.
Something just as whimsical is Toronto’s Sugar Beach. What was once a concrete parking lot has been turned into an unexpected beach at the water’s edge. The cute pink sun umbrellas contrast the industrial view of the Redpath Sugar Refinery. But somehow it works.
Step Back in Time
Every time we are in Paris we always visit Le Marais – the city’s historical district. The charm of Le Marais lies in its cobblestone streets and historic architecture. It feels like a village and unlike the rest of Paris. It’s also full of trendy boutiques, tiny galleries and cute cafés.
Maybe that’s why I love Toronto’s Distillery District. It’s a pedestrian-only village set amidst amazing heritage architecture. The entire district is devoted to arts, culture and entertainment. I love the fact that it is filled with unique galleries and specialty shops. Not a single franchise in sight, well except Balzac Coffee Roasters. They get a pass, because there is no denying that their two-storey Parisian style café is amazing.
Lock your Eternal Love
The love lock tradition – the idea of a couple inscribing their initials on a lock in hopes of eternal love – was made famous in Paris on the Ponts des Arts bridge. However, the origins of this commitment of love began in small town of Vrnjačka Banja, Serbia. The story revolves around a young couple, Nada and Relja, who were deeply in love. When Relja was sent off to war (WW1) and returned with a new bride, Nada was left heartbroken (and never married). The women of Vrnjačka Banja never wanted to experience that type of heartbreak so they wrote the initials of their loves on a lock attached it to a bridge and threw the key in the river.
The love lock phenomenon has spread to every major city around the world. Of all my travels, my favourite can be found right here at home in the Distillery District. With the red brick as the backdrop, the lovelorn can lock their love on the 9 metre-long ‘love’ installation. It blends in with the Distillery District’s industrial-chic vibe.
As a holidaymaker…
Well there you have it! If you can’t travel to Paris, why not bring a little Paris to you – in Toronto!
Until next time…a bientôt!