Snow is falling as I write this, building up on sidewalk tables and the shoulders of hurried smokers. It's a scene best seen from indoors, my fingers alternating between the keypad and a steaming coffee mug.
When Paris is cold, my favorite activity—the aimless wander—is on hold. And outdoor pleasures like the impromptu picnic and the riverboat cruise become intolerable when the temperature drops. So what's there to do in the dead of winter?
Some of the best French cuisine comes from the Southwest region and is perfect for cold weather. Indulge in classics like confit de canard (duck that's been preserved in its own fat and then slowly roasted until crispy) and cassoulet (a crock of creamy white beans with sausage and other meats) will keep you warm for hours, especially if accompanied by a hearty red wine from the same region. Standout spots for this cuisine are Le Pamphlet (38 rue Debelleyme, 3rd arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-72-39-24) and Au Fil des Saisons (6 rue des Fontaines du Temple, 3rd arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-74-16-60).
The biannual national sales fall during the hottest and coldest months of the year. I prefer to do my hunting during the winter version, held this year from Jan 7 through Feb. 10, when the heat of bargain battle serves the dual purpose of also keeping me warm. I like to head to one of the grande dame department stores, where I can find everything I want (including lunch and a glass of wine) without braving the wind outside. Galleries Lafayette (40 boulevard Haussmann, 9th arrondissement) and Printemps (64 boulevard Haussmann, 9th arrondissement) on the right bank, and Bon Marché on the rive gauche (22/38, rue de Sèvres, 7th arrondissement) are all good options.
This is the year I'm going to finally try the outdoor rink at Hôtel de Ville. It's such a gorgeous setting, especially at night, when you can twirl surrounded by the shimmering city-hall lights. It's also budget friendly (free to enter, with skate rental for €5), and a great way to work up an appetite before one of those heavy Southwestern meals. Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, 4th arrondissement, open Monday-Thursday noon-10pm and Friday-Sunday noon to midnight.