Yael Sonia’s Guide to Paris

Cyrille Bernard / Courtesy Pavillon de la Reine

The jewelry designer with a naturalist bent shares her favorite places in the City of Light.

Inspired by everything from literature to the Art Deco period, Sonia's playful, geometric designs put Brazil's natural bounty of gemstones on beautiful display. Born in Boston, raised in São Paulo, New York, and Antibes, France, the high fashion creative now splits her time between São Paulo, NYC, and Paris. Here, she shares the best things to do and places to go in her favorite French city, from the best boutiques to the most charming spots for an afternoon tea. 

What neighborhood do you live in, and how long have you lived there? My family’s pied-à-terre is in the Passy area of the 16th arrondissement of Paris. It’s the neighborhood that my parents lived in from 1991 to 1994—a quiet and residential area with wonderful neighborhood appeal. It’s near a park, but also right around the corner from great restaurants and shopping.

Where would you put up friends visiting town? Pavillon De La Reine. The setting alone is worth the trip. It’s in the historic Place des Vosges in one of my favorite neighborhoods of Paris, the Marais (28 Place des Vosges; 33-1/40-29-19-19; pavillon-de-la-reine.com).

Where is the best place to find your hometown’s signature dish? I consider NYC my hometown, so Schwartz’s Delicatessen in the heart of the Marais is my absolute go-to! (16 Rue des Ecouffes; 33-1/48-87-31-29; schwartzsdeli.fr).

What is your favorite restaurant to take visitors? For the view, Georges at the Centre Pompidou (Place Georges Pompidou; 33-1/44-78-47-99; restaurantgeorgesparis.com). I also highly recommend Assaporare, a small Italian restaurant in the Bastille area. The restaurant is owned by an architect and started as a fine Italian market. It quickly turned into an intimate restaurant with an open kitchen in the center. The delicious menu changes often, following on the chef’s inspiration (7 Rue Saint-Nicolas; 33-1/44-67-75-55). My good friend just introduced me to the restaurant at La Fondation Luis Vuitton (8 Ave. du Mahatma Gandhi; 33-1/40-69-96-00; fondationlouisvuitton.fr). The menu is true poetry in a setting to match. For my friends looking for French food from the Southwest region of France (foie gras, magret and cassoulet), I would recommend one of the oldest bistros in Paris, La Fontaine de Mars (129 Rue Saint-Dominique; 33-1/47-05-46-44; fontainedemars.com).

Where can you find the best cocktails? For cocktails, Harry’s New York Bar. I love coming here with friends—it has a relaxed atmosphere perfect for enjoying good conversation (5 Rue Daunou; 33-1/42-61-71-14; harrysbar.fr)

Wine list? For wine, Lavinia near the Madeleine. I'm not a big wine drinker but whenever I want to gift someone a great wine, I go to Lavinia since they have a fantastic selection of French and international wines. They also have a lot of options available for tasting (3-5 Boulevard de la Madeleine; 33-1/42-97-20-20; lavinia.fr).

Where would you choose to splurge on a night out? At Takara, the oldest Japanese restaurant in Paris! It serves authentic Japanese food, and I'm never disappointed. You'll need to reserve as this cozy, little restaurant has limited seating (14 Rue Molière; 33-1/4296-0838; takara-paris.com)

What is your go-to after-hours bar? Bar 228 at The Hotel Meurice (228 Rue de Rivoli; 33-1/44-58-10-66). I love the dark, luxe decor and it’s a great place to people watch! Or, there’s Pershing Hall Hotel (49 Rue Pierre Charron; 33-1/5836-5800; pershinghall.com). It is located in the best part of Paris—two minutes away from Champs-Élysées, but very hidden from all the tourists. The hotel belonged to the American legion for many years and now is one of the top boutique hotels in France. Their bar is gorgeous and the cocktail list is amazing!

What’s the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon in town? At an exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs (63 Rue de Monceau; 33-1/5389-0640; lesartsdecoratifs.fr), Le Grand Palais (3 Ave. du Général Eisenhower; 33-1/44-13-17-17; grandpalais.fr) or the Pinacothèque de Paris (28 Place de la Madeleine; 33-1/42-68-02-01; pinacotheque.com), followed by a stroll in the Jardins des Tuileries or along the Seine with family and friends! 

What is your Sunday morning routine? My neighborhood is very quiet on Sunday mornings. I usually meet up with friends or cousins for brunch/lunch in the Marais section of Paris. Shops are open and it’s always lively on Sundays.

Where is the best brunch? Les Deux Magots is a classic, you can’t go wrong. I often meet friends or family there in the morning (6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés; 33-1/45-48-55-25; lesdeuxmagots.fr).

Where do you go for the perfect cup of coffee? In Paris there are endless cafes for that wonderful cup of coffee. Personally, I like to order a double Noisette (a double espresso with just a drop of milk and foam). I love Café Marly (93 Rue de Rivoli; 33-1/49-26-06-60; cafe-marly.com). It is literally in the heart of the Louvre and the terraces are on the center courtyard of the museum, facing I.M. Pei’s Pyramids. I like to sit at an inside table next to the window that faces into the sculpture wing of the Louvre. But Paris is also the place to go for tea! My favorite place is Mariage Frères (99 Rue de Rivoli; 33-1/40-20-18-54; mariagefreres.com). They serve an extensive array of the finest tea blends form all over the world. For an unforgettable classic, Angelina (226 Rue de Rivoli; 33-1/42-60-82-00; angelina-paris.fr) on Rue de Rivoli serves hot chocolate paired with a Mont Blanc (sweet meringue covered in whipped cream and chestnut puree). The ultimate winter afternoon splurge.

What’s your favorite view in town (that tourists might not know about)? Paris is one of those cities where the view is beautiful from just about anywhere. Whether it is a view of rooftops with a glimpse of the Bastille, or the view I have each morning of the tip of the Eiffel tower behind Franck et Fils (80 Rue de Passy; 33-1/44-14-38-00; francketfils.fr), one of the oldest luxury department stores in Paris. One of my absolute favorites though, is the view from the restaurant Georges on top of the Centre Pompidou. I’ve been going there since the 90s.

What’s your favorite path or trail to follow on a walk? In Paris I do a lot of walking. I love walking along the Seine from the Latin quarters to the Concorde and then either through the Jardin de Tuileries to the Louvre, or down Rue Saint-Honoré.

What are your favorite offbeat cultural attractions? I’ve always enjoyed the Fondation Cartier. The exhibitions range from fashion to contemporary art. Since my first visit in 1994, I have returned regularly. I can’t get enough of the building’s architecture (by one of my favorite architects, Jean Nouvel), serenity, or art on display (261 Boulevard Raspail; 33-1/42-18-56-50; fondation.cartier.com).

What’s your favorite shop or boutique? One of them has to be Le Bon Marche (24 Rue de Sèvres; 33-1/44-39-80-00; lebonmarche.com). It has everything from fashion to stationary. Another one is Les Suites (47 Rue Pierre Charron; 33-1/56-59-11-11; boutiquelessuites.com). It offers private shoppers and private suites. The pieces are all very unique—vintage Chanel etc.

What’s the ultimate souvenir from Paris—something you can only get there? This is a tough one. I used to return from my trips to Paris with the real Dijon mustard and Maison du Chocolat chocolates in my suitcase. Today, you can pretty much find everything in NYC. (I can find Ladurée macarons one block away from my apartment!) As of late, my favorite souvenir would be tea from Mariage Frères. I wish I could take the butter from Normandy back with me. It has crunchy salt flakes from Guérande.

What’s the best-kept local secret? Nina’s Paris is a small tea shop next to Place Vendôme. The most popular tea is the Marie-Antoinette, a combination of Ceylon tea, Rose petals, and apples from the King’s Kitchen Garden of Versailles. My favorite is the Magicienne, a blend of green tea, coconut and pineapple (29 Rue Danielle Casanova; 33-1/55-04-80-55; ninasparis.com).

In our Hometown Guides series, we're seeking the best restaurants, bars, vistas, and things to do in a given place from the people who know best—the artists, designers, chefs, and store-owners who live there. See more Hometown Guides »

Photo Credits: Courtesy Hotel Meurice; Getty Images