Interview: Heather Stimmler-Hall
How would you describe yourself in three adjectives?
Creative, independent, optimistic.
What is your connection to France? What is France to you?
I’ve been living in France since 1995 when I came here as a college student, and I became a French-American dual citizen this year. France is my adopted country, but it’s also where my American ancestors came from in 1871 (they left Strasbourg after the Franco-Prussian War for Pennsylvania).
What are your interests outside of travel writing?
If you looked in my wallet you’d find a UGC Carte Illimité (unlimited cinema pass), a Disneyland Paris Annual Passport, and a Vélib annual bike pass. That pretty much sums up what I do in my free time. I also love discovering new music, reading history books, and hiking.
How did you get started travel writing?
I started off as a traditional journalist working on local papers throughout high school and college, and majored in Political Science thinking one day I’d be a White House Correspondent. But when I moved to Paris permanently after college, the only journalism job I could find was Travel Editor at ELLE Magazine’s new website, ELLE.com (in 1999). I went freelance a year later when I moved to the French Riviera, and travel articles were a lot easier to sell than news articles. Eventually I was updating guidebooks, and then writing them myself. Now I don’t think I’d ever go back to news journalism, this is too much fun!
In 1999 you began writing weekly travel articles called ‘Secrets of Paris’ for Suite101.com, which you then turned into a newsletter and finally a website. The Secrets of Paris ‘universe’ has continued to grow. For those who are not familiar, could you briefly describe this ‘universe’.
The Secrets of Paris ‘brand’ now includes private, custom tours and travel planning, in addition to the newsletter and website. In 2007 I created Fleur de Lire EURL (a French LLC), which encompasses the Secrets of Paris Newsletter, Tours, and an indie publishing company which first published Naughty Paris: A Lady’s Guide to the Sexy City in 2008. Last month we produced our first iPhone app, ‘Paris Pastry Shops’ with David Lebovitz, and next month the second book will be out, Naughty New York. I stay busy! In early 2007, the French limited liability company, Fleur de Lire EURL, was created to encompass the Secrets of Paris website, the guided tours, and a new independent publishing company. Fleur de Lire Press published its first book in a series, Naughty Paris: A Lady’s Guide to the Sex City in September 2008. That’s an intriguing title, can you tell us more.
At ELLE magazine we always looked for travel articles for the Sex & the City generation of women, sexy and stylish, not frumpy and ‘practical’ (although my travel-journalist self can’t help but give practical info, too). I saw a gap in the guide book market and decided to fill it. Naughty Paris has everything you’d find in a regular travel guide for women – hotels, shopping, spas, restaurants, culture – but there’s also a bit of information about the adults-only scene in Paris, from fetish parties to erotic art tours. It obviously struck a chord with women, because we’ve completely sold out of the first edition and are working on the second for 2012. (the eBook is still available)
What advice would you give to first time or returning travellers to France?
Relax. Hang out. For one day, don’t buy anything or visit any ‘sights’. Just take in the city, the atmosphere, the people. The Louvre isn’t going anywhere. But the city is constantly changing. Don’t miss it. And now your favorites: Which is your favorite French city?
Where is your favorite place in Paris to eat?
My friends are all great cooks, so I’d rather eat at their place than any restaurant in Paris! But I do tend to wind up at Les Philosophes quite often.
Where is your favorite place in Paris to drink?
On the banks of the Seine during Paris Plage… weather permitting! Where is your favorite place in Paris to play (a park, nightclub, museum, gallery etc.)?
Sightseeing is my job, so when I want to play I tend to do something that takes me completely out of Paris: I go to the movies.
Where is your favorite place in Paris to stay?
If I’m alone I’d stay at the Four Seasons George V. If I’m not alone I’d book one of the fantasy suites at Le Seven Hotel.
Where is your favorite place in Paris to celebrate a big event?