The Ultimate Online Travel Guide to Paris Is the Brainchild of an American Francofile
Doni Belau launched Girlsâ€™ Guide to Paris in September of 2009 because of her long-time love and passion for Paris and France in general. She and her husband owned an apartment in Paris for six years and now have a house on the Dordogne river in the Bordeaux region.
GirlsGuideToParis.com is an all-encompassing online city guide and features over 4,000 pages of fun ideas, services and insider tips for shopping in, dining in and visiting Parisâ€”all tested and personally selected with care by Doni and her team of locally based editors. GG2P has various projects under development, including their recently launched Travel Club, iPhone applications, downloadable walking tours and a weekly radio show.
Before the travel business overtook her life, Doni wasÂ a fundraiser, an activist, and a political and not-for-profit consultant.In 2006 Doni encouraged her young friend Whitney Johnson to start Ubuntu Africa and together they conceived of an organization that would help, assist and empower children and young adults who have HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Now, five years later, they have helped to save and extend the lives of hundreds of HIV positive children outside of Cape Town in their after-school care center in the township of Khayletisha.Â Previous to her not for profit and political work, Ms. Belau worked professionally in media and advertising, producing television commercials.
She has spoken at WE, the Womenâ€™s Entrepreneurial Conference in NYC, taught at the Womenâ€™s Campaign School at Yale and currently serves as a Democratic district leader in Bedford, NY.Â Doni Belau grew up in the small town of Fremont, Nebraska.Â She is married and has two children in college. She attended UCLA and she divides her time between Bedford Corners, New York, her house near Bordeaux and Paris, her favorite city.
FCS: How did you come up with theÂ concept for an onlineÂ Girls’ Guide to Paris?
Doni Belau: A friend of mine in publishing has originally suggested–knowing my passion for Paris–suggested that it would be cool to write a book about Paris. That was at the height of the chick lit fad. But when I discussed the project with an editor and literary agent, I was told that nobody would ever publish my book unless I could get on the Today Show.Â That’s when I had the idea for an online guide to Paris geared to women.
FCS: How long did it take for you to put the website together?
Doni Belau: It took about a year to get it together. It was harder than birthing!Â We not only had to put together all all the information, we had to take photographs in every arrondissement. We went over on several trips during the year to get all the information we needed for the site.Â
FCS: You also did an amazing job of getting it known. How did you manage to get up to 330,000 readers a month in such a short time?
Doni Belau: Search Engine Optimization is really important. We did a little bit of advertising.Â We also got featured in the travel section of the Huffington Post. We also spend a lot of time and energy on Twitter and Facebook. We’re on there all the time. We have a social media following, as well as over 4,000 pages of information that people can find in our archives. This blog is really dedicated to people who are travelling and who want alot of information when they plan their trip to Paris.
FCS: What compelled you to focus exclusively on Paris?
Doni Belau: I think there are several things that make Paris irresistible, and the first of them is great architecture. After, that it’s food–it’s no fun if you can’t get a decent meal, and certainly Paris proves itself everyday when it comes to food. Then there is wonderful shopping and loads of cultural things to do.
FCS: And your love affair with Paris–when did that begin?
The first time I went to Paris, it was 32 years ago, and even then as a teenager of 17, I was pretty impressed. Then, after I married, I went back, and visited my sister who had a home in the Aveyron. I didn’t want to go back home. Paris captivated me. Women become obssessed with Paris–it’s a mythical place. Then of course, there’s the inside story–it’s like the flush of romance with the boyfriend until you discover his dirty socks on the floor.
Â FCS: What are the things thatÂ you lovedÂ immediately about Paris?
Doni Belau: The first thing that struck me was the architecture and the sense of history. I grew up in Nebraska, where the oldest thing was 100 years old. A trip to Paris totally blows your ming. It just oozes history and style and beauty. I love to wander down the tiny streets. Walking the streets of Paris like “Le FlĂ˘neur” and getting lost–that is something that happens all the time in Paris.
I also think the window displays and flower shops–I had never seen anything in my life that looked that beautiful except in Japan. The ultimate care in the details, even the packaging, is far and away superior to anything that I knew in the States.
But I was also struck by the completely different way of doing things–that you can’t step on the grass or lie on the grass in many parks–that is so different from what I was used to back in the States. It’s so interesting the way the Parisians have different ways of doing things.
FCS: What do you think makes Paris still so interesting today?
What’s interesting to me is to find these little boutiques with newer designers and artisans. There is also a big wine bar scene that reflects a new bohemian chic. The emphasis today is anti-luxury and authenticity, especially in the newer places. It’s in Isabel Marant, Zadig & Voltaire (which blends French style with California surfer chic). I also think that the vintage stores in Paris have become a huge thing–taking vintage to a whole new level. There are also these wonderfully confidential places, clandestine underground restaurants for instance.
FCS: What do you feel about the way the French shop? How is it different from your experience in the States?
There is a nice formality to shopping in Paris. People in boutiques will say hello and goodbye, for instance. I also love the set bi-annual sales–that make them a happening. It’s a smart marketing idea. What I don’t like is that some places can be a little too formal, so that you need to look nice to go shopping. There is a certain amount of “profiling” that goes on in Paris.
At the same time, I admire the way the French women don’t have a discount mentality. They don’t first ask about the price. Instead, if a Parisian woman needs a blue blouse, she will spend two hours looking for the right blue blouse. She prefers to buy only what she needs, does her research and ends upÂ buying justÂ the right thing.
FCS: Besides having the downloadable walking tours of different quartiers in Paris, what other types of self-guided tours are you offering?
At the end of last year, we launched two style-oriented tours: Audrey Hepburn’s Paris and Jackie Onassis’s Paris. The walking tour that really took off was on Audrey Hepburn: we featured all the movie locations and places where you could get the look. Her style, including the skinny pants and the ballet slippers is totally in–it’s another way of making Paris come alive.
One way to get closer to Paris is to tap into different personalities–tap into their personal history. I have done that with Kiki of Montparnasse, I am completely obsessed with here, and people like her make the history of Paris more accessible.