Looking to stay on course for back-to-back Grand Slams for the first time since 1909, Wales started brightly in the French capital.
Lee Byrne's stunning try gave the visitors a 13-3 lead after the inform full back picked a clever angle to take Stephen Jones' pass and race clear from the edge of the French 22.
Having had an earlier try ruled out for handling in the ruck right on the Welsh line, France eventually hit back with a try of their own with the last play of the first period.
The impressive Thierry Dusautoir surged over after man-of-the-match Imanol Harinordoquy slipped through a Ryan Jones tackle at they base of a scrum 30 metres out.
Teenage scrum-half Morgan Parra added a conversion to his two earlier penalties to ensure the scores were level at the break.
It was all France in the second half, however, with Wales being forced to defend until the closing stages.
A Cedric Heymans try moved Marc Lievremont's men 18-13 in front with 25 minutes remaining.
Parra kicked his third successful penalty to leave Wales two scores adrift and, despite a late penalty from James Hook, the reigning Six Nations champions were unable to overturn the deficit.
The result means only Ireland still have a chance of recording a Six Nations clean sweep, while Warren Gatland is left to digest his first championship defeat since taking the Welsh reigns in 2008.