There’s nothing like springtime in Paris: warm sunshine on your face, magnolia tree blossoms in the parks, a cafe culture that doesn’t exist in London and those chic Parisians going about their daily business. What’s more, the Eurostar couldn’t be more efficient, speeding from London to the French capital in just a little over two hours. Visiting Paris is a great weekend break.
A city at the heart of Europe, Paris attracts some 28 million visitors a year from all over the world. With its efficient Metro system (despite being 100-years-old), 200 churches, 465 parks and gardens and 173 museums, this is not a city one tires of quickly. Merely visiting the Louvre, for instance, gives one the opportunity to savour some 35,000 different works of art.
Moreover, Paris continues to reinvent itself every day. The diversity of its hotels never ceases to grow, and today there are more than 76,000 hotel rooms in the city. Aside from its so-called ‘palace hotels’ – sumptuous residences such as the Hôtel de Crillon, Ritz Paris, Four Seasons Hotel, George V Paris, Hôtel Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice – the city is notable for a growing number of offerings from Asia-based hotel chains. Last year saw both the re-opening of Le Royal Monceau, now part of the Raffles group, and the opening of a new Shangri-La; meanwhile, Mandarin Oriental is set to open its doors this summer, followed by The Peninsula in early 2013.
I, however, chose to stay at Le Pavillon des Lettres, a boutique hotel which proved to be a great bolthole for the weekend. Opened in December 2010, it contains just 26 rooms and suites, each named after a letter of the alphabet and dedicated to an author, poet or playwright. Le Pavillon des Lettres combines the art of writing and the aesthetics of decoration, paying homage to the talents of French and international authors alike. That weekend, I got into bed with Shakespeare, his words engraved on the walls of my room and his books next to my bed. Rooms are small but extremely comfortable, and each comes equipped with an iPad. Although there’s no restaurant, the hotel does provide an excellent breakfast as well as an honesty bar. But the real joy is that you’re right in the centre of Paris, at the point where the 8th arrondissement meets shopping and culture. The Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré – synonymous with haute couture and refinement and composed of art galleries, embassies and luxury shops – is just a few steps away, as is the most famous avenue in the world, the Champs-Elysées.
Die-hard literature fans can take it a step further by visiting Paris’s most famous cemetery, Père Lachaise, where the tomb of Oscar Wilde can be found alongside those of such legendary figures as Jim Morrison of The Doors, Chopin and Edith Piaf. It is even possible to have a drink and/or dinner at Wilde’s last place of residence: L’Hotel, an opulent boutique hotel on Paris’s arty Left Bank which houses a Michelin-starred restaurant and a bar beloved of the Parisian style set.
The Musée Rodin is gorgeous on a sunny day, and its gardens are a lovely place to spend a lazy afternoon. Created in 1916 at the initiative of the artist himself, the museum is housed in the Hôtel Biron (in this case, not an actual hotel), which Rodin rented from 1908 onwards. The collection includes some 6,500 of his sculptures. In the rose garden visitors can see The Thinker and The Gates of Hell; elsewhere lawns lined with avenues of trees lead to Ugolin and an ornamental pond. Just 10 minutes walk from the museum is Deyrolle, the famed taxidermy shop. Although a rather morbid attraction, the shop contains a spectacular array of stuffed animals – from polar bears and tigers down to small ducklings – and other curiosities. With taxidermy currently in vogue, Deyrolle is well worth a look.
As for the the gastronomic scene, while great chefs such as Alain Ducasse, Joël Robuchon, Hélène Darroze and Daniel Rose continue to innovate in Paris, the city’s wonderful brasserie culture is equally worth experiencing. We visited the trendy Left-Bank eatery Alcazar, a favourite among Paris’ cool crowd and a great place to go with a group for dinner. A Sir Terence Conran creation, this buzzing brasserie serves international cuisine in what was once a notorious transvestite nightclub. Nowadays it is a bright and funky eatery with a 12-metre-high glass roof, open-plan kitchen and mezzanine bar where the DJs knock out the latest in house and funk, all while classic clips of Brigitte Bardot movies are projected on to the wall. Meanwhile for lunch, L’Avenue is the spot to be on weekends – definitely my favourite. Teaming with chic Parisians and with amazing views of both Dior’s flagship outlet and the Eiffel Tower, the cuisine is also to die for: light French with an Asian twist, including lots of seafood tartares and carpaccios. Reservations are absolutely necessary and preferably made weeks in advance.
But of course, these are only a few of the things to do on a spring weekend in Paris – there are only so many hours in the day. Given I still need to visit the Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame and shopping emporium Le Bon Marché, among plenty of other attractions, I guess I’ll have to go back in summer…