Those of a romantic frame of mind will fall in love with the food, art and shopping of Paris, says Kate Wickers
Paris is of course synonymous with amour and you might find yourself muttering, “Get a room for goodness’ sake”, as you try to navigate your way around snogging couples on every street corner, but it’s perfect for a girls’ weekend too, especially if you’re flexing un carte de credit. Galeries Lafayette has a whole floor that just sells shoes. Imagine how tedious it would be dragging your lover round there?
We were staying at L’Hotel, once frequented by the likes of Salvador Dali and Frank Sinatra and the last home of Oscar Wilde, now a boutique hotel with the renowned Michelin-star Le Restaurant. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric place with belle époque lights, marble columns and red velvet armchairs, into which we sank cosily to sip pink champagne while we waited for lunch, giggling at the peculiar mix of music from sultry French jazz to Soft Cell.
Le Restaurant is every MasterChef devotee’s dream and I savoured my cod and beetroot in a raspberry jus sprinkled with delicate violet nasturtiums, remarking to my friend, in the style of Gregg Wallace, that if my main course were single I’d marry it. But the highlight was my blinged-up rice pudding with coconut sorbet, pineapple coulis and confetti of gold leaf. Mr Wilde, the king of one-liners, wrote in 1893 that “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.” Auntie Mary, you’re forgiven.
I wondered too if it was here that he muttered, “Either I or the wallpaper have to go.” He wouldn’t have cause to fault the décor today as the hotel has been beautifully designed yet remains faithful to its opulent past. We were in the decadent Pierre Loti suite. “Oooooo it’s like a boudoir,” squealed my friend excitedly running her fingers over the plush velvet wallpaper. And it is. All the 22 rooms are individually designed. Some are distinctly male, reminiscent of a gentleman’s club, but ours was lavish and tactile from the soft walls studded with brass buttons to the velvet chaise to the peacock blue paint work and yellow roll-top bath. We loved it.
L’Hotel is located in the heart of arty, bohemian St Germain de Pres, packed with galleries where you can gaze upon such crazy delights as a life-size Marie Antoinette carved from oak, or human skulls covered with owl feathers. It’s fun to muse on who might may buy such whimsies. Thanks to city planner Haussmann’s network of boulevards, which transformed Medieval Paris in the 1860s, it’s easy to get lost (all those diminishing angles and squares at every junction that look the same) but that’s fine as you never know what gem of a boutique or patisserie you’re going to happen upon next. We gave up trying to find our way back to L’Hotel and sat outside La Palette, one of the oldest cafés in St Germain and once a favourite haunt of Cezanne and Picasso and still popular with fine arts students and gallery owners today, so a perfect people-watching spot.
A visit to Le Musée D’Orsay is a must (Manet’s Déjeuner Sur l’herbe, Renoir’s Dance at le Moulin de la Galette and Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles are all highlights) but we made a beeline for the temporary exhibition: The Marlene and Spencer Hays Collection, which runs until mid August. This is a rare chance to see works by Degas, Bonnard, Matisse and Rodin (to name just a few) that normally hang in the Hays’ private residences and it is a simply stunning, envy-inducing, collection.
Our second day was dedicated to Le Shopping. Galeries Lafayette is my favourite of the department stores. Here you’ll find something chic to suit everyone’s budget and their own range of well-priced stylish accessories hobnob with the big guns of fashion. I challenge any woman not to get an adrenalin rush when they set eyes on the shoe department. Our shoes were on and off more times in an hour than a bra at the Moulin Rouge, before I settled for some acid yellow pumps from Paris brand Mellow Yellow. We got excited too over French designer Barbara Rihl’s quirky handbags embellished with lobsters and tins of sardines (“Excellent choice Madam. She is one of the most exciting designers in France today. Votre carte de credit sil-vous-plait!”). We stocked up too on macarons at the seriously posh patisserie Laudrée, who have been making these small cakes (crispy on the outside, wonderfully soft in the middle) since 1862.
Back at L’Hotel I couldn’t pass up the chance of trying a “Born to be Wilde” cocktail, a tastebud tickler of Bacardi, honey, lime, basil and tabasco while my friend chose the suitably camp Dorian Gray, for lovers of gin and exotic fruits. We dined in Café de Paris on the Rue Buci opting for traditional French fare – white asparagus in a buerre blanc sauce followed by coq au vin – clinking our glasses to friendship and laughing over Oscar Wilde’s saying that, “True friends always stab you in the front.”
• easyJet (www.easyjet.com) fly direct from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Paris Charles de Gaulle. Prices in June start at around £110 return; doubles at L’Hotel start from e295 per room including breakfast, www.l-hotel.com; a set lunch in Le Restaurant costs e55 for three courses.