SKIP the clichés and aim for cachet off the beaten track in the city of romance
Valentine’s Day has been and gone, but Paris is eternal. And who doesn’t love Paris in the springtime? When Bogey wooed Bergman in the classic movie Casablanca, it was Paris they evoked as a symbol of their everlasting love, and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was described as a love letter to the city. But so entrenched is Paris’s reputation as the “World Capital of Romance” that sometimes it seems that every mooning couple who visits the city does exactly the same thing – a stroll along the Seine, perhaps some tea and macarons at Ladurée, then up to the cobbled heights of Montmartre to watch the sun set over the rooftops. While I wouldn’t knock anything on this list (there isn’t much I wouldn’t do for a Ladurée macaron), here are some ideas for shaking things up a bit on your next visit to the City of Love.
Finding the right love nest is, of course, essential. If money is no object, try One by the Five (www.onebythefive.com, from €600 per night), with a single, staggeringly luxurious suite which contains what might be the city’s only “levitation bed”. Or go for the romantic Sous Les Toits rooms, with unforgettable views over the rooftops, at the chic Jules et Jim boutique hotel (www.hoteljulesetjim.com, €270–€310). The aptly named Hotel Amour (www.hotelamour.com, doubles from €115, duplex suites €285), established by a famous graffiti artist in the edgy and increasingly fashionable south Pigalle district (SoPi), has vintage finds in the original rooms and a charming secret garden. The Hôtel Joyce (www.astotel.com/hotel-joyce-paris.php, doubles €150-€200) has a contemporary take on traditional Parisian décor and boasts a gorgeous suite in the attic. If your love is deeper than your pockets, try the delightful Hôtel de la Porte Dorée (www.hoteldelaportedoree.com, €76–€87), near the verdant Bois de Vincennes – perfect for lazing and picnics.
And transport? Vintage fans might fancy a chauffeured, convertible 2CV available in a range of colours (www.4roues-sous-1parapluie.com). They offer a giddy selection of tours, including a Romantic Paris tour (from €54 per person) which will whirl you past all the city’s most emblematic sites, from the extravagant opera house to the cathedral of Notre Dame. If you prefer to explore on two wheels, you could rent yourselves a tandem (www.parisvelosympa.com, tandems from €35 per day). The budget option is to join the students, businessmen and pearl-bedecked ladies-who-lunch scooting around the city on chic, silvery Vélib’ bikes. The Vélib’ public bike scheme started in 2007 and costs just €1.70 a day (http://en.velib.paris.fr/) to use one of the 20,000 city bikes which can be picked up and dropped off at more than 1,800 bike stations across the city. And what could be more intoxicating than cycling along the banks of the Seine with your lover? Don’t miss the view from the Pont des Arts, an ineffably romantic pedestrian bridge across the Seine which has featured in scores of films. If you’ve come prepared, now’s the time to add your padlock (suitably engraved with both your initials) to the hundreds of others locked to the bridge, and throw the key into the river as a symbol of eternal love.
With transport resolved, it’s time to hit the city. Undoubtedly, two of the things Paris does best are parks and food. Put the two together and have a picnic, one of the most romantic activities possible. For supplies, head for the rue Cler in the aristocratic 7th district, where there is a street market selling produce and gourmet treats, plus several fabulous fromageries, boulangeries and wine merchants. Just off rue Cler, Marie Cantin (www.cantin.fr, 12 rue du Champs de Mars) is one of the most renowned cheesemongers in the city, although my personal favourite, Barthélémy, is also close by at 51 rue de Grenelle. Let the white-coated sales team coax you through a tasting – there are more than 200 cheeses to choose from. Loaded with gourmet goodies, head to any of the city’s spectacular parks – the Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne are enchanting, but I think the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, a glorious green space in the 19th arrondissement (take the metro to Buttes Chaumont) is wildly romantic, with its lakes and follies, gullies and cliffs. Less of a trek, but still very alluring, is the Canal St Martin, particularly on a Sunday when cars are banned from the roads around it. Join the cool kids sitting on the canal’s cobbled quays, or amble along the 4.5km-long canal.
If lolling about in parks isn’t for you, consider one of the city’s smaller, more intimate museums. Make a pilgrimage to see The Kiss, Rodin’s sublime marble sculpture. It has pride of place in the Musée de Rodin (www.musee-rodin.fr) which occupies an elegant mansion surrounded by idyllic gardens. Or head to the deeply romantic Jardins des Tuileries and the Musée de l’Orangerie (www.musee-orangerie.fr), which displays Impressionist works including Monet’s famous waterlily paintings. Perhaps the most romantic museum of all is the Musée Jacquemart-André (www.musee-jacquemart-andre.com) near the Champs Élysées which displays a vast collection of artworks acquired by Edouard André and Nélie Jacquemart. André was a wealthy banker who became an avid collector after he married his artist wife in 1881. Their lives were devoted to each other and to their collection and, after their deaths, their home and its superb collection of art became a museum. Don’t miss the extravagant tea rooms, where you can tuck into cream cakes under a Tiepolo fresco. If museum fever sets in, slip off to the Winter Garden for a little privacy.
As dusk begins to fall, it’s time to ponder the options for dinner. Oysters in all their briny aphrodisiac glory lend themselves to romance, and the best are undoubtedly to be had in the Huitrerie Regis (www.huitrerieregis.com, 3 rue de Montfaucon, 6th, 01 44 41 10 07, metro Mábillon or Saint Germain). For a more convivial, if perhaps less pure, oyster experience, head to Le Baron Rouge (1 rue Théophile Roussel, 01 43 43 14 32). For sheer, eye-popping glamour, there’s nowhere like Le Meurice (www.lemeurice.com, 228 Rue de Rivoli, 01 44 58 10 10, menu de degustation €240), where Philippe Starck’s flamboyant interior is outshone only by the cuisine.
It’s hard to beat the effortless chic of Verjus (verjuparis.com, 47 rue de Montpensier, 01 42 97 54 40, menus at €€55 and €70), which serves a regularly changing menu of contemporary classics. Their charming bar à vins (nearby, at 47 rue Monspensier, 01 42 97 54 40) serves a fabulous range of accessibly priced petits plats accompanied by a thoughtful wine selection. If you did make it up Montmartre to watch the sun set over the city, then head over to Un Zèbre à Montmartre (38 Rue Lepic, 01 42 23 97 80) and get cosy over delicious, good-value cuisine in its tiny, mirrored interior.
Stuffed on oysters and French wine, the night is yours. Wander until dawn through the city’s streets, or retreat to your Parisian bolt-hole. And remember that you, like Bogey, will “always have Paris”.
• Mary-Ann Gallagher is the author of Dream Journeys published by Quercus (£14.99).
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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