Napoleon’s great nephew’s home makes a glittering base for a tour of the city of lights
I had visited Paris for the first and only time six years ago. My better half and I stayed in a two star fleapit and avoided all but one or two of the ticketed attractions. It was the middle of February, it rained like crazy and we were forced to make do on a shoestring budget.
It should have been as miserable as it sounds, but on the contrary, we loved every glorious minute of our time in the French capital – and we barely scratched the surface.
On my return this year, I expected to encounter a city raw and repressed following recent terror attacks. Not a chance. The vibe was calm and unfettered; a testament to the fierce resilience of this great metropolis and its people.
It has suffered hardship, but the magic of La Ville Lumière remains defiantly undimmed.
I travelled direct from Edinburgh with Air France, giving me 90 valuable minutes to spruce up the scant remains of my high school French before my flight touched down at Charles de Gaulle, an airport enormous and baffling in equal measures, albeit reasonably close to the city centre.
After an hour’s journey by cab, I arrived with my group at the ornate iron gates of the exquisite Shangri-La Paris.
Situated in the fashionable Trocadéro district, this luxury five star hotel was built in 1896 as the private residence of Prince Roland Bonaparte, a great-nephew of the emperor Napoleon.
As you might expect, a noble lineage is writ large in the opulent décor of Prince Roland’s magnificent city centre mansion. Guests are dazzled by an imperial interior of white marble pillars and wondrous gold leaf mosaics.
The cynic within me couldn’t help but notice that, just two generations on from Napoleon, the Bonapartes were living the life of Louis XVI.
Today, the Bonaparte clan has long since moved out and the regal delights of this former palace are enjoyed instead by a constant influx of oil tycoons, senators, and A-list celebs.
The hotel’s position on Chaillot Hill lends a large number of its rooms exceptional views of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower, a fact which is reflected in some of the rates here: Beyoncé reportedly paid €20,000 a night for the Shangri-La’s exclusive rooftop suite when she and Jay Z visited last summer. Gustave Eiffel’s iconic iron lady is unmatched in its pulling power. Funnily enough, Prince Roland despised it so much that he deliberately ensured his room faced away from it.
As dusk approached, my group and I were treated to cocktails at Le Bar Botaniste – one of the Shangri-La’s many nods to Prince Roland’s penchant for botany. Once you’ve been served spirits in a cactus or encased within a set of Russian dolls, there’s no going back.
Shangri-La Paris has three main dining areas and they are no stranger to a Michelin star. L’Abeille, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, boasts two of them, while the oriental-themed Shang Palace is the only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in France. Prepare your taste buds for a gastronomic adventure of epic proportions.
Our first port of call the next morning was a trip to the Grand Palais to take in a fascinating centennial exhibition celebrating the life and work of Parisian-born sculptor Auguste Rodin. With the highest concentration of galleries, museums and theatres in the world, you can rest assured that there will always be plenty to see in Paris.
After a spot of lunch by the Seine for escargots and wine at the excellent Monsieur Bleu, we were free to do a little off-itinerary sightseeing. I persuaded two of my group to join me on a trip south of the river to the boulangerie and bistrot-laden alleyways around Rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement. I had ventured here on my first visit and enjoyed the fact that the majority of tourists seemed oblivious to its existence.
From here we walked for around an hour in the May sunshine towards our pick-up point at Rue des Pyramides near the Louvre, taking in the Pantheon and Notre-Dame Cathedral along the way.
A bus then ferried us to the Eiffel Tower for dinner on its first level. Delicious food and jaw-dropping vistas made for an utterly magical experience.
Immediately after dinner we were whisked off down the Seine for a riverboat cruise just as the sun burned red on the horizon. Our return to the quay was timed beautifully to coincide with the precise moment the Eiffel Tower bursts into life with 20,000 dancing fairy lights. A boat-load of entranced tourists gasped in harmony.
Last on the itinerary that evening was a trip to the Moulin Rouge. Prepare yourself for a two-hour extravaganza featuring ludicrous leotards, cheesy show tunes, breathtaking acrobatic stunts, the Can-can, and lots of nipples. It was great fun.
On our third and final day, with limited time at our disposal, we decided to forsake a planned trip to the Louvre in favour of a visit to Montmartre, in the 18th arrondissement. This ancient quarter is sited on and around a steep hill – the city’s highest point – with a magnificent cake-topper of a basilica, the Sacré-Cœur, at its summit. Montmartre was the cradle of the Belle Époque; an era which produced a mile-long parade of legendary artists, writers, musical virtuosos and radical thinkers. While its grit has been thoroughly cleansed by decades of gentrification, the district has maintained much of its bohemian vibe and boasts splendid views over Paris to boot. Get there early, though, as this is a prime tourist spot.
Our lavish 48-hour soirée having sadly reached its conclusion, it was time to depart and bid our genial hosts at the Shangri-La Paris a fond au revoir.
After two visits, I’ve still so much of this enchanting city left to discover – and that is an exhilarating thought.
David stayed in a Superior Room at the Shangri-La Hotel, Paris, for which prices start at €790.
The palace was restored and reopened by the Shangri-La group in 2010 and has 101 rooms (including 36 suites). Last month, Shangri-La Hotel announced the reopening of its terrace, La 8 Iéna, with a 100% green menu designed by Michelin-starred chef Christophe Moret.
Air France offers 40 flights a week from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen to Paris Charles de Gaulle. Economy fares start from £69 return, inclusive of taxes and charges. Visit www.airfrance.co.uk or call the reservations line on 0207 660 0337.