It might be the capital of romance, but Adam Jacot de Boinod spent two days sampling Paris’s other delights – food and museums.
I just knew it was time to see Paris again: one of those cities I return to time and again and always it adds something new to my soul, my visual appreciation, my taste buds and my understanding of what it means to be French.
Eurostar is a seamless and most pleasurable way to get there as on arrival I was thrust bang into the city centre. And a mere 20 minutes by taxi to my hotel, Le Saint-Hôtel à Paris (www.lesainthotelparis.com). It’s only a year old and feels intimate, welcoming and homely.
I popped out for a short circular walk along the banks of the Seine towards Notre Dame. Inside they were singing Friday vespers, a fitting start to the weekend for many locals. Then back across the river I went to revisit Shakespeare and Company, the quirky and quaint English bookshop … a “corner of a foreign field that is forever England”.
My first supper was in the hotel’s restaurant The Kult, a classic street corner room with sofas and alcoves. It was here that I learnt about how the French combine their cheeses with Sainte-Maure de Touraine for goat’s cheese, St Nectaire as the semi-soft, washed rind cheese and Camembert au Calvados as the utterly delicious softer variety.
I used my two-day Paris Museum Pass to get into the Musée Rodin. Here Auguste Rodin, the classically influenced yet expressively modern sculptor, has his masterpieces (The Kiss, The Cathedral and The Thinker) beautifully displayed. At the back, the gardens are punctuated with sculptures and conical topiary. Here I spotted the tops of my next two assignments, the golden dome of the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower itself.
Napoleon’s tomb at the Invalides is something of a surprise both in colour and design as it is not in keeping with its classical surrounds while the Eiffel Tower is every bit the visual splendour we all admire and its 1887 structure is an amazing technological feat.
And so onto the mecca of Impressionism, the Musée d’Orsay. This former railway station now houses the works previously shown in a former Fives court (the Jeu de Paume). Here the French curatorial skills were inspirational with the rich hues and tones of the walls and spacing offsetting the well-framed masterpieces. I particularly enjoyed the fiery expression of Van Gogh’s late self-portrait, wearing his blue jacket with his orange hair bristling against a whirly blue background.
I ate that night at Georgette on the Rue d’Assas. It’s right by the Jardin du Luxembourg and has ample ambience with all characters aplenty among the local clientele. It’s a friendly welcoming place with simple decor and delicious, honest food. Great for watching the Parisians at play.
One of my favourite things to do in Paris is to take one of the Bateaux Mouches, the open excursion boats. I got on at the Pont de L’Alma (next to the underpass where Princess Diana was killed). For the one-hour journey the boat gently moves along the Seine and reaches the oldest part of the city, the two islands the Île de la Cité and the Île St Louis. It passes close to the grand and lengthy architecture of the Louvre, Paris’s phenomenal museum, and the gothic glory of Notre Dame with her buttresses and gargoyles. It also took me near to the Tour Eiffel, the city’s icon.
I walked again along the river to visit the wonderful Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité. It looks amazing as the sun streams through its stained-glass windows. Behind, between it and the stern of the island, is the Place Dauphine, a perfect spot for my picnic of crispy bread and pungent cheese.
That night, my final dinner was at Le Lobby in the Peninsula Hotel on Avenue Kléber (off the Arc de Triomphe). It’s confident, stylish, classy, lavish and splendid. The dining experience is set in a hall bedecked with chandeliers and the frescoed ceiling reigns over the luxuriant tropical plants.
The next morning I climbed the steep steps up the hill to the imposing white basilica of Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre. It is admittedly demanding but the view down is magical over the famous mansard roofs. It was the perfect finish to my trip and only ten minutes drive from the Gare du Nord and my train home.
The city’s overriding image for tourists is one of baguettes and onion soup, Edith Piaf and the can-can, elegant women disdainful of whomever is sartorially negligent, the insouciant shoulder shrug of unco-operative taxi drivers, the berets and accordions, the stark demonstrations of romance and yes, it’s all true – it’s all there in all its glory.
For more information on Paris visit www parisinfo.com
Adam travelled with Classic Collection Holidays (0800 294 9323, classic-collection.co.uk) which offers three nights at Le Saint Hotel, Paris, from £770 per person in May. Price based on two adults sharing a classic room on a bed and breakfast basis, and includes return flights from London Gatwick (other UK departure airports available) to Paris and private transfers.