Words by Belinda Craigie
Paris is a city that I find myself growing fonder of every time I set foot on its elegant streets. Its abundance of style, culture, exceptional gastronomy and wealth of history means there’s always a new discovery to be made, somewhere interesting to explore and something delicious to taste.
It seems I’m not alone in holding a deep affection for the city – according to Mastercard’s 2018 Global Destination Cities Index, Paris welcomed 17.44 million international visitors in 2018, coming in just behind London (19.83 million) and Bangkok (20 million). There are clearly many travellers looking to experience the joie de vivre the French are so good at.
For Londoners, its close proximity and myriad routes by air, rail or car means that visiting Paris is a simple undertaking. I embarked on a weekend sojourn to spend 48 hours soaking up everything that’s wonderful about the City of Light.
The journey – travelling in luxury, by train
Eurostar changed the game by opening up Paris to travellers journeying from London across the English Channel 25 years ago. With regular trains departing St Pancras and taking passengers to Gare du Nord station in Paris’ city centre in just over two hours, you can save time which might usually be spent transferring between airports, allowing for check in and security, and gathering luggage at the other side.
For travelling in luxury, Eurostar’s Business Premier carriage offers generous time allowances for check-in (gates close just 10 minutes before departure), extra baggage, upgraded seating and a three-course meal curated by Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc OBE.
There’s also Eurostar’s Standard Premier carriage, which could be likened to flying in premium economy with spacious seating, a light meal and power ports for charging devices. I was impressed with the service on my early morning journey, which included multiple coffee refills and, fittingly, a selection of pastries.
Eat – rooftop dining with a view
One of the more challenging aspects of a visit to Paris is deciding where to dine from the city’s abundance of eateries. With the practice of good eating so ingrained into the French culture and the craft of gastronomy so highly regarded, it’s perhaps no surprise that Paris claims the most Michelin-starred restaurants of any city in Europe.
Many of the city’s assortment of luxury hotels offer exceptional destination dining spots – for instance, Alain Ducasse’s eponymous restaurant at the Hotel Plaza Athénée and Éric Fréchon’s Epicure at Le Bristol.
I journeyed to L’Oiseau Blanc, which is perched on the rooftop of the five-star Peninsula Paris and offers enviable views of the Eiffel Tower across the city to Montmartre. Lunch is the main meal of the day for the French, so I opted to indulge with the carte blanche menu (€150pp), consisting of four courses with optional paired wines (at an additional cost).
Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Christophe Raoux is at the helm of L’Oiseau Blanc’s kitchens and creates artfully presented French fare that tastes as incredible as it looks. Selections from the seasonal menu could include a mouth-wateringly creamy lobster served with saffron-flavoured potatoes and Villeroy mussels; a tender Salers beef with artichoke and salty anchovies; and fresh raspberries on a fluffy egg white base, served with basil ice cream and a tart coulis.
Sleep – stay in luxury
Much like its dining scene, Paris’ assortment of five-star properties are among the most highly regarded and opulent in the world. They have also attracted famed fashion designers, novelists, composers, artists, and nobility that have contributed to their colourful histories, either as frequent guests or, on occasion, as residents.
A heady mixture of heritage and glitz awaits those checking into the Ritz Paris, which was once the home of Coco Chanel and counts Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald as former guests. The hotel, which reopened in 2016 following a four-year, multi-million-dollar renovation, features fifteen Prestige Suites that are named for – and inspired by – its celebrated guests (including the Coco Chanel suite).
Hotel de Crillon
Rosewood’s majestic Hotel de Crillon sits on the Place de la Concorde in twin Neoclassical buildings commissioned by King Louis XV in 1754. An extensive renovation in 2017 modernised the property, while the designers have retained and restored its historically significant features – including the lavishly appointed Salon des Aigles, where the Covenant of the League of Nations was signed in 1919.
Peninsula Paris (pictured at the very top of the article)
The building that now houses the Peninsula Paris was once known as the Hotel Majestic and hosted novelists James Joyce and Marcel Proust, artist Pablo Picasso, and composer Igor Stravinsky, among others. The Peninsula Group restored the building to its former glory and after much anticipation, the hotel opened in 2014. As well as being home to the rooftop restaurant L’Oiseau Blanc, the hotel lobby features a striking art installation, ‘Dancing Leaves’ by Lasvit, comprised of 800 glass-blown crystal leaves that represent those from the trees outside the hotel.
Explore – what to see and do
If, like me, you enjoy rummaging for one-off pieces and collectables, Paris’ assortment of markets are a veritable treasure trove of vintage and retro finds. Les Puces de Saint-Ouen flea market is the largest of its kind in the world, with more than 2,500 stalls selling antique and vintage furniture, fashion and bric-a-brac. Keep an eye out for vintage couture pieces, as well as pre-loved accessories from names like Lanvin and Dior.
The city’s museums and galleries are where you can wile away the afternoon, getting lost in the curated collections of works by the world’s most revered artists. As well as being an historical monument and architectural landmark in its own right, the Louvre is also the world’s biggest art museum and houses a must-see permanent collection, which includes the largest display of Leonardo da Vinci paintings. Fittingly, 2019 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of da Vinci in France, and to commemorate the occasion, the Louvre is hosting an exhibition through to 24 February 2020, which is an unprecedented retrospective that delves into the artist’s painting career.