A kaleidoscopic city of dreamy nostalgia, culinary wonders and effortless brilliance, Paris is both enchanting and inspiring. You can walk across it in a matter of hours, fall for its charms in minutes and feel the need to return. Constantly.
Afterall, Paris is for lovers… of art.
No matter how many times you visit the Musée d’Orsay – home to one of the world’s largest, and most moving collection of Impressionist art – the venue will continue to astound. Stunningly curated and found within a reclaimed grand train station, here images inspire, thoughts run free and time stands still.
There’s plenty to fall for on the food front too.
While in Paris you must experience the delectable culinary creations of one of the city’s master chefs. Guy Savoy’s three-star namesake restaurant, a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe, is where flavor rules supreme. His signature dish, artichoke soup with black truffles and brioche, is a favourite of Nicolas Sarkozy.
Here the gallery-esque interiors are sure to delight and you get a little lost in thought trying to decipher the expertly selected modern art adorning the walls. And then there’s the food. There’s something about Savoy’s unique take on French cooking – rich and flavoursome, each dish seems to develop as you devour it, taking you on what can only be described as a culinary journey, one that forces you to halt all conversation in order to fully savour. Many of the remarkable dishes that make up the lunchtime degustation menu look like miniature works of art. Case in point, the carrot and lobster bisque hidden beneath a lace-like web of beetroot and flowers. With all the dishes constructed at your table, Guy Savoy makes theatre from food (and deserves a round of applause).
Similarly magnificent and rather drenched in history is Le Grand Véfour. Tucked away in an elegant corner of the Palais-Royal gardens, and once the coveted haunt of Victor Hugo, Sartre and Napoleon, this was the place to be seen during the Belle Époque and a site of political, artistic and culinary intrigue for over 200 years. The original interiors remain, with seats marked with the names of those who once called them their favourites (I had Maria Callas’, across the way from the spot once filled with Balzac).
Here the flavours are more delicate than one would expect – and this is a good thing. Perfectly balanced, the dishes both comfort and beguile with many, like the foie gras ravioli, quite literally melting in your mouth.
And then there is Angelina. Founded in 1903 by Austrian confectioner Antoine Rumpelmayer and named in honour of his daughter in law, Angelina has been the favourite meeting place of Parisian gourmets for over a century. The Belle Époque interior is the epitome of charm and refinement while their world famous hot chocolate (L’Africain – impossible to drink without a generous dollop of cream) and Mont Blanc (a intricate pastry made from a secret recipe) have attracted Coco Chanel, Proust and contemporary explores keen to experience the Paris of yesteryear. Found right next door to Galignani, the oldest English bookstore on the continent (and thus almost as iconic as Shakespeare and Company), breakfast at Angelina is the idea way to begin your Parisian day – just as a cocktail at Hotel de Crillon would be the ideal way to end it.
If you’re after a less formal, thoroughly French experience then Chez Janou, a mere amble from Place des Vosges, is for you. Always packed with clued-up, wine sipping locals, this time-forgotten venue serves up traditional provincial fare. Its real selling point is the chocolate mouse, which arrives at your table in a huge bowl, from which you serve yourself. Self-control, and booking ahead, is a must.
Paris at night is the realm of the stroller, the ambler, the dreamer and the lover. A city of light and beauty, as the sun descends monuments begin to glow and the Eiffel Tower puts on one of the most stunning European light displays. The streets, packed during the day, are almost empty, inhibitions evaporate and Paris becomes your own.
On Friday evenings the Louvre remains open until 9:45, giving you the chance to actually get close to the wonders of the grand museum, become lost in Napoleon’s beautifully preserved apartments and, if you’re really lucky, have a moment alone with the Mona Lisa.
However, if it’s crowds and nightlife you seek then Montmartre is the place for you. Once Paris’s thriving artist colony – a hive of impressionist, cubist and experimental activity – the biggest draw card here (at night – Sacré-Cœur still reigns supreme during the day) is the Moulin Rouge. Immortalized by Toulouse-Lautrec and the French Cancan, this remains a world of feathers, rhinestones, sequins and extravagance. In its 124-year history its hallowed stage has been graced by the liked of Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. Contemporary audience, who continue to dress for the occasion, can experience the magic with Féerie, which is a playful delight that features five pythons, 800 pairs of shoes hand-made by Maison Clairvoy and 1000 costumes from Maison Fevrier.
Exhausted, inspired and well fed, you’ll leave Paris completely besotted.
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