We’re always amazed when people say they ‘don’t get’ Paris. How could you not? Although subtle in its charm, every corner lends itself to a a sit down, a coffee, a cigarette. Why ze rush? When instead you can do as the Parisians do; sit, nonchalantly, drawling on your Gauloises without a care in the world. I don’t think the French wear their watch to keep time.
Visiting in Paris in November is heavenly – you avoid the frantic footfall for the Christmas markets or bumping into those entwined couples escaping for New Year, instead, finding oneself in a peaceful Eurostar carriage with no queue at the diner (I do wish they’d perk up the Eurostar menu finding it vaguely insulting that they think an offer of Scottish shortbread and Waitrose lemon drizzle passes muster for our British fare) followed by a fast-moving taxi rank at Gare du Nord.
To stay? We’d recommend the elegant Relais Christine in the heart of Saint-Germain; tucked away on a Parisienne side street this hotel was once the most glamorous residence for an affluent French family. In fact, the hotel remains in private ownership and it’s probably this that’s meant it’s maintained its charm; having been built on the remains of the Abbey of the Grands-Augustins in 1231 you can dine in the 13th century vaults aside the original fireplace which certainly adds a je ne sais quoi to your breakfast croissant.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit a lot of Parisian hotels and expect little more room but to swing a cat. Built around the central courtyard the Relais Christine can boast sizeable bedrooms (all with bathtubs adding a huge tick from us soak-loving Brits) and embraces the design trend of bold prints mixed with brash stripes. It’s not too modern and we like it. A lot. And due to the location you can pretty much guarantee peace and quiet whichever room you find yourself staying in. With the most courteous staff, a spa, a private garden for certain rooms and bikes to explore Paris there’s nothing that you’ll want for. Add to that you can walk out to find yourself in the perfect location for a bite to eat and a spot of shopping. The joy of being able to walk around the Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain without endless taxi trips is a bit of blessing when pressed for time.
Paris is quaint. Chic. Sophisticated. Almost everything that London wants to be which, in comparison, rushes itself off its own feet. Paris is effortless in its charm. Even with their menus, how they must roll their eyes when they face the requests for almond milk for their coffee but embrace the simple (there’s a reason it’s known for its cuisine over ours); order an omelette baveuse avec salade vert and a simple glass of house white. Goodness me, even their house wines are a force to be reckoned with.
And when in Saint-Germain? Be sure to visit this list of our suggestions as it’ll be time well spent:
Café de Flore on the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and the Rue St. Benoit is everything you’d hope from a Parisienne café. Going since 1887 it has done rather well to stand the test of time housing scholars, intellectuals and us normal folk for a café noir and croissant and a spot of people-watching. The staff are wonderfully attentive, you’re almost guaranteed to get a seat and the pavement culture as the world goes by couldn’t be beaten from this viewpoint.
Crêperie Framboises was discovered having been steered by a kindly Parisian to the local hotspot. Crammed full of French (a surefire sign that you’re entering gastronomy central) the crêpes are out of this world and the atmosphere a-buzz. There are three to choose from dotted around Paris central. Particularly good for those with wheat intolerances as they serve buckwheat pancakes as standard, throw in a cheeky little glass of white and you’re set for some serious shopping after.
Hotel Costes is an institution for well-heeled drinkers, ladies who lunch and old-school Parisian veterans. Make your way up to Rue Saint-Honoré to sit in the courtyard supping a glass of champers or don the glad rags and visit after dark. Open till 2am, the DJ sets go from 9pm – midnight so you’re guaranteed a fun time later on.
The Buddha Bar has it all and is a great go-to following some bubbles at Costes as it’s just round the corner. With a buzzing bar-cum-lounge atmosphere it’s the kind of establishment you settle into for the night. Open from brunch you can stay till 2am if the urge is there. The cocktails are that good.
Blue Note is the place to be seen when the lights go down. Head to Montmartre to rub noses with the Parisian jetset under a sea of blue (there’s a theme here; unsurprisingly it’s blue using blue lights, cocktails and erm, food). Open till 2am every day you can head downstairs for a little dance-off after you’ve had a few cocktails. Note to self: don’t wear anything blue.
Market is the city-slicker’s ideal of a good meal offering Asian-French cuisine just off the Champs-Elysée. One to impress the boss, the girlfriend, the husband or the wife. Even the interior is set to stun decorated by Christian Liaigre all polished wood and leather. Expect seared tuna with wasabi and slow-cooked cod but you could also visit for a seriously impressive brunch (starting from 36 EUR).
Off the bank of the Seine, Les Bouquinistes is Guy Savoy’s offering to French fine dining. The room is starkly decorated but don’t let that put you off. The food and service here is exceptional. Named after the Parisian booksellers on the banks of the Seine, the menu is startlingly expensive (mains start from 36 EUR). But it’s worth it presented with the prettiest dishes combining hearty French fare with delicate cooking.
Tucked away behind Hotel 404 in the Latin Quarter, Derriere is the naughty little brother of Market. The menu seems almost petulantly sparse instead preferring to focus on one main ingredient per dish; RED ONION is a classic example. But in fact if you look past the stark description it leads onto adding tart, sardines, pinenuts and olives. Superb cooking, this would win the ‘if you had one place to visit when in Paris’ award.