Paris, even at its greyest, is still Paris. It’s a city of enchantments great and small, of catch-your-breath wonder and of quiet, special moments that could only happen in, well, Paris.
And while an off-season visit in chilly winter weather doesn’t mean you’ll have the City of Lights to yourself—because it’s still Paris, after all—it does mean you’ll find less crowded avenues, a bit more elbow room for contemplating works of art in the city’s many museums, and the chance to eat, shop and sip vin without having to jostle for position at the brasserie, boutique or bar.
No matter how many times you’ve visited, off-season in Paris is the moment to embrace the city, to revel in its finer details, to even do the cliché touristy things you did as a kid (or always wanted to do), and see Paris as if you’re seeing it for the first time.
The Packing Edit
Say bonjour to the pieces we’ll be packing for Paris this spring. Right on time for Fashion Week, by Lisa Haynes.
It’s OK to be a tourist in Paris!
When I can’t summon the mental and physical energy required for a visit to the Louvre, the elegance and manageable dimensions of the Musee d’Orsay suit me just fine, and it’s a museum I can dip in and out of without feeling guilty for not stopping to look at every painting. I’m not too proud to say that this time, we made a beeline for the Impressionism and Post-Impressionism galleries. Seeing some of my favourite works by Manet, Gauguin and Cezanne, no matter how many times I’ve seen them before, is something akin to visiting with old friends.
On my list of things I don’t have the energy for in Paris, add waiting in line to ascend the Eiffel Tower. I did it once as a newlywed—my husband and I kissed and took a selfie at the top—and I do believe once is enough. But to come to Paris and not at least appreciate the Eiffel Tower, well, that just seems wrong. So join the busloads of tourists (yes, just do it) and hop aboard a Bateaux Mouches sightseeing cruise on the Seine. The hour-long cruises, which run day and night, take in all of Paris’ heavy-hitters: you’ll cruise past the Louvre, Notre-Dame, Ile Saint Louis and, of course, the Eiffel Tower. We timed our cruise for twilight, and while it was cold and windy on the open boat deck, the magic of the City of Lights coming aglow was heartwarming enough to make up for the chill.
The iconic 13th-century cathedral on Ill de la Cite never gets old—okay I’m kidding; it’s totally old. But visiting this Gothic wonder and gazing at its heartbreakingly beautiful stained glass windows, marveling at its towering pillars and pondering the thousands of hands and the century of work that went into creating this magnificent place of worship—that doesn’t get old, ever. And on a rainy Paris day, the line moved quickly and we were able to visit the inside of the cathedral with a relatively thin crowd.
Where To Stay
A chic retreat in the heart of the 1er. Our base for the weekend was the lovely Castille Paris, a polished 5-star property on Rue Cambon in the 1st arrondissement, just one block from Place Vendôme and equidistant from the Opera and Concorde Metro stations. (The original Chanel boutique, the Ritz, and Tom Ford are among its neighbours, so no need to worry about the poshness of the address.) Part of Starhotels Collezione, the luxury brand of Italian hoteliers Starhotels, the Castille strikes a balance between cosy comforts and the effortless elegance of a top-flight property. Plush couches and lounge chairs in a lobby sitting area lend themselves to lingering, though perhaps not as much as does the warm, clubby cocktail bar and adjacent tea room. At Castille’s L’Assaggio restaurant, celebrated Italian chef Ugo Alciati teamed with the hotel’s executive chef, Pablo Sabariego, to create a menu that mixes traditional French fare with the flavours of the Piedmont region of Italy.
The plushness continues in guest rooms and suites, which offer a 1930s modernism, bright splashes of colour and luxe bathrooms with premium amenities. Our deluxe room was compact and well-organised, with the dimensions one expects for an upscale city hotel, and nice features—such as a roomy closet, a desk with a hot drinks station. A smartphone, complimentary for use during our stay, meant we had a city guide and transportation info at hand without burning through our own roaming data.
Small pets are welcomed at Castille, but fair warning: they’ll have to compete with Heliot, the hotel’s beautiful grey kitty, who looks like he was colour-coordinated to complement the lobby décor. Heliot began life as a stray kitten who wandered onto the construction site during hotel renovations a few years ago. He now prowls the hotel common areas and by the looks of it, doesn’t miss too many meals.
Double rooms start from €350 (£309), year-round. Breakfast €24-35 (21-31). Website
For equal glamour and style and more of an old world feel, hop over an arrondissement to the San Régis, a historic, family-run hotel in the 8th. An 1857 townhouse filled with charming features from a bygone era, run by 2 sisters who have added their own charm. Book a deluxe junior suite for magnificent Eiffel Tower views from your own balcony. So much is within walking distance from the hotel including the Champs-Élysées, the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais as well as the ‘haute couture’ boutiques along Avenue Montaigne.
Double rooms start from €425 (£392) year-round. Breakfast not included, costs €40 (£37). Website
Where to eat
We had a great meal at Brasserie Flottes on Rue Cambon, where I nearly wept over my goat cheese crouton salad and French onion soup; both were so wonderful. Website
Uber-traditional French comfort food at Chez Savy (23 Rue Bayard, no website), where little has changed since its opening in 1923. Website
A Nineties haunt of the fashion crowd, this Argentine institution shut up shop in 2014. Now, it’s back – along with original hostess Carmina Lebrero, with the black bob and red lips, who holds court only on week nights (“because that’s when the chic people go out”, as she told one newspaper). The tiles of the original restaurant remain, but new owner Riccardo Giraudi, a meat exporter, has seriously upped the beef quality. Go for the scene as well as the shishito (sweet pepper-infused ice cream). Website
A French brasserie in the 10th arrondissement and the type of place you could spend hours with friends over a bottle of red wine. Simple, quality food is served up in a chic living room-esque setting with large wooden tables lit by vintage wall lights and large wax candles. The menu changes daily and there will always be something to try. Website
Harry’s New York Bar
And because we were playing tourists for the weekend, we did some day drinking at Harry’s New York Bar (5 Rue Daunou), where the Bloody Mary was invented (thank you Harry!), and where a classic, old-school vibe still pervades. Website
Le Willi’s Wine Bar
Also in the Opéra district, Le Willi’s Wine Bar is such a comfy and welcoming place for traditional French fare and affordable wines by the glass, you’ll wish it was next door to your flat. Website
Lulu White Drinking Club
This late-night spot in Pigalle is a raucous, rowdy affair, in the best possible way. The dimly lit and glamorous cocktail den is named after an infamous New Orleans “mistress of the night” – so has found its way to the right part of town, as Pigalle has something of a seedy history… Order a Sazerac, and enjoy sounds of the New Orleans style, brass and jazz bands. Find the unmarked door on the Rue Frochot indicated only by a neon scrawl a few metres away. You won’t regret it. Website
Transit and attraction passes from the PARIS, the website of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau are a great go-around tool for a tourist weekend in Paris. The 2-day Paris Museum Pass gives you free entry (with no queuing for tickets) into a veritable hit list of museums and monuments, including the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame Cathedral and Saint-Chappelle, the 12th-century stained glass chapel on Ile de la Cité. The Paris-Visite transport means you can cruise around with ease, including out to CDG when it was time to fly home.
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