What would you say if your cheri(e) invited you away to a romantic weekend in the City of Lights? There’s no denying it, 2015 was a very dark year for Paris. A long shadow was cast over the city by the terrorist attacks which shook the French psyche to its core. But now it’s time to turn the page and let romance reign.
Having moved to the south of France just days before the November attacks, last week I returned for the first time. Disembarking from the train at Gare de Lyon under a leaden January sky, I felt my shoulders stoop under the immensity of all that had happened since I left. Initially on edge, and frankly, feeling pretty emotional, I invariably succumbed to the city's charms, as I always have.
Victor Hugo wrote: "He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic. Nothing is more sublime." His prophetic words couldn't be truer.
I fell forever-in-love with Paris at the tender age of 16 when working as a jeune fille au pair for an awfully austere madame and her unruly progeny. It was the late 1980s, and pre-iPhone. On days off I walked the streets until my feet felt flat as the crêpes which were my weekly treat. I still recall my first impressions of Parisian street-side cafés, veritable urban grandstands occupied by stylish people striking poses and pulling on what seemed, somehow, more sophisticated cigarettes.
Back in the capital, I confirmed with my own eyes what my dear friend Emmanuelle recently recounted: Parisians have reclaimed their city.
Cafés, parks, metros and buses are busy as ever. Resistance is the leitmotif of the French. Terrorists might dream of causing chaos, of planting fear, of dividing and conquering the western world, but Parisians just will not be bullied.
Not to refer to the Etat d’Urgence, the state of emergency declared by French President François Hollande after the terrorist attacks in November, would be like ignoring an elephant in the room. But far from being intimidated by increased police and military presence all around the city, I was reassured.
Before boarding the TGV for Paris, I asked my four small children to draw a picture “for Mummy’s hotel room in Paris”. My eldest drew us holding hands under the Eiffel Tower. The drawing my son Maxim solemnly handed me spoke volumes – and carried an altogether different message. He had added flowers and sunshine “to protect you from the baddies, Mummy”.
Sitting on a crowded bus stopped at traffic lights on rue de Rivoli the other morning, I counted six (heavily armed) soldiers carrying out surveillance at a busy pedestrian crossing. Rushing to a rendezvous that afternoon, I cut through a cluster of commandos keeping vigil before Notre Dame Cathedral. An unexpected bonjour from one of these keepers of the peace made even the January drizzle seem friendly.
Later, I crossed the Seine at Pont des Arts where it is a tradition for lovebirds to attach a padlock to the bridge as a symbol of their eternal love.
Couples were wrapped up in each other, smooching and taking selfies, oblivious of anything else. Things in Paris seemed to me then, quite as they should be.
Oscar Wilde wrote that "the very essence of romance is uncertainty". Whether to visit Paris or not remains a quandary and not without some risk.
An economist might talk about opportunity cost. An opportunist would insist that there is no better time to travel to Paris, to stay in a swanky hotel and dine at a fancy restaurant, all at a fraction of the usual cost. Saving on accommodation permitted me to savour some of my favourite Parisian treats.
French writer Guy de Maupassant felt so strongly about this marvellous metropolis, he wrote: “I love it with all my senses: I love to see it, I love to breathe it in.” Everyone should experience such heady emotion, whether it be about Paris or about the person you take there for Valentine’s.
Hôtel Le Lapin Blanc: Pristine, whimsical 1950s déco and pervading calm make this boutique hotel a haven on the Left Bank. Situated on Boulevard Saint-Michel, steps from Jardin du Luxembourg, pleasantly removed from the honky-tonk element of the Latin Quarter. Manager Anatole and receptionist Heloïse provide the warmest of welcomes. hotel-lapin-blanc.com
FUN & GAMES
Le Crazy Horse: This legendary cabaret show, at 12 avenue George V, is saucy without being vulgar and, according to a French (male) acquaintance, more effective than oysters for its aphrodisiac effect! lecrazyhorseparis.com
Agent Provocateur: The profusion of lingerie boutiques in Paris proves just how well French filles understand the power of the femme fatale. Viktoryia at AP's den of iniquity on rue de Grenelle (No 38) discreetly assists customers find just the right "je ne said quoi" for their frame, personality and occasion. agentprovocateur.com
Le Perchoir Marais: After much meandering and sightseeing, some snuggling is de rigeur. This cosy cocoon at 36 rue de la Verrerie, at the top the BHV department store, is perfect for admiring Paris after dark. A Nordic atmosphere reigns; sofas are strewn with sheepskins and blankets. Gas stoves, cocktails and DJ tunes boost the temperature. bhv.fr/actus/perchoir-du-bhv-marais
L'Olympia: This intimate venue in the 9th Arrondissemen is where Edith Piaf first performed her song Non, Je ne Regrette Rien in public. The Eagles of Death Metal return to Paris on Tuesday, February 16th, for what will no doubt be a hardcore but poignant concert. en.olympiahall.com
SHOW & TELL
Musée Rodin: After three years of painstaking renovation, l'Hôtel Biron finally reopened its doors last November, to coincide with the 175th sculptor's birthday. The building sits on a three-hectare swathe of land, right in the heart of Paris. It can't get much more romantic than a stroll amidst the rockery of the museum's Garden of Orpheus. musee-rodin.fr
Picasso mania: Le Grand Palais unites the work of 75 artists including Warhol, Basquiat, Liechenstein and Koon, all of whom have paid homage in their own work, to a Casanova who was also the master of Cubism. Runs until February 29th. grandpalais.fr
Epicurean pleasures: Head east to Place de la Bastille and with the Colonne de la Génie your back, saunter the length of Boulevard Beaumarchais. Maison Plisson, a fine food emporium, restaurant and café, opened at No 93 last summer. Purchase a pochette surprise (goodie bag) and fill it with tasty treats while your beau or belle isn't looking. If spring has sprung early, picnic at nearby Place des Vosges. lamaisonplisson.com
Much more than just a macaron: They might be pretty, but until I had nibbled macarons made by master patissier and chocolatie, Pierre Hermé, it was all just "emperor's clothing" to me. Grab a selection at Pierre Hermé's Marais boutique (18 Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie) to enjoy with a coffee while watching the world go by at the minuscule bar Au Petit Fer à Cheval (30 Rue Vieille du Temple). pierreherme.com
Coffee and cigarettes: No longer politically correct, but concept store Merci, at 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, has "coffee & clothing therapy" down to a fine art. Now a destination in its own right, it's THE place to people watch during Paris fashion week (March 2nd-9th). merci-merci.com
Cool kit: Maison Kitsuné combines cool clothes, trendy tunes and architectural savvy. Its new flagship store opened last June at 18 boulevard des Filles du Calvaire. Its cosy sweatshirts with tongue-in-cheek slogans are favoured by insouciant French girls and guys alike. kitsune.fr
Good deals: Winter sales in Paris are government-regulated and run for six weeks from the first Wednesday after January 1st. This year bargains can be had until Tuesday February 16th, with markdowns of up to 70 per cent off.
Something as simple as a ride on a local bus is a visual feast. Traverse the city from chic Boulevard Saint Germain the hip 11th Arrondissement on the No 96 bus. Bus No 27 traces a direct and eye-poppingly beautiful route from Boulevard Saint Michel to department stores Printemps and Galleries Lafayette.
Prefer taxis? The English speaking service of Parisian taxi company, G7, is little-advertised. For peace of mind, pre-order your taxi (note the €5 booking fee to guarantee pick up between 7am-9am on weekdays). All G7 are equipped to accept credit cards. Telephone: +33 1 41 27 66 99.