The Louvre is one of the world's great cultural destinations but the surrounding area also makes a perfect base for shopping and nightlife or simply lapping up chic Parisian life
The very first time I came to Paris, I stayed near the Louvre and I still find it a beguiling district, with its blend of grandiose set pieces, such as the perspective from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe and octagonal place Vendôme, home to jewellers and the Ritz, and the more meandering charm of ancient rue St-Honoré.
You could spend months exploring the Louvre (www.louvre.fr) and still discover something new each time. What makes it stand out from other great museums is not just the artworks but its past as a palace, evoked in massive staircases, painted ceilings and traces of royal and imperial living that range from the sturdy turrets of the medieval fortress buried in the basement to the flouncy palms and sheer excess of Napoléon III’s dining room. Although the main entrance is through the glass Pyramid, you should also wander through the Cour Carrée to admire the sculpted Renaissance facades - and remember that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Even on the quickest visit I try to fit in the Grand Galerie with its neo-classical and romantic masterpieces by David, Delacroix and Géricault, the glazed courtyards of French sculpture and the long gallery of Italian Renaissance painting.
The perfect park
Finish off your visit by a stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries. At first sight it's just one of those ever-so-French formal gardens, with long lines of geometrically cropped trees, gravel paths and white statuary, but it also has all the attributes of a popular park where men play pétanque, kids bounce on trampolines and there's a whole row of cafés. On the rue de Rivoli side, temporary events range from an upmarket decorative arts fair in the spring to a funfair in summer. The end nearest to the Louvre (officially called the Jardins du Carrousel) has statues by Aristide Maillol hiding between the hedges. The end nearest to place de la Concorde (yes, that is where they used to guillotine people and the column in the centre is indeed a sister of Cleopatra's Needle) contains two more galleries: the Musée de l'Orangerie, with Monet's amazing curved waterlily canvases and a collection of Post-Impressionist paintings, and the Jeu de Paume, which puts on excellent photography shows.
Shopping starts in the bowels of the Louvre itself. As well as the vast museum bookshop, the adjoining Carrousel du Louvre includes Nature et Découvertes, where the take on the natural world ranges from wooden toys to telescopes, green gadgets and beauty products, smart household items at Résonances and the brand new Apple Store. A couple of streets away, rue St-Honoré is looking chicer than ever. Lifestyle store Colette at No.213 is still the place to catch up on the latest fashion trends, albums and electronic gizmos, or lunch at the basement water bar. Fashionable neighbours include John Galliano, Miu Miu, Paule Ka and fast-rising French chains Sandro and Maje, without forgetting the fabulous chocolates and cakes at Jean-Paul Hévin at No.231 (there's a small tea room upstairs).
Where to eat and drink
If you're really intent on getting your Louvre's worth, there are cafés and sandwich stalls inside the museum, as well as the more formal Grand Louvre restaurant under the Pyramid, but there are also numerous options nearby. Two good bets on place du Marché-St-Honoré are L'Absinthe (tel: 01 49 26 90 04, www.restaurantabsinthe.com) for modern bistro cooking and Nomad's (tel: 01 42 96 43 37) for its relaxed setting with old club chairs, changing art shows and Sunday brunch and drunch. Facing the eastern end of the Louvre, sophisticated Le Fumoir (tel: 01 42 92 00 24, www.lefumoir.com) is more of a style destination, a great place for lunch with its good-value menu, or for an early evening cocktail.
For dinner, Macéo (tel: 01 42 97 53 85, www.maceorestaurant.com), at 15 rue des Petits-Champs at the far end of the Palais-Royal gardens, serves consistently good food in a series of elegant high-ceilinged rooms. I love the charolais beef with wild mushrooms and the tarte Tatin but this is also a rare place in Paris to make a real effort for vegetarians, with its unusual "menu vert".
You can prolong the night over drinks with a view (and tiny dancefloor) at Philippe Starck-designed Kong (1 rue du Pont-Neuf, www.kong.fr), Le Cab (www.cabaret.fr) on place du Palais-Royal, a futuristic nightspot with a tough door policy, and jetset fave VIP Room Theatre (www.viproom.fr), which recently took over the old Scala discothèque at 188 rue de Rivoli.
Hôtel Lumen Paris Louvre (15 rue des Pyramides; 01 44 50 77 00)
This Haussmannian building was redone by designer Claudio Colucci and he's cleverly made it contemporary yet very Parisian. A chandelier seems to crawl across the lobby ceiling, Louis XV balloon-back chairs have mutated into bedheads and from some rooms you can almost touch the Eglise St-Roch next door. Double from €210.
Régina Hotel (2 place des Pyramides; 01 42 60 31 10)
The Régina is an old-fashioned dowager that has kept the art nouveau charm of its revolving door and line of polished reception desks. I wandered in here once during fashion week and there were so many people dashing about that it felt like Waterloo Station, but usually the atmosphere is much more sedate, in keeping with the antiques and tapestries in the bedrooms. Double from €375.
Louvre (place André Malraux; 01 44 58 38 38)
The name says it all: you can literally cross the street and fall into the museum. Luckily this grand 19th-century hotel has plenty of other things going for it as well, including the black and red Defender Bar and the room where Pissarro set up his easel in 1898 to paint the street scenes he saw through the windows. Double from €600.
Relais du Louvre (19 rue des Prêtres-St-Geoffroy l'Auxerrois; 01 40 41 96 42)
This is a small welcoming hotel in a historic building, with a rather swish open-plan lobby and bedrooms laden with old beams and flowery fabrics. Eight of them have views of the Louvre's sweeping eastern facade. Double from € 145.