Paris is often described as a city for romance, but it also makes the perfect getaway from your partner. Just don’t forget to go home afterwards...
Everyone thinks of Paris as a city for romance. Symbolised by the Eiffel Tower, perhaps the most (ahem) phallic landmark in the world, a place where lovers go to stroll and share a bottle of red - maybe even re-enact Robert Doisneau’s famous Kiss at the Hôtel de Ville.
But it’s also a great destination for solo travellers, with art, architecture and gastronomic treats that are, to my mind, even better when enjoyed without the distraction of a partner. You may find you enjoy it so much that leaving is a wrench.
Here’s why. Getting there is fantastically easy. Eurostar delivers you right into the heart of things at Gare du Nord, and if you plan a few weeks in advance, it will cost you only £59 return. Getting around is not bad either: underground, you can travel on the Metro between around 5.30am to 12.45am every day; overground, buses are much easier than in London and worth every penny for the view out of the window (Paris really is a beautiful city). Buy tickets in advance from Metro stations or tobacconists displaying the RATP sign. Le Petit Parisien (the French equivalent of our A-Z), available in bookshops and at newsstands, shows routes and stops. Once on the bus, indicator boards and good audio announcements, help to keep track of where you are.
Additionally, the French are generally accepting of lone diners – male or female – so there’s no need to skulk in your hotel room or McDonald's. For a truly gastronomic experience try L’Atelier Joël Robuchon at Hotel Pont Royal
, 5 rue de Montalembert. Robuchon is one of the country’s most famous chefs, but the atmosphere at L’Atelier is decidedly unstuffy. And with individual bar seating around the open kitchen there’s no danger of a waiter seating you behind a potted plant in a dark corner.
Being alone, you will probably want to stay somewhere fairly central. I like the Hotel Bel Ami on Rue St Benoit in St-Germain-des-Prés. Despite its modern, clean and minimalist look, it’s enjoyed previous incarnations as a print works, jazz club and, more recently, a slightly less fancy hotel than it is now. It’s in a great spot on the edge of the sixth arrondissement - famous for its religious, cultural and intellectual past. The 17th-century church of St Sulpice featured in The Da Vinci Code is here, along with Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, the café headquarters of Sartre, Beauvoir, Gide et al. Fashion is becoming increasingly important, with upmarket boutiques and designer shops abounding.
It’s also handy for many of the city’s attractions and museums, such as the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. My favourites include the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and Musée de la Mode et du Textile at 107 rue de Rivoli. Bursting with beautifully worked clothes and jewellery, these two are a real treat for anyone who appreciates ornamental and functional design (that’s gewgaws and knick-knacks to you and me): one memorable exhibition at the Musée de la Mode et du Textile included nearly 500 handbags.
And talking of handbags, no visit to Paris would be complete without a twirl around the floors of Le Bon Marché, Paris’s oldest and most seductive department store at 22 rue de Sèvres. Shops in the trendy Marais district and Canal St-Martin area are also great for one-off clothes and accessories.
Sightseeing alone can be exhausting (you always cover more ground than when you are with someone). So afternoon tea is a must, although, this being France you are better off with a jug of hot chocolate. The best, in my opinion, is available from Christian Constant at 37 rue d’Assas, also in St-Germain-des-Prés. Delicately spiced and flavoured chocolate cakes and sweets can be bought here too. They make great presents if you can resist dipping in.