Paris is increasingly expensive but my guide shows where, and how, a food-loving retiree (of limited means) managed to eat well on a 2-day culture trip!
First things first; how to get there. Living, as I do, in the south-west of England, I flew from Exeter with FlyBe (www.flybe.com) and found the departure from Devon was absolutely fine, Exeter has a small airport with little or no queuing and friendly, helpful staff; we left and arrived on time. Charles De Gaulle, by contrast, is a nightmare, the 'plane had to taxi for almost fifteen minutes, we then walked and escalated half-way to Calais before queuing at passport control, followed by a fifty minute bus ride to Paris. Enough of these negatives, Paris in the Spring is a great city for a short break and i think I'll go by train next time!
Where to Stay
For our three nights we stayed at the Hotel Royal Opera, (www.paris-hotel-royalopera.com , tel: 01 42 66 14 44, 5, rue de Castellane, 75008) where a decent sized double room cost 110 euros per night (breakfast was an extra 5 euros each) The hotel was clean and comfortable, with a passenger lift, friendly staff and a reception desk manned 24hrs a day. Whilst only a two-star hotel it represented good value for money in a nice location.
Eating and Drinking
Paris has a bewildering number of places to eat and I suspect that many of them are simply not worth the high prices asked. One Bistro that is worth their very reasonable prices is in the area of Palais Royal and Louvre Museum, (nearest Metro: Palais Royal/Musee de Louvre). This area now seems to be full of Japanese restaurants and sushi houses with just a few traditional French bistros and bars left. Le Comptoir des Petit Champs, (17 rue des Petit Champs, 75001; tel:01 42 96 47 54, www.lecomptoirdespetitschamps.fr) closed Saturday lunch and Sunday, is a small, modern, French bistro with simple wooden tables and cheerful prints on the walls. It has only been open since March and is certainly worth a visit. A short menu included starters of guacamole with prawns, fresh asparagus in mountain ham & parmesan, mains included sea bream fillets with potato puree, salmon in morel sauce and 7hr cooked lamb. All beautifully executed, followed by first-class desserts. Several good wines are offered by the glass or 25cl and 50cl carafe, so you don't need to spend 25euros on a bottle. We dined here twice in 3 nights; the first meal, 3 courses for two and two carafes of wine plus tap-water, came to 65euros. On our second visit our 3 courses (shared dessert) and one carafe of wine came to 56euros. If you take a table near the rear window you can watch the comings and goings of the wealthy patrons of Le Grand Vefour, (www.grand-vefour.com) a restaurant where lunch is 88euros and dinner 268euros!
A pleasant morning may be spent exploring the two islands in the Seine; Isle St Louis and Isle de la CIte (the location of Notre Dame Cathedral). Whilst on the islands, try a light lunch at the Auberge de la Reine Blanche, (30 rue St Louis en L'Isle, 75004; tel: 01 46 33 07 87) open every day. Here the lunch special 'formula', (with a choice of 3 mains) including a glass of wine each, was offered at a bargain 29 euros for two, we had salad followed by an excellent haddock fillet with a rice pilaff and ratatouille.
Also on Isle Saint Louis is Le Caveau de L'isle; (36 rue Saint Louis en L'Isle, 75004; tel: 01 43 25 10 26 www.lecaveaudelisle.com) a bistro which was recommended by friends. Here the entrees of salmon tartare and salad of avocado, prawns and palm-hearts were excellent, however, classic bistro favourites of sole meuniere and steak with bearnaise sauce were skinny portions poorly executed. The bill came to 85 euros, including two half bottles of wine.
Finally, if you are near the Musee D'Orsay (see below) an excellent lunchtime 'plat du jour' can be had for 9euros or so at the busy little brasserie Le Busson D'Argent on the corner of Rue du Bac and Rue de l'Universite, around the corner from the museum.
Things to do in Paris
Even a short cultural trip to Paris should include a visit to the magnificent department stores of Boulevard Haussman. Whilst shopping might leave you cold, the department store; 'Galeries Lafayette' (www.galerieslafayette.com) is an Art Deco architectural wonder. Internally, the circular shop-floors soar up towards a decorated dome like ornate boxes in a grand opera house. This store has to be seen to be believed, the food hall rivals London's Fortnum & Mason or Harrods with prices to match, although a breakfast in one of the store's cafes costs only 4.50 euros; a little bargain!
Just around the corner from the Rue des Petit Champs (see above) the attractive Jardins du Palais Royal in Rue Beaujolais is a delightful spot for a pre-dinner stroll.
The trip up the Eiffel Tower is something I would save for when I have a month or two to spare; the queues were so horrendous I took a photo! However It is possible to pre-book tickets at www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/ and save much time.
Museums and Galleries
If you only visit one art gallery in Paris, may I recommend the Musee D'Orsay (1 rue de Bellechasse; www.musee-orsay.fr) this beautiful space, formerly the Gare D'Orleans railway station, contains the quintessence of French art in the form of a national collection of Impressionist Paintings, Art Deco Design and 19th and 20th Century Sculpture. There are, of course, numerous other galleries and museums all over Paris, something for everyone in the world of art and antiquities. A walk along the Seine towards Notre Dame Cathedral will take you to a quirky little antiquarian bookseller; Shakespeare And Company, (37 rue de la Buchere, 75005; tel:01 43 26 96 50) here you will find books in all languages on sale at a wide range of prices.
All in all, Paris is a wonderful city for strolling around, visiting churches, museums and galleries, sipping aperitifs at pavement cafes and, above all, people watching! Bon Chance.