Paris is for lovers..always has been, still is...and always will be. So grab your partner and sensible shoes. The rewards include fabulous ice cream, bien sur!
The music soars, echoing off the medieval stone. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has never sounded better. There are just 100 of us in the Sainte-Chapelle, one of the world’s most beautiful churches. Above the musicians, the stained glass windows glow, like an illuminated jewel box.
Paris always has surprises around every corner, especially on the Left Bank and the two islands in the Seine. We love to walk till our feet scream out for a rest – a good excuse for a glass of wine or an ice cream. We start off on the Île de la Cité, only yards from one of the world’s most familiar buildings, watching skateboarders flaunt their skills, slaloming between traffic cones. Behind them, the cathedral of Nôtre-Dame has been cleaned up and now must look much as it did in the 13th century.
Also on the island, but hidden away in the Palais de Justice, with its airport-like security for visitors, is the Sainte-Chapelle. Opened in 1248, its purpose was to hold relics, such as the Crown of Thorns. But this most elegant of medieval churches is best known for the 15 stained glass windows that leave even the most cynical tourist open-mouthed. Cricking our necks back, we use binoculars to appreciate the detail, then book up tickets to attend the evening concert, where we can soak up the atmosphere, away from the daytime tourists.
Time for an ice cream. We wander over to the neighbouring Ile St-Louis, and join the queue outside Berthillon (29 Rue St-Louis-en-l’Île). Now the most popular ice cream parlour in Paris has an Italian rival, Amorino, at number 47. Forcing ourselves to sample both, we agree that both are delicious!
Now we cross the Seine to the Left Bank, the Latin Quarter, named for the theological students who lived here 750 years ago, and spoke only Latin to one another. We start at the Censier-Daubenton Métro stop, then stroll the length of the ‘Mouffe’, Rue Mouffetard, where we are following in the footsteps of writers such as Ernest Hemingway. Time for another ice cream. My wife opts for the prune and Armagnac at Octave (138 Rue Mouffetard). I wait till we get to Gelati d’Alberto (no 45), where we watch, fascinated, as the assistant takes a cone and transforms a dollop of ice cream into a rose with a flick of her wrist.
At the Place de la Contrescarpe, the Mouffe turns into the Rue Descartes, where number 39 is a pilgrimage site for Ernest Hemingway fans. He wrote The Snows of Kilimanjaro upstairs in the 1920s. Time to rest our feet, and there is nowhere better than Les Pipos, a tiny wine bar, with its red banquettes and a blackboard offering simple pâté, ham and cheeses.
Fortified, we trot on to the Pantheon with its gallery of French national heroes, from writers and artists to scientists. But what catches our eye is a massive lead ball swinging on a wire that dangles from the ceiling of this former church. Back in 1851, this was the experiment that Léon Foucault set up to prove that the earth rotates.
Although the Pantheon is a well-known sight, a real surprise is just a short walk away. Hidden behind houses off the Rue Monge is the Arènes de Lutèce, a Roman amphitheatre dating back some 1,800 years. Most Roman arenas are ruins, but this one still has stone seats, where office workers eat their sandwiches and watch locals playing boules and football in the dust arena. A man drives his car through the gate where gladiators would have entered.
We stroll on, back to the banks of the Seine. Here, as they have for decades, bouquinistes (second-hand booksellers) sell old books and prints from their stalls. We find some old posters that make great souvenirs, then, on instructions from our feet, head off for another glass of wine. No great surprise there!
Air France, British Airways, easyJet, flybe, Jet2 and Ryanair all fly to Paris - or you can travel by Eurostar.
Where to stay
Hotel de Lutèce is a small but comfortable hotel in a 17th-century building on the Île Saint-Louis.
Hotel Jardins de Paris Saint Germain: Hemingway stayed here, in the 6th arondissement, overlooking the Paris rooftops.
Where to eat
Le Pré Verre: bustling bistro, modern French with an Oriental twist. (8, rue Thénard, 5e)
Le Réminet: contemporary versions of Norman dishes, across from Nôtre-Dame. (3, rue des Grands Degrés, 5e)