Paris by day is a wonderful place, but after dark the 'city of light' comes to life. The Eiffel Tower sparkles, the Seine is illuminated and the streets seem to glow as cosy cafés and bars beckon
My favourite time of year in Paris is at the beginning of winter, when days are short, and night settles in early. There is nothing as romantic as strolling along kicking through the remaining autumn leaves, wrapped up, and cuddling up to your loved one. Warm and inviting cafés are full of Parisians, escaping the cold, having an after-work drink, or settling in for the evening for a gathering with friends or family. Savour the splendour of Paris as it shines at night.
This is also the time for Beaujolais Nouveau, which occurs on the third Thursday of November, to welcome in the new wine. Signs announcing the arrival - Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé - are visible in most cafés signalling the start of celebrations and festivities. Cafés and bars heave with jubilant locals celebrating and consuming wine like it's going out of fashion. Beaujolais Nouveau is intended for immediate drinking, but I think that the French take this literally! Bars are thronged to capacity, spontaneous chansons (sing-songs) occur, and quite a few inebriated people spill out of cafés in the small hours. Considering the festivities usually start just past midnight, I always wonder how many actually make it into work the next day. OK, Beaujolais Nouveau may not be the best vintage France has to offer, but it's a welcome tradition that everyone likes to take part in, and is fun and exciting.
Delightful dusk views
Sacré-Coeur is a great spot to enjoy a view of the city at dusk as the night veil settles over Paris, and twinkling dots of light begin to highlight the horizon. Most of the tourist crowds begin to slip off as the light disappears, but this is the moment I savour.
It is better to look at the Eiffel Tower at night than to view Paris from the Tower. This landmark seems to come to life at night. It twinkles, sparkles and glows. It can be seen from most parts of the city, but best views are from the Trocadéro or the Champ de Mars park.
A cruise on the Seine at night might seem a bit of a cliché, but the sights seen from the river after dark are stunning. Floodlights from the boats illuminate sights and monuments, streets lining the river are lit up and people are radiant as you gently sail along the moonlit Seine.
Cosy candlelight dining
Where to eat in Paris on a cold winter night? Well, somewhere warm, cosy and serving heart-warming food should fit the bill.
Try Aux Lyonnais (32, rue St-Marc, www.auxlyonnais.com), a Paris institution with a passion for traditional French food, but particularly from Lyon. French chef Alain Ducasse has revived this spot while retaining its reputation for offering fine regional fare. It is a gastronomic delight in a warm intimate atmosphere. Foie gras is excellent, as is the mouth-watering coq au vin. Thoroughly satisfying, but then Lyon is known as the gourmet epicentre of France. Expect to pay about €40 per person.
Pot au Feu (34, rue Vignon, Havre Caumartin) serves simple food with simple décor and a simple approach. This little unassuming spot, decked with typical red and white checked tablecloths, serves mainly one dish, and one type of wine! But don’t let that put you off. They offer a type of beef stew, which is slow cooked with tender loving care for over 24 hours. The best starter is the consommé soup from the stew. Accompanied by thick French country bread, and a glass or two of the house wine (litre bottles are place on all tables; you pay for what you drink, although it's very hard to stop at the half-litre mark), food is delicious, comforting and reasonable. Expect to pay about €70 for two including wine.
A la Cloche D’or (3 rue Mansart, 9e, www.alaclochedor.com) is a warm, inviting spot once with connections to actress Jeanne Moreau. Perfect for an intimate tête-à-tête, this tiny eatery has old-world vaudeville charm with its photos of stars, previous patrons, and a roaring open fire in winter. Heart-warming food is dished up with a smile. It has a good varied menu with plenty of meat and fish dishes on offer. The pork is always good. You can eat for about €35.
Paris is not only the city of light, but also of music, and joie de vivre. From relaxed café-bars, to mellow jazz caverns, there is so much to do and experience in this animated city at night.
Cosy cabaret venues deliver vibrant entertainment. In the tiny Le Limonaire (18 cite Bergere, www.limonaire.com), Edith Piaf-like performers take to the miniscule stage and woo you with their gallic, witty (or sometimes melancholy) melodies while you sip a glass of wine. Tip: the bar stops serving during a performance.
Nowhere does jazz like Paris, and Caveau de la Huchette (5, Rue de la Huchette, www.caveaudelahuchette.fr) does it better than the rest. This original jazz venue takes its music seriously, and has been playing to Parisians and visitors for decades in its smoky cellar (the smoke is gone, but the music is as good as ever). It is both classy and chic. Many other lively clubs can be found in the streets around Rue des Lombards.
Stroll down the Champs Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe. From the end of November, the avenue gleams from the glistening white Christmas lights. A saunter through the peaceful Tuileries Gardens is also a lovely way to end an evening.
Warm winter hotels
The Terass Hôtel (12-14 rue Joseph-de-Maistre) is a comfortable boutique hotel.The lovely piano bar is a good spot for a nightcap beside the crackling open fire. Rooms are decorated in warm colours in an Art Deco style. Rates from €280
The Hotel Royal Saint Honoré (221 rue Saint-Honoré) is another good bet. It is elegant, tastefully decorated and has comfortable beds on the large side for Paris. It is located in the heart of the city. Rooms start at €210