Defrost in the French capital
Paris-based tour operator DEBORAH ANTHONY shares her cold-weather favourites in the city of light
UNDER COVER ONE of Paris’s seasonal pleasures is sipping real chocolate in one of the city’s old-style salons de the. Every month I find one of my favorite salons has been superceded by a sushi bar, a Monop’ (the mini version of Monoprix supermarket) or one of the Starbucks outlets that are invading Paris. But you can still find a typically Parisian setting if you know where to look.
Hot chocolate fans rave about Angelina’s at 226 rue de Rivoli and Jean-Paul Hevin at 231 rue St Honore. And sipping hot chocolate with a delicate macaroon at Laduree’s exotic salon at 21 rue Bonaparte is always a pleasure.
Paris’s covered passages provide elegant shelter for shopping as well as a chocolate break. The 19th-century Galerie Vivienne (6 rue Vivienne) is a triumph of steel and glass, but I love the more obscure Passage des Panoramas, off boulevard Montmartre, with tea salon L’Arbre a Canelle, which has original ceilings and other decorative treats. Chocolatier Marquis is also in this arcade.
EN PLEIN AIR IN autumn, the Luxembourg Gardens become a riot of pale yellow and burgundy. To intensify this effect, each year the monumental urns on the terrace overlooking the lake are filled with magnificent weeping chrysanthemums in the same shades of yellow, rust, gold and orange. The gardens become even more magical as the leaves fall; the trees look like silver sculptures. I love to read my book with a piping hot coffee in the little cafe under the trees near the bandstand.
LIGHTS FANTASTIC PARIS at Christmas is a magical glitter of festive lights. The Champs Elysees is always a great show, but my favourite spot is Rue Royale, which is usually bathed in soft pink lights. And for a wrap-around view of Paris, I go to the terrace on top of Printemps home store, at 64 boulevard Haussmann. In winter the sun goes down early enough to enjoy the dusk from this vantage point.
Dinner cruises on the Seine offer the most magical views of Paris, especially as they are timed to coincide with the flashing lights on the Eiffel Tower (book the private tables at the front of the boat). At Christmas a skating rink is set up in the Place de Greve, the square in front of the neo-Renaissance Hotel de Ville, and somewhere along the Seine you’ll find a huge ferris wheel with sensational views over Paris. It changes location each year and the organisers won’t say where it will be until about November. Contact: www.bateauxparisiens.com.
PLEASURES OF SOLITUDE VERSAILLES is a must-do visit from Paris. I go there almost every week, but the huge crowds make it a challenge. A winter visit is highly recommended.
Staying at the Trianon Palace Hotel, just out of Versailles, one winter, I went to visit the chateau each day for five consecutive days. There were very few people. One day the ground was completely covered in snow and I was the only person in the chateau’s usually packed forecourt.
Another freezing day, I went to visit the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon (now called the domain of Marie-Antoinette) and as I walked back toward the chateau late in the afternoon, I was the only person in the garden. Although a number of chateaus close for winter, the main ones remain open and many privately owned chateaus will allow a visite privilege for those willing to pay. Contact: www.chateauversailles.fr.
RETAIL THERAPY THE sales here are fantastic and winter is better than summer because the whole of Paris goes on sale.
A good place to start is at department stores where you can expect up to 30 per cent off name brands from the current season. If you have a non-EEC passport, ask for a welcome card at the desk inside the main entrance of Printemps or Galeries Lafayette to receive an additional 10 per cent discount (except where you find a big red dot). Spend more than j175.01 ($291) in the shop on the same day to qualify for a 12 per cent tax refund. After the first 10 days, the sales move to the deuxieme marque, which usually means a further 20 per cent off.
Three weeks into the sales, you could pick up that Max Mara coat at a saving of 70 per cent plus a tax refund.
The best place for shoes is Place Michel Debre (formerly known as the Carrefour de la Croix Rouge, in the 6th arrondissement). Every street radiating out from this intersection - Sevres, Cherche Midi, Four, Dragon and, best of all, rue de Grenelle - is lined with shoe shops. Contact: www.galerieslafayette.com; http://departmentstoreparis.printemps.com.
LOSTMOMENTS ON a trip to Paris’s memorable PereLachaise cemetery one wintry day, several years ago with friends from university, we lost the rest of the group.
It was an out-of-this-world experience wandering around, but we jumped when a huge black cat (there are at least 100 of them among the 5300 trees and 70,000 graves) leaped out from behind a tombstone. It is especially atmospheric to walk among the famously named headstones - Abelard and Heloise, Moliere, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf - on a wintry day. Contact: www.pere-lachaise.com.
EAT IN PARIS’S intimate restaurants become small oases of atmosphere in winter. I love the ritual of pulling aside the curtain inside the door, hanging my coat and scarf and settling in. Most quartiers have streets with several little restaurants grouped together. You’ll usually find the best ones just off the main boulevards. Try my one-block-back theory to get away from the tourist traps. I recommend the little streets between boulevard StGermain and the Saint-Sulpice church, in rues Guisarde, Canette (fabulous steak and lamb cutlets at La Boucherie) and Mabillon.
I love the seven-hour lamb at Le Bistro d’Henri in rue Princesse and the healthy casseroles at Bergamote (specialising in fresh herbs) in rue Montfaucon. For a special meal in front of a huge fireplace, Guy Savoy’s Atelier Maıtre ˆ Albert (1 rue Maıtre ˆ Albert) is fabulous. One block behind rue de Rivoli, along rue du Mont Thabor, in the 1st arrondissement, you’ll find Restaurant Lescure and Le Souffle (no prizes for guessing the speciality).
SOULMUSIC THERE are wonderful concerts in Paris’s churches year round, but in winter there are concerts in a wider variety of locations.
Avoid the crowds and visit Sainte Chapelle in the evening. Sitting in the beautiful upper chapel with its spectacular stained-glass windows listening to superb music is unforgettable. The concerts at the Madeleine church are also a must. Contact: www.parisinfo.com.
MUFFLED IN THEMETRO WALKING is usually the best way of getting around Paris, but in cold weather the public transport system is the best choice.
In winter, I change my habits. I use the metro more and the long underground walkways, which I normally hate, become a blessing. I love Paris buses; they criss-cross the city and you can sightsee and windowshop as you go.
Invest in a Navigo pass for a week. Contact: www.navigo.fr.
SNUG STAYS COSY fireplaces in some of Paris’s boutique hotels are a treat after battling the elements.
Two of my favourites are a stone’s throw from the Luxembourg Gardens. The refined Luxembourg Parc Hotel has a roaring fire in a small private library area tucked away on the ground floor A budget alternative in the same area is the Relais Medicis, a pretty provincial-style hotel set around a floral courtyard, with exposed beams, antique furniture and, of course, a fireplace. Contact: www.hotelluxparc.com; www.relaismedicis.com.