De­frost in the French cap­i­tal

Paris-based tour op­er­a­tor DEB­O­RAH AN­THONY shares her cold-weather favourites in the city of light

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Discover Winter In Europe -

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.

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