Judith Elen reveals the perfect outings for two in the city of romance Paris has all the props. It just needs a cast of two for the leading roles
OMANCE can blossom in the desert, but to truly set the scene certain props are indispensable: soft light and drifts of perfume, flowers, good food, memorable wine. Add a tranquil river, cobblestoned squares, evocative streetscapes, monuments and settings wrapped in the elusive memories of film, art and dreams, and you have Paris. The city has all the props. It just needs a cast of two for the leading roles.
Drift through the shifting, dappled light beneath the verdigrised metal bridges along the Canal St-Martin in the northeast of the city. This is the canal system that runs through the 10th and 19th arrondissements, built early in the 19th century to link two sections of the Seine, bypassing the river’s big western loop. Late in the century, Napoleon III covered the lower section near the city’s centre, to throw a spanner in the works of the volatile, rebellious workers’ quarters in the east. Running underground for more than 2km from Bastille, it emerges into the atmospheric district of cobblestoned quais and plane trees. Join a three-hour cruise, from the Seine near Musee d’Orsay, travelling via the tunnel and passing canal locks and Marcel Carne’s Hotel du Nord on the way, to Parc de la Villette. www.pariscanal.com; www.canauxrama.com.
Cloak yourself in an instantaneous veil of romance aboard the Pullman Orient Express. This legendary train, fitted out with all the sumptuous excess of a fin-de-siecle brasserie, from the golden glow of shaded lights and polished fittings to original Lalique glass, makes three-hour gourmet dinner journeys from Paris, along the banks of the Seine and on to the outskirts of Fontainebleau. Sink seductively into one of the train’s 1920s-decorated carriages, then, beginning with champagne and accented by accompanying music, enjoy a luxurious Lenotre dinner based on ’ 20s recipes and served on original china by staff in uniforms designed to echo their vintage predecessors. With a redcarpet welcome on the platform in Paris at 6.35pm and a 10.45pm return, diners glide through the early evening sunset into the glittering night. www.pullmanorientexpress.com.
Earthier, but still deeply nostalgic, is a driving tour around the monuments and districts of Paris in the original workingman’s car, a Citroen Deux Chevaux Vapeur, more commonly known as the 2CV. Huddle in the snug backseat or pop your head through the open sunroof of your (non-uniformed) chauffeur-driven vintage car and you’re in the frame to star in your own Jaques Tati black-andwhite movie. (Forget his hectic, colourful Traffic , this is a step back in time. And, besides, you don’t have to drive.) Tours are available by night or day and range from a 30-minute drive from Place de la Concorde to the Jardin des Tuileries along the Champs-Elysees (a 45-minute Prestige version includes a bottle of wine), to a three-hour Secret Paris tour. From your private, snub-nosed chariot, see the famous sights or discover intimate backstreets a tour bus would never negotiate. The website sums it up: four wheels under one umbrella. www.4roues-sous-1parapluie.com.
Float above Fontainebleau, head in the clouds, exploring the heights of love in a hot-air balloon. Set off from Paris’s Gare de Lyon for the 40-minute train trip to Fontainebleau, where France Montgolfieres will collect you from the station, or the company can arrange a chauffeured drive from Paris to the launch ground. Balloons take off mornings and evenings, as long as the weather is calm, seven days a week, April to November, to drift over a region that was the privileged playground of Paris: site of the monumental 12thcentury chateau of Fontainebleau, home to medieval kings, renaissance courts and the favoured retreat of Napoleon who restored it after the revolutionaries stripped it bare. From the air, the ornate patterns of formal gardens and ornamental lake emerge in their entirety. Pass over villages, rivers and the famous forest of Fontainebleau. www.franceballoons.com.
Delve into the depths of love at Paris’s Musee de l’Erotisme, where the pleasures of the flesh and its mystic edges are explored through civilisations, centuries and eras. History and humour, satire and sensuality, erotic ritual and ceremony, objects and symbols from prehistory to the present should provide some inspiration, at 72 boulevard de Clichy in Montmartre.
The more ethereally minded could stroll through the corridors of love at the Musee de la Vie Romantique, where a linked set of 19th-century buildings, home to artists, writers, musicians and actors of the Parisian Romantic movement, now house a museum dedicated to artistic and literary Romanticism. Painter Ary Scheffer, friend and neighbour of novelist George Sand (lover of the young Frederic Chopin), made his home a centre for artists of the 1830s; the dedication continues and brings the period to life, Hotel Scheffer-Renan, 9th arrondissement. There’s a seductive salon de the in the garden. www.musee-erotisme.com; www.vie-romantique.paris.fr.
Picnic au plein-air in Paris’s most romantic park: Buttes-Chaumont. Created by Baron Haussman at the instigation of Napoleon III, this 19th-century extravaganza of contrived wilderness is a glorious departure from the controlled, straight lines of formal French gardens. The park’s 25ha of reclaimed land, east of Montmartre in the 19th arrondissement, are scattered with streams, waterfalls, lakes, bridges and a rocky island in an abundant recreation of ‘‘ wild na- ture’’, with panoramic lookouts and 5km of pathways. A Greco-Roman temple perches atop a cliff 30m above the lake. Before venturing this far from the city centre, visit Couesnon, a Normandy family-run charcuterie, here since the 1950s, to choose from the homemade terrines and pates, foie gras en gelee, slices of succulent Paris ham, Normandy apple tarts and cidre fermiere, at 30 rue Dauphine in the 6th arrondissement. Or stock up on farm cheeses and fresh fruit at the daily market at rue Mouffetard, near the Sorbonne. www.paris.fr; Charcuterie phone +33 1 4354 3580.
Seduce the senses with a three-hour perfume tour through Parisian perfumeries, ending at the Cafe de Paris. The heady perfumes of Paris’s fashion houses and leading makers evoke a world of indulgence and pleasure that is uniquely Parisian. Sylvie Daumain of Detour des sens guides visitors on a twohour walking tour to classic makers such as Patou and Caron, uncovering insider information about some of the great houses, and also explores more recent labels such as Annick Goutal and Divine. Full-day trips include lunch at restaurant Apicius.
Having aroused your senses, go straight to the top, at Guerlain Spa and Boutique, where you and your partner in romance can indulge each other in a gift spa or beauty treatment at this giltedged establishment. Buy customised gift certificates online. http://en.parisinfo.com; www.detourdessens.com; www.guerlainspa.com.
Blossoming romance has always been nourished with armloads of flowers. Spend time strolling among the blooms of the moment and the established mature plants of a lifetime in the avenues of vendors at Paris’s oldest flower market, Marche aux fleurs, on place Louis Lepine and quaie de Corse, Ile de la Cite, since 1808. Choose your own armloads from the vast and colourful variety on sale under the filigreed metal pavilions. Open every day from 8am to 7.30pm. Paris’s other two large flower markets are at Place de la Madeleine, in the 8th arrondissement (Monday to Saturday, 8am to 7.30pm) and Place des Ternes, in the 17th, open every day, 8am to 7.30pm. www.mairie4.paris.fr.
Dedicate the entire day to excess a deux. Start with a breakfast basket of tiny pastries, with a discreet egg and fruit salad in the rich blue brocadeupholstered upper dining room, Le Salon Bleu, at Laduree’s St-Germain address, Laduree Bonaparte.
Lunch should be protein-rich, perhaps caviar-laced coquilles st-jacques or crab, at famed caviar house Petrossian’s Restaurant Le 144, above the original, blue-painted corner boutique in the 7th.
Dinner depends on your mood. It might be pigeon breast with truffles followed by dessert of almond paste and rose petals amid the chandeliers, mirrors and frescoes at ultra luxe Le Meurice. Or, for an evening of romantic nostalgia, order a lobster salade and house speciality choucroute de la mer, beneath the grand glass copola of the leatherbanquetted alsacienne brasserie, Bofinger. Or you might be ready for a secluded tete a tete, savouring foie gras, cassoulet and a bottle of bordeaux among the rustic red-and-white checked tablecloths at the 100-year-old bistro, La Fontaine de Mars, in the 7th. Bon appetit. www.laduree.fr; www.petrossian.fr; www.bofingerparis.com; www.lemeurice.com; www.fontainedemars.com.
Surfeited with cobblestoned squares, gargoyles and river views following an afternoon strolling the byways of Ile de la Cite, retire to your hotel for a long night with a supply of fantasy chocolate from artisanal chocolatier Josephine Vannier in the Marais. A luscious black Masai mask and a chocolate champagne bottle perhaps. Tuck one of Vannier’s boxes under your arm for the long trip home, an evocative carnet de voyage or a decadent Klimt. But there’s just one last call, at the -10C, pure-ice Ice Kube bar, at the edge of Montmartre, for a warming vodka cocktail. www.chocolats-vannier.com; www.kubehotel.com.