A fine Paris ro­mance with­out the ex­pense

Su­san Grif­fin finds a Valen­tine’s Day trip to the city of love does not have to cost the world

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IT’S no good, the thigh burn’s set in and I need to take a break. We’re half­way be­tween the first and sec­ond floor of the Eif­fel Tower, so I can at least pre­tend to be tak­ing in the Paris sky­line as I catch my breath and wait for what feels like an im­mi­nent black­out to sub­side.

It’s our own fault. My boyfriend and I could have taken the lift, but we de­cided to opt for the steps – the thrifti­est op­tion at five eu­ros.

Paris might be a must-see, but the city of love does not come cheap.

That does not mean the French cap­i­tal is out of bounds as a week­end des­ti­na­tion though, you just have to be savvy if you don’t want to be left sob­bing into your baguette.

It’s why we booked our ac­com­mo­da­tion through Airbnb.

Not only is it a cheaper op­tion than a ho­tel, but tak­ing over some­one’s home for a few nights (while they’re else­where) gives you the in­sider’s view to a city.

Our cosy lit­tle apart­ment is on the fourth floor of a beau­ti­ful build­ing in the artis­tic area of Mont­martre. Once home to the likes of Renoir, the area has re­tained its bo­hemian feel, with quaint cafes and cob­bled streets so nar­row, you can al­most shake hands with the fam­ily living op­po­site.

It’s also just a two-minute walk from white-domed Sacre-Coeur, the mon­u­men­tal church at the sum­mit of Mont­martre.

Climb the steps or take the fu­nic­u­lar rail­way. Ei­ther way, the views are in­cred­i­ble, even if you do have to jos­tle with the hun­dreds of tourists for a prime place to take your pho­tos.

The Parisians might have a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing aus­tere, but even if you’re a first-time vis­i­tor there’s some­thing com­fort­ing about the city’s land­scape. Per­haps it’s be­cause the iconic struc­tures seem so familiar.

Take the Arc de Tri­om­phe, the 19th cen­tury mon­u­ment Napoleon com­mis­sioned to cel­e­brate his own victory, stand­ing proud at the end of the vast Champs El­y­sees, and the Eif­fel Tower, of course – a sym­bol of the city.

And you don’t need to splash out to visit the fa­mous land­marks. On the ad­vice of some lo­cals, we buy a book of 10 Metro tick­ets for just a few eu­ros.

We also walk – a lot. Paris is laid out in wide boule­vards that criss-cross the Left and Right Banks that sit ei­ther side of the River Seine.

We am­ble down to the fa­mous wa­ter­way that snakes its way through the city and watch boats packed with hol­i­day­mak­ers drift be­neath bridges, be­fore mov­ing onto the well-heeled 6th ar­rondisse­ment (Paris is made up of 20 ad­min­is­tra­tive dis­tricts) of St Ger­main des Pres.

Ad­mit­tedly, we did not re­alise how af­flu­ent the area was un­til my boyfriend’s beer ar­rives, at a cost equiv­a­lent to £8.

It’s a one-off, we tell our­selves, and di­rect our at­ten­tion to peo­ple watch­ing from our street-side perch, ob­serv­ing the el­e­gantly dressed wait­ing staff waft­ing around the im­mac­u­lately-coiffed clien­tele.

Thirst-quenched, we make our way to the Pan­theon, an im­pres­sive neo­clas­si­cal dome that over­looks the city from its rel­a­tively quiet po­si­tion in the Latin Quar­ter on the Left Bank and, be­hind it, find the pic­turesque St Eti­enne du Mont, where Owen Wil­son waits to be taken back to the Jazz Age in Woody Allen’s Mid­night In Paris.

While walk­ing back to our flat, we come across a great lit­tle bar called Le Com­merce on Rue des Mar­tyrs in Mont­martre. Bruno, the owner, couldn’t have been more gen­er­ous, keep­ing us well stocked with herby wedges, olives and cold meats, all on the house while we en­joy a frosted glass of wine that set us back around £3 each. It could have been the wine or the walk­ing, or both, but that night we sleep soundly.

The next day, feel­ing re­freshed, we pick up warm baguettes and po­tent cheese and walk to the 17th cen­tury Palais-Royal for a pic­nic in the grounds among pink rose bushes, strik­ing foun­tains and tree-lined walk­ways. It’s also op­po­site the Lou­vre, one of the world’s largest mu­se­ums, which houses Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, with her all-know­ing smile.

We pass the glass pyra­mid that dom­i­nates the court­yard at the mu­seum’s en­trance and head to­wards the 14th cen­tury Gothic cathe­dral of Notre Dame. But not with­out stop­ping off at the charm­ing shops that sit fac­ing the Seine along the Quai de la Megis­serie. It’s here we stum­ble across the Ponts des Arts bridge and buy a ‘love lock’ from a ven­dor, be­fore clip­ping it to the thou­sands of oth­ers that have been left here.

My boyfriend, who’s not overtly ro­man­tic, in­sti­gated the ges­ture. He even wrote a ro­man­tic mes­sage on it, which just shows what Paris can do to a man. As Valen­tine’s gifts go, it’s one of the cheap­est but most mean­ing­ful I’ve ever been given.

Since our visit though, a sec­tion of the bridge col­lapsed un­der the 54 ton weight of the love locks, so au­thor­i­ties are ask­ing cou­ples to take self­ies on the bridge – an even more eco­nom­i­cal op­tion!

That evening, we jour­ney back to Mont­martre and make our way, via the steep cob­bled steps and the ‘love wall’ in Place des Abbesses (where ‘I love you’ is daubed in an ar­ray of dif­fer­ent lan­guages), to the Artists’ Square, in Place de Tertre, where the likes of Pi­casso used to live.

To this day, artists still set up their easels to paint tourists, but we decline the of­fer of an (un­doubt­edly un­flat­ter­ing) car­i­ca­ture in favour of a light bite in a lovely old restau­rant, and watch the world pass by as dusk creeps in. It’s the per­fect way to say au revoir to the city and re­turn home with a few spare pen­nies in our pock­ets.

Avoid the tourist traps in Paris and a cheap stay is not out oft he ques­tion

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