Living it up in the French capital
I’ m excited about a weekend away, so naturally I’m running late making a mad dash through London’s St Pancras station to catch an early Eurostar train.
The first alarm bells that we are in for a queerer than usual trip to Paris ring as we spot more than the normal scattering of gays in the line waiting to pass through security. It’s safe to say that if we were flying, the plane would leave without me and I’d be at the customer service desk of [ insert budget airline here] doing my best to get on to the next flight in six hours’ time.
There’s none of that fuss here as the benefits of travelling business class by train offer a welcome relief. We skip past the queue and, with a whole 10 minutes to spare before our departure time, slip into the lounge to grab a croissant ( we’re France bound, after all) and a glass of bubbles to wash it down.
Just 2 ½ hours later we arrive in the heart of the French capital.
Laters London and bonjour Paris!
It’s Pride weekend and the buzz in the city is just beginning to build. We make our way to the Louvre in the
1st arrondissement — one of the 20 districts the city is divided into. With the parade still a few hours away,
Monsieur Joannou is ready to tear off his shirt and join the Parisian gays dancing the night away in what is described as the most romantic city on the planet… quelle horreur!
my travelling companion Sean and I wander through the museum’s parks, cross the Seine at Pont des Arts and walk around the island that’s home to the world- famous cathedral, Notre Dame. It’s the perfect day to soak up the sunshine and let the city’s ornate skyline embrace us.
It’s the charm of Paris that you can work your way along the Seine and see many of the capital’s most famous monuments. Ideal for a weekend away when one’s priorities are focused elsewhere, but you still want to dip your toe into being a typical tourist.
After our stroll, we head back to Place de la République to catch the end of the Pride parade. It’s also where the main stage is located, featuring a mix of rallying political speeches, PAs and drag shows.
It’s all in French ( obviously) so we don’t feel too guilty spending our time smiling at the cute boys and working our way through the beers. We avert our gaze from the cuties and are full of glee when the crowd starts singing along to Queen, before the evening draws to an almighty close when a DJ takes to the stage and releases an hour of rousing techno that has the entire square jumping.
If you’re not one for the politics or drag queens at Pride ( in French or in English), at least be sure to catch the closing hour here — the energy is palpable.
We nip back to Hotel Mareuil, which although technically in the 11th arrondissement actually borders the 3rd arrondissement, and is just a minute’s stroll from République.
It’s close enough to allow us to pop back for toilet breaks or to top up the tequila bottle, yet far enough away to escape the fuss if you want a disco nap. It really is the perfect spot for our Paris Pride sojourn. A quick shower and we’re ready for Saturday night.
The hotel is also perfectly located at the north end of Le Marais ( in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements). This area is a blend of cafés and bars, dining and street markets, art and cultural institutions, and home to the city’s gay village. As if it wasn’t gay enough on a regular weekend, today it’s alive and overfl owing with revellers from every shade under the rainbow. The bars spill out into the streets and the queues for the toilets and shops snake out into the roads and around corners.
We find a spot outside Open Café at the intersection of Rue des Archives and Rue Sainte- Croix de la Bretonnerie to people watch. Before long, the sun begins to set, the night kicks in, we neck tequila after tequila, and the crowd in the street gets lively.
Next door, Freedj is clubbier and edgier, while the go- go dancers around the corner at Raidd Bar wash themselves down in glass shower cubicles for thirsty punters to gawp at. There’s a rather elaborate cruise area in the basement that you can fi nd yourself unwittingly wandering into after taking a wrong turn when heading for the urinals. ( Honestly, it was a mistake).
Our tits- on- tour parade continues at LaserBowl at YoYo club, located at Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art museum on the west side of the city that’s within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower. Its industrial, concrete look echoes the clubs of Berlin, while the main club room, in the basement, is the old art- deco cinema. Tonight, it’s packed to popping with gays of all shapes and sizes, from tops- off , sixpacked muscle queens to chic fashion boys via a few bigger, beary types.
“Go- go boys wash themselves down in glass shower cubicles”
As the party wraps and the sun has still to rise, we jump in a cab and head to Gibus Club, the notorious afterhours spot, located back in the 3rd arrondissement. From late Saturday night to Sunday morning the rock venue becomes a sea of topless men. It’s hot, it’s sweaty, it’s hedonistic… it’s heaven. But after a couple hours it’s also a little bit too wild for us weary travellers, so we head back to the hotel.
As if the goddess couldn’t shine on us any more this weekend, google maps shows us that the Hotel Mareuil is less than a fi ve- minute walk. Ten minutes after bidding the boys of Gibus farewell we’re tucked up in bed, the curtains pulled tight and dozing off .
The next morning we treat our hangovers with plenty of coff ee, eggs and sausages at the hotel breakfast. We have a tour booked in with Pascal Fonquernie, from parismarais. com, a website that specialises in all the hidden gems of Paris’ most charming district.
The website represents 15 years of research by Pascal, and is the most complete guide to Le Marais ( also translated into English, French, Russian, German, Italian and Spanish, and soon Portuguese and Japanese).
The attention to detail shows: Pascal deluges us with info on every turn of a street corner. Sensitive to our fragile state, he asks what we’d most like to learn about the legendary district and promises that we’ll have ice cream at the end of the tour if we’re good. Sean’s eyes light up.
As you’d imagine with one of Paris’s oldest and most revered districts, there’s history in abundance. Our favourite anecdote is the Bastille Day Firemen Ball on 13 and 14 July, which sees the Sévigné fire station opened to the public with firemen serving champagne and beer to revellers who swing by to gawp at the lads in their uniform. With more than 15,000 visitors every year, it’s Paris’ biggest open- air club event.
When Pascal informs us that hotel prices are most aff ordable between 15 July and 30 August during its low season, we pencil in our next visit to The City of Lights.
We stop by trendy designer shops such as Leclaireur, a visionary gallery that showcases the finest and edgiest items from the worlds of fashion, lifestyle and design, as well as traditional leather manufacturers.
He allows us to peek into a couple of higher- end boutique hotels such as the quaint Hotel du Petit Moulin and Hotel Jobo. At Petit Moulin, designer Christian Lacroix has applied his skills to each bedroom — no two are alike. They may be a luxury but certainly worth it for travellers with greater disposable finances looking to treat themselves.
Finally, we reach our destination: Une Glace à Paris, on Rue Sainte- Croix de la Bretonnerie, the ice cream stop. And it’s everything Pascal promised.
Sean and I sit back and reminisce on a whirlwind of a weekend that’s perhaps over too soon, which seemed to squeeze everything into a tidy two nights and three days.
Is it too late to change our return train?
Paris Pride is on Saturday 29 June eurostar.comen. parisinfo.com hotelmareuil.com parismarais.com/en
“Firemen serve champagne to the revellers who
FEBRUARY 2019 SHORT HAUL: Editor in chief Cliff Joannou with Attitude’s Sean Linekerat Paris Pride
IN- SEINE: The Ponts des ArtsSTREET LIFE: The crowds spill out ofbars in Le MaraisA- LIGHT HERE: YoYo CLub at the Palais de TokyoROOMY: The Hotel Mareuil
TAKE A SEAT: Le Marais has a host of cafes and bars as well as being home to the gay village