It is a truth universally acknowledged that, to the Parisians, luxury is much more than just a standard to be sought – it’s a lifestyle and, as Gemma Knight discovers, one that sits at the beating heart of this most cosmopolitan and decadent of cities
Take note: the Eurostar is a gem. Not only does it take you direct from central London to central Paris without any airport faff, but you can take two large pieces of luggage (with no liquid restrictions) and enjoy proper comfort, with plenty of legroom, WiFi and on-board entertainment. Add to this a quick check-in (30 minutes before departure), a speedy journey time (2hrs 15mins) and the fact that under-4s travel free, and you see the appeal.
One-way standard class fares (St Pancras International – Gare du Nord) from £29 (based on a return journey) (eurostar.com)
WHERE TO STAY
La Réserve Hotel & Spa
If, like me, your idea of a perfect bolthole is one which feels like your very own 1960s Parisian penthouse (think Brigitte Bardot in La Parisienne), then La Réserve – which, in a city filled with some of the world’s most chic ‘palace status’ hotels, still manages to shine – is ideal.
The ratio of rooms and suites (40) to members of staff (150) alone tells you something about the level of personally tailored service on offer here, with every detail geared towards creating the sense that you are weekending at the chateau of an aristocratic acquaintance, rather than checking in to a hotel. It’s no coincidence, then, that the grand stone building – nestled close to the Champs Elysées and overlooking the Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré – was originally built for the Duc de Morny, Napoleon III’s half-brother, and later owned by fashion designer Pierre Cardin, before finally being acquired by multi-millionaire Michel Reybier, who re-did the interiors from scratch in a sumptuous blend of Louis XV decadence and exotic Chinoiserie.
Rooms have all those little touches – proper-sized toiletries, everything from lighting to room service controlled with an iPad and a fully complimentary in-room bar – still boasted by surprisingly few top hotels, and done well by even fewer. Discretion is valued above all else, and applied across the board with deft expertise by amiable staff, while there’s also a candlelit spa with a tranquil pool, a leather-bound book-filled library (complete with honesty bar) and two restaurants, one of which boasts two Michelin stars.
42 Avenue Gabriel (lareserve-paris.com)
WHERE TO GO
I am a firm believer that, whether it’s your first visit or your fifteenth, the best way to get the most out of a short city break is to walk – as far and for as long as your legs will carry you. Avoid any other method of transport – particularly the underground variety – as much as you can, and pound those pavements, soaking in every sound, sight and smell on offer. Paris is fabulously walkable, so my advice is to head down towards the Seine from La Réserve, then walk west along the north bank until you reach Pont de Bir-Hakeim, then cross to the south bank and walk east until you hit Pont Notre-Dame. This will take you on a giant loop and through a whole host of delightfully varied areas.
WHERE TO EAT
114 Faubourg, Le Bristol
When evening rolls around, reward your day-long excursion with dinner at the Michelin-star 114 Faubourg, one of two fabulous restaurants at the renowned Le Bristol hotel. Just a stone’s throw from La Réserve, this smart, distinguished eatery offers imaginative brasserie-style cooking from head chef Eric Frechon, with a warm, sophisticated ambience and foie gras ravioli, hand-chopped beef tartar and the spectacular two-person Irish Angus rib steak among the highlights of its menu. Peppered with soothing purples and golds, the space is peaceful and inviting, and – be warned – extremely hard to leave, after a large steak and several glasses of soporific red wine.
114 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré (lebristolparis.com)
WHERE TO DRINK
Little Red Door
Although Paris is certainly not short of wonderful watering holes – a special mention here to the eye-wateringly expensive but deliciously decadent Hemingway Bar at Le Ritz – for the true cutting-edge cocktail connoisseur, only the jewel in the city’s mixology crown will do.
Down a narrow street in the 10th arrondissement is a small red door and, beyond it, a cosy den of chemical iniquity, with a concept menu (inspired, at the moment, by architectural design movements) and some of what might be the nicest and happiest bartenders in the world (who, incidentally, all had to take exhaustive architecture courses before the menu was launched).
The glorious thing about this place is that, while most bars are one or the other, Little Red Door is both a relaxed, friendly place to go for a quiet drink, and a highly-regarded experience destination. How it manages so effortlessly and harmoniously to be both, I don’t care to know – it might break the spell.
60 rue Charlot (lrdparis.com)