Belfast is my ‘hood. No diggity, no doubt. But if I had to live anywhere else in the world, then Paris it would be. On a recent calculation I worked out that I’d visited the city at least once every year for the last fifteen. And that’s not because I’m a global jet-setter. Rather, it’s because between getting there on the odd school trip, and my husband being to cheap Ryanair flights what a bloodhound is to it’s prey, the opportunity for an impromptu visit has arisen quite frequently. And no matter the season, it’s always the right season for Paris. It is equally beautiful come rain or shine. It’s also, perhaps, the only city I’d visit alone, as I have done many times - don’t let Liam Neeson’s unforgettable ‘Taken’ put you off. Several of my trips have been a one night stopover - ample time for me to recharge the batteries, get some headspace and a fresh dose of inspiration. So how do I spend une journée à Paris? Let me walk you through...
With an early morning start, I’d head just outside of the city, to the Palais de Versailles. In all my days, I have never witnessed a place as awe-inspiring; it is truly sublime. If you’re a fan of ostentatious, OTT, baroque beauty, this place will knock your socks off. And if, like me, you are entranced and intrigued by of the reign of Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette, you’ll find it all here; from their former boudoirs to the infamous Hall of Mirrors - which is, without question, the most beautiful salle in the world.
Back to the city and a walk along the river to Le Fumoir, right on the banks of the Seine, for lunch. With its chic interior, cracking cocktail menu and fab food, this place is the perfect go-to - it’s always buzzing and never disappoints. A wander then, through the pretty, cobbled streets of the Marais, a pit-stop at Maje (I love their clothes) on the way to Merci, AKA lifestyle store Mecca. Here you’ll find a round-up of the freshest, quirkiest home goods and clothing available, from both leading and emerging designers alike. Take a wee peek too, into it’s adjoining bookshop-come-coffee shop - it is pure joy. After a good browse here, I’d take the metro up to the 18th arrondissement, this time for an equally satisfying mooch around the textile district. Just a stone’s throw from the Sacré Coeur, the winding streets of upper Montmartre are home to some of the best fabric shops you’ll find anywhere in the world. You can literally get your mitts on every type of fabric, in every colour-way and pattern imaginable; I get goosebumps just thinking about it (that’s probably just me though).
After a lengthy trawl and then a walk through the the always bustling Place du Tertre, pausing to admire the most amazing view of the whole city gained from right in front of the Basilica, I’d make my way back down towards the river. Dinner options are wide and varied, but if you want a good, authentic French brasserie, you can’t go past Chez Janou, footsteps away from the lovely Place des Vosges - also worth a stop. This typical French square with its gardens and fountain, is surrounded on all four sides by aristocratic French mansions, and is perfect for a stroll or some people-watching. The perfect Parisian day for me, invariably ends with a post-dinner tipple at the Plaza Athenée. And while the cost of a drink here is probably equivalent to the price paid for the cheap Ryanair flight, it’s entirely worth it to sit in these luxurious surroundings. If you’ve seen the final two episodes of Sex and the City... enough said. And it was in this very hotel that my beloved asked me for my hand in marriage (his defining romantic moment), so as well as enjoying it’s jaw-dropping opulence, it holds an extra-special place in my heart. As far as laying your head here for the night goes, let’s just say it’d need to be a pretty special occasion to justify the price of a night at the Plaza Athenée. But the good news is there are many other, equally aesthetically pleasing options as far as hotels go, without the hefty room rate. With a rise in independently-owned boutique hotels, the choice, in fact, is pretty vast. For a design enthusiast like me, there is no shortage of quirky little spots. Some of my recent favourites among the city’s newest additions include Hôtel Henriette in the 13th and Hôtel COQ, in the same neck of the woods; both très chic and reasonably priced. Alternatively, you’ll be impressed with the standard in Le Roch or indeed the Hôtel Saint Marc, slightly more upmarket and central, and therefore priced accordingly.
Now I realise that I’ve yet to mention a museum, or anything terribly cultural for that matter, but I’m not attempting to re-write the Time Out guide to Paris here. They’ve done that already. And so have I; I’ve done the tourist thing, many times. I mean, I totally recommend a trip to the Orsay, a quick gander at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, a picnic in the Tuileries gardens and a boat trip on the Seine. But I’m talking real talk here - once the tourist stuff is done - what I actually love doing. And actually, what I most love doing there, aside from hitting up all of the places I’ve mentioned, is walking. Walking around, soaking it all up. The architecture, the ambiance; it’s like nowhere else on Earth. And it never gets old, man, no matter how many times you go.
So do it. Book that cheap Ryanair flight. Because Paris, as they say, is always a good idea.