Thursday 23 May 2019

Parisian walkways

 

Paris... 'one of the great cities of the world'
Paris... 'one of the great cities of the world'
Cormac outside Notre Dame
Le Roch - perhaps the chicest hotel bar in Paris

Cormac Bourke

Everyone thinks they know Paris. Romantic getaway. Cultural capital. Historic metropolis. One of the great cities of the world. So, whisper it, a long weekend away in Paris, without the kids. Where to start and just how to make the most it?

Unexpectedly, the first thing I had to do was overcome a misunderstanding about the city. Paris, it had always seemed to me on previous trips, was a city that needed the visitor to work a bit.

That does not seem unreasonable for a major world capital, but I felt there was an absence of that relaxed breeziness with which you can encounter major landmarks in, say, Rome for example - stumbling upon a Trevi Fountain here, or the Colosseum there.

I always thought Paris was a sprawling beast of a city and visiting it was quite a serious business.

Cormac outside Notre Dame
Cormac outside Notre Dame

Every landmark seemed to require a trip to a specific Metro stop and then a walk - perhaps only a brief one - but certainly with no sense of a casual stroll accidentally revealing the city's treasures.

I am now quite sure this is simply incorrect, particularly in the age of Google maps. But it depends on having a good base. And, of course, location is everything.

There could be few better than the small but perfectly formed Le Roch Hotel and Spa, a 37-room boutique hotel tucked away off in the heart of the city. Located in the 1st arrondissement between the Place de l'Opera and the Place Vendome, it is a little bit of luxury but with a modern, chic and personal touch.

The rooms are stunning and you could simply be tempted to leave Paris outside and enjoy your luxury surroundings, with smart technology and beautiful decor. But then that would be to miss out on the opportunity to explore and benefit from the local knowledge of the superb concierge team.

Want to stroll to dinner without really having to worry about a reservation and perhaps hop around a few bars to soak up the atmosphere?

No problem - they know just the place. Try L'Absinthe or Ecluse or any of the other restaurants and bars around the corner on the Place du Marche.

Want to stay put in the hotel and relax? Eat lunch or dinner in the restaurant (depending on the night) and cap it off with an excellent fireside cocktail.

Prefer to go 'classic tourist' and hope to get yourself into a popular eatery at no real notice? No problem - they can make a call. That is their job, of course, but they make it seem a pleasure.

And then, to cap it all, if you can find a moment, you can burn off some energy in the basement gym - or take a more relaxed view and go for a swim and steam in the spa. Bliss. So with the base sorted, the rest was up to us.

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We woke on a crisp autumn Monday, ate a relaxed breakfast and decided to take in the sights. It was going to have to be a case of taking in some the classics. So, off to Notre Dame Cathedral. As you do.

But it is worth pausing to consider that this stroll is really a journey to the heart of the history of the city.

The majestic cathedral (there are huge numbers queuing, some pilgrims, some tourists) is located on the Ile de la Cite, the island on the Seine first inhabited over 2,000 years ago by Celtic tribes, one of which - the Parisii - gave their name to the city, according to the guide book I had bought in any case. (Yes, I know, I bought a guide book. And only read about two pages.)

To arrive on Ile de la Cite we crossed the Seine over the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris.

Strolling back, on the far bank of the Seine, you can cross any number of bridges whose names sound remarkably familiar - and you find yourself outside the Musee du Louvre, the building housing the most famous collection of art in the world, which still seems like something of an understatement.

The Louvre is simply remarkable. Remarkable because of the sheer volume of people moving through it. Remarkable because of the scale of what it promises; it is not so much a gallery as a city block.

Remarkable because when it comes to it, you find yourself confronted by the Venus de Milo, simply right there, right in front of you.

But be clever. Book your tickets online. It saves on most of the queuing. Download the app, which promises to guide you around the labyrinthine galleries and floors. But be warned: you are likely to experience some loss of mobile data due to the sheer volume of visitors - and then find yourself lost. But that's all part of the fun and you will escape eventually.

It is somewhat obligatory to see the Mona Lisa but at busy times (yes, we timed it badly), the room is thronged and most visitors queue up not to pause and contemplate da Vinci's masterpiece, rather, they simply have their photograph taken in front of the portrait bearing perhaps the world's most famous smile (it changes, depending on where you look). So, of course, we did that too.

There is quite a bit of that - standing in to have your picture taken with a famous landmark or cultural artefact in the background - but then it is Paris.

And you simply have to find a cafe and sit and watch the impossibly stylish and elegant world go by.

We also chose a classic tourist moment and ate in Cafe De L'Homme, located in the Musee De L'Homme on the Place de la Trocadero, looking over the Eiffel tower.

The tower, with its spectacular light display every hour, is just a short stroll away and even with high winds closing its higher reaches that night, it still felt like an essential stop-off on our short hop to Paris.

But, while the city is more accessible on foot than I had thought, neither is it small. And it was the autumn. And it was rather cold. So we got a taxi back to the hotel for a nightcap. Time, after all, is short. And time during a weekend away in Paris is particularly precious.

Getting there

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Le Roch - perhaps the chicest hotel bar in Paris
 

Aer Lingus flies to Paris from Dublin and Cork, operating four daily flights from Dublin and a daily service from Cork. Fares start from €39.99 one-way including taxes and charges. Visit aerlingus.com.

* Cormac stayed at Le Roch Hotel & Spa www.leroch-hotel.com

* Special winter event: Chatka - Le Roch's Slavic Hut, a cosy and cheerful haven nestled on Le Roch's terrace. Available for aperitifs and dinner for 6-8 guests, from Tuesday to Saturday night.

For information, please email : events@leroch-hotel.com

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