The actual Tour de France finishes in Paris with a parade up the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, so this is where I will finish too.
I have visited the wonderful French capital more times than I can remember thanks to Eurostar. If Mrs Wilbur and I do not visit at least once a year, there is something very wrong.
There is nothing that I can write about Paris that you do not know already. The backdrop to hundreds of films really is a special place and as romantic a destination as they come.
We have stayed everywhere and done everything so I will just share a few of our favourites.
Favourite Area – Montmartre. Touristic yes, but at the same time local. The place has a village feel and we love just sitting in a cafe (including Amelie’s on Rue Lepic), drinking coffee and chatting/reading/writing/observing. Nice restaurants, brilliant foodie shops, the iconic Sacre Coeur, little art shops, great bars, antique windmills. Montmartre has them all, but the best activity is to just stroll to see what you see and feel what you feel. Marvellous.
Favourite Hotel – none. For a truly authentic stay in Paris, rent an apartment. We have rented a number of times from Bridge Street Apartments in Montparnasse, St Germain, Champs Élysées and of course Montmartre. You really do feel like a local high up in your home from home. Entering through a large black gate by typing in your entry code, skipping through the courtyard to the tiny lift that whisks you four floors up to your parquet-floored loft gives you the definitive “I live here” feeling. Top it up by shopping in a local market and preparing and consuming your purchases. An awesome feeling!
Favourite Free Activity – strolling. Walking alongside tree-lined Canal St Martin, promenading along the banks of La Seine, strolling through the central parks like Luxembourg and Jardin des Tuileries, meandering through the boutique and foodie lined streets of Marais or Île St Louis, there are dozens of iconic walks to choose from, each with their own unique Parisien flavour.
Favourite Restaurant – Aux Anysetiers du Roy, Île St Louis. We have long since given up looking for the elusive fabulous French cuisine in Paris. Our attempts have always finished up pretty disappointingly, even on the occasion that we pushed the boat out a little more than usual to take in Le Train Bleu inside Gare du Lyon. Beautiful environment yes, but the food was not much more than tourist fare. For classic French fodder in an unusual setting, we have returned time and time again to Aux Anysetiers. They stick pretty religiously to 6 starters, 6 mains and 6 desserts chalked up on a blackboard. Hot goat’s cheese salad or onion soup, boeuf bourgignon or coq au vin followed by crème brûlée or profiteroles accompanied by a quaffable red? Thanks very much. The setting is Bram Stoker Gothic, the prices very reasonable and the ambience is brilliant. The husband and wife owners make a great team – Madame cooks using fresh ingredients within view of your table while Monsieur flits around the tables fulfilling orders and pouring plonk. We now figure, why go elsewhere for our Saturday night meal?
Favourite Art Gallery -Musée D’Orsay. The Louvre may have the most famous paintings, but it also has the crowds to go with them. D’Orsay is situated on the Left Bank inside the absolutely splendid old Paris-Orleans railway station. Works by the likes of van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Le Trec, Renoir & Delacroix make a visit a very satisfying experience indeed.
Favourite Evening Entertainment – Jazz. For me Paris is synonymous with jazz and there is always stacks to choose from, some of which is even free. Whether your taste is for gypsy jazz, a chanteuse, acid jazz or traditional you will be well catered for. Check out Paris Jazz Club for listings and schedules. Favourite venues include the slightly touristy Sunset & Sunrise and Duc des Lombards, both situated in Chatelet, the entry for the price of a drink Le Blue Note (Metro – Château Rouge) and down to earth Autour de Midi…et minuit in Montmartre. Many of the venues have free midweek jazz nights consisting of jam sessions for talented musicians to just turn up and play.
Favourite ‘Tourist Activity’ – Cabaret. Glitzy and super-touristic Moulin Rouge is a must-do-once attraction, Le Carousel is a fun and intimate venue, Lido is right up there and many less famous cabaret venues exist throughout the City of Love. My favourite of the lot though is Crazy Horse. Decadent, trashy and great fun. All red velvet and polished brass. A few gin & tonics makes the evening go even more swimmingly! Cabarets are not cheap, but everybody should indulge themselves at least once.
So there you have it, a few personal favourites from the iconic French capital. What are yours?