So many songs have been devoted to Paris in the springtime but, for me, September is a fantastic month to visit. The main holiday season is waning so there are fewer tourists, it’s a little cooler so much better for walking and taking in the sights, and it’s likely that the only children you’ll have as flight companions are the under-fives.
My husband, Bob, and I were delighted when our daughter, Hayley, said she could join us on our trip to Paris this year.
We flew from Manchester to Charles de Gaulle airport, bought our train tickets and, in no time, we were at Gare du Nord. Hayley had travelled by Eurostar from London and once reunited we three happily trundled our small wheelie cases to La Chaufferie, a brasserie, yards from the station. We discovered the establishment a few years ago and it never disappoints. After our restorative croques and wine, we travelled by métro (underground) to Châtelet, where we had booked an apartment on the rue St-Denis.
Rue St-Denis is one the oldest streets in Paris and even gets a mention in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. It traverses two arrondissements (quarters, of which Paris has 20) and we stayed on the slightly more genteel southern half of the street, in the 1st Arrondissement, near to the rue de Rivoli.
We were to stay in Paris for a couple of nights before our trip by train to the Champagne region, where we were to visit Reims and Epernay – but first, a few days of reliving past memories and making new ones. My husband had never visited the Louvre, although we had passed the building many times on our way to the rue de Rivoli, and so I took the opportunity of introducing him to the Mona Lisa. Art is subjective and whilst many people are initially disappointed by the size of the painting, after a few moments standing and gazing at this very famous lady with her enigmatic smile, perhaps she draws you in; although you know she will never part with her secret.
There are of course thousands of other exhibits. The origin of the Louvre dates back to the 1200s. Once a royal residence, it became a museum in 1793 during the French Revolution. The collections are displayed over five levels with three interconnecting wings, each named after prominent figures from French history. There is Richelieu, chief minister to King Louis XIII; Sully, chief minister of King Henri IV; and Denon, who was the first director of the Musée du Louvre. I heartily recommend that you pick up a free museum map – they are red in colour and available in many languages.
For those who do not have the inclination to visit the museum exhibits there is always the underground shopping mall in the Carrousel du Louvre. The name refers to two nearby sites – the Louvre museum and the place du Carrousel. The mall contains a famous skylight, La Pyramide Inversée, which plays an important role in the best-selling book, The Da Vinci Code. My favourite shop is Maxims where they sell great chocolate and confectionary gifts at good prices, and if you are very lucky you will be treated to a free chocolate biscuit!
In my opinion, it is very difficult to have a bad meal in Paris, however it is quite easy to have an expensive one. While some people may wish to splash out on Michelin star restaurants or other famous rendezvous, as a family we would prefer to be able to go to Paris more often by eating inexpensively while we are there. We chose our apartment so that we could walk to St-Michel, commonly known as the Latin Quarter. We love it there and as yet have always come away replete and satisfied after a delicious three-course meal, including bread and a glass of wine, for twenty euros. We were very fortunate that one of our friends was staying at the Holiday Inn hotel in St-Michel and we were able to join him at the resident’s rooftop bar on the 9th floor. It might be a cliché but, for us, watching the September champagne-harvest moon rise over the Opéra, the Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur and all the beautiful Hausmannian buildings in-between, for us, it does not get much better than that.
Our one concession to not ‘splashing out’ was our planned visit to Le Train Bleu at Gare de Lyon station. This is still known to some as the Gare de Lyon Station Buffet, however its name was changed to Le Train Bleu in the 1960s. It is certainly like no station buffet I have ever visited. The station was built in 1900 for the Paris Exhibition and the décor of the rooms is in the distinctive style of the Belle Epoque period. There are 41 paintings, each portraying a different scene from the beautiful sites along the old railway network or from famous events in the 1900s. For me, the thought that Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot, Jean Cocteau and many famous celebrities might have enjoyed these paintings as much as me was very thrilling.
My two favourites were the paintings of Villefranche-sur-Mer and of Monaco by Frédéric Montenard. My enjoyment was only surpassed by the refreshments we were served. The silver teapot containing camomile flowers for Hayley’s herbal tea, our cappuccinos and the dainty madeleines served alongside might have cost us around 10 Euros each but we were captivated by the charms of the atmosphere and the impeccable service. All too soon our step back in time was over and we were back into the modern world outside.
For me, Paris is the prettiest city in the world.