Paris might not seem an obvious destination for a winter weekend break, but in fact it is one of the best times to visit. Tourist numbers take a tumble which means the city’s highlights are far more accessible. While the weather may veer from sparkling winter sun to cold, windy, showers, the city’s treasures remain constant.
Let it rain while you wonder at the talent of Impressionist artists at the Musée d’Orsay or marvel at the skill of ancient Egyptian craftsmen at the Louvre. Once you have filled your soul with the rich joy of masterpieces and your brain with the wonders of antiquities, fill your belly. Linger over a lazy lunch in a cosy bistro or dine decadently in sumptuous rooms. The winter will fade away.
This is our Winter Itinerary on a recent trip. To make the most of the museums consider buying a Paris Museum Pass. It is very satisfying to walk past the ticket queue and straight into the museum.
The pools and puddles left by the rain started to shimmer in the warm winter sun as we strolled across the cour Napoleon. A queue of hardy tourists was snaking around the Louvre’s glittering glass pyramid. We expected to join a similar queue outside the Musée d’Orsay. However, to our delight there was no queue. We strolled into the museum and spent a wonderful afternoon admiring some of the finest impressionist artwork in the world. Click here for tips to make the most of your visit.
Dinner was a decadent affair at Verjus. The restaurant is owned by an American couple who came to Paris looking for a new life. Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian started an informal supper club, from their apartment, to make friends and meet people. The club was hugely successful and now, almost nine years later, they have a wine bar and two restaurants.
Verjus is a candle-lit restaurant of wooden tables and chairs, simply decorated with vases of seasonal meadow flowers. There are no choices, just the day’s tasting menu. We decided to go with the wine pairings. Starting with a glass of champagne and canapes, we devoured a total of six courses which included octopus, scallops, endives, chicken and pear cake. It was all wonderfully cooked and each course expertly combined to create flavourful plates of food. The wine pairings were particularly intriguing. Each wine was from a small producer chosen for it’s provenance as much as for its taste. A fabulous way to learn about and taste some very unusual wines.
As dark grey rain clouds drifted overhead we made our way to Saint Chapelle, the city’s famous medieval gothic chapel. Last May, a seven year restoration of the magnificent stained glass windows was completed and we wanted to see the results. Despite the grey day, light filtered through the glass casting pools of colour around the floor. It was uplifting and captivating.
Lunch was another decadent affair. Through some diligent research and a little serendipity we had managed to get a booking at Le 28 by Ferrandi, one of France’s leading culinary schools. The restaurant is an opportunity for the students to practice their cooking and serving skills.
Arriving at the college, a rather indifferent receptionist pointed us to a lift. The restaurant is on the top floor, but the lift couldn’t take us all the way. We got off the floor below and wandered the corridors before finding the stairs. Once we reached the restaurant, it was a more professional affair. The room was spacious, light and beautifully decorated.
There was quite a wait before someone came to take our first order, but once underway things ran more smoothly. We started with champagne and canapes, followed by four courses including cheese. The food was beautifully cooked and presented, the service was sincere but a little rough around the edges. The most interesting course was flambéed tangerines – a mouthful of tangy sweet juicy flesh. It was unusual and scrumptious. The waiting staff were friendly and open, happy to talk about their studies and work experiences. We had a wonderful time.
To walk off our meal, we headed to the Musée Marmottan. Situated on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, the museum has a collection of antique furniture and fine art, including paintings by Monet bequethed by his second son. The museum is housed in a former hunting lodge. It is small museum with an interesting collection. The basement has been converted into a dedicated gallery for Monet’s work.
On a showery Saturday morning we braced ourselves to join the multitudes heading for the Louvre. It was early and the queues were already long. Thankfully, we were able to join the shorter queue for ticket-holders. After a brief wait, we were in and away. We made our way to Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, followed by the Venus d’Milo. It was sad to see people more interested in taking a selfie for their Facebook page, than admiring or understanding the artwork before them.
The ground floor was very busy so we made our way to the third floor Painting wing. It was peaceful and easy to enjoy the exhibits. Click here for out top tips on making the most of your visit.
For lunch, we headed to Angelina on rue de Rivoli. The restaurant was founded in 1903 and is now a Paris institution known for its patisserie and in particular hot chocolate. Our lunch was disappointing. We had a croque monsieur which was simply a reheated bland and dry sandwich. The hot chocolate was rich and sickly. The ornate, gilded dining room is impressive, but the overall experience was not worth the wait or the cost.
Dinner by contrast was our final decadent affair. Hexagone is the first restaurant by a second generation of Michelin star chefs. Chef Mathieu Pacaud is the son of three Michelin star chef Bernard Pacaud and wife, Danielle. Having worked in his father’s business for a number of years, Pacaud decided to launch his own fine dining restaurant with a fun, relaxed atmosphere. The decor is simple, elegant chic. A giant mural of grasses winds its way across the walls. It took over eight months to complete and is stunning.
We started with a cocktail in the elegant bar. The barman expertly and patiently went through the list of house cocktails. We opted for the Beau Brammel, a French take on the negroni – served in two glasses to be sipped in succession – and the Hexagone, a fruity punch served in a pitcher. They were both unusual and delicious.
For dinner, we moved into the elegant and comfortable dining room. Opting for the Hexagone menu, we feasted on four courses including: foie gras, crayfish, scallops, John Dory, chicken and lamb. Each course was beautiful. Sometimes too pretty to eat! But of course, we did eat it and it was delicious. The staff were friendly, relaxed and helpful. They even cracked a few jokes and chatted about the differences between Paris and London. It was like having dinner with friends.
We saved the best for our last day. The Musée des Arts décoratifs on rue de Rivoli is the city’s design museum. For anyone interested in design, craft and interiors it is a treasure trove of inspiration, ideas and learning. Click here for the full review.
We spent the afternoon mooching around the Marais, an eclectic mix of quirky, independent boutiques, long-standing deli’s, new falafel kiosks and trendy chain stores. The narrow, meandering streets of the neighbourhood are a welcome relief from the grand boulevards of the Opera district. Parisiens were out for Sunday lunch: old ladies in heels, fur coats and sunglasses dodged teenagers on bikes, while bored children skirmished outside chic shops waiting for otherwise engrossed parents.
For lunch we found Robert et Louise, an small, unassuming neighbourhood institution. Walking past the throbbing heat of the open-flame BBQ we settled at a communal table. We started alone, but were soon joined by a French couple and a Japanese mother and daughter. We picked old favourites: pork country paté and confit duck. It was reliably delicious – the only hiccup being cold potatoes. The Japanese couple were considerably more adventurous with a starter of escargot. Through fragments of different languages and hand gestures we learnt that they were enjoying their culinary adventure.
Sadly, it was time to head home. Despite ticking lots off our ‘to do’ list, there was still plenty left undone. We hope to be back soon. No matter the time of year, Paris lifts the spirits.
After the terrorist attacks in November, France remains under a state of emergency. In Paris, there is a strong security presence. Armed soldiers are stationed outside key buildings and all museums have airport style security measures. However, daily life continues as normal and the security measures do not detract from the joy of visiting this beautiful city. In fact, the extra security seems to have deterred the bands of pickpockets and scammers that have for years blighted some areas of the city.
Feature image by Loic Lagarde on flickr