The City of Love is exactly that. A place to fall in love, be in love and to see love all around. Our ardent traveler Dee Covey sets her sights for Paris with some unexpected results.
It’s midnight plus a couple of minutes on New Year’s and we’re sitting around the fire out back sipping bubbly Merciers.
“So, Baby, what do you want to do for your birthday?” says my long tall Texican about February 11, 2017, when the world is dark and damp in northern hemispheres or wet and sweaty in the lower latitudes. You see, my thoughtful Leo-in-control groom never wants to be caught flat-footed.
“Um, how about dinner in Paris?” I said with a wink and a smile, just kidding of course. My very literal guy, not really paying attention to the subtleties, gulped and missed the dog whistle. “Sure, but we can only go for a few days? I have a board meeting in Florida around then.”
Okay, so I jumped on the trusty mobile phone to check out the price of beaming over to the old world to celebrate another whirl around the sun. The Universe responded immediately with fluky results on the American Airlines website. Raising my brows, I flipped around the illuminated screen to show my fire-lit Francophile, whose first declaration of the year was “Book it.” A round trip ticket with excellent seating cost less than one-way anywhere domestically (but then, who flies from Miami to Paris in February?)
Neither of us had been to the City of Light in years, and we were now landing at Charles de Gaulle in the gloomy dead of winter. First, the Arrondissement. Paris is like New York, in that it is so many cities in one, and everyone has an opinion about which is the best and their favorite.
We all know it’s an utterly different experience to stay, for example, in Williamsburg than the West Village. Paris is even trickier for the decision-challenged, with so many signature places to be seen, and les arrondissements are laid out very, well, French. Instead of a grid with semi-logical numbers north to south and east to west, it’s a crazy/confusing snail that has something to do with the Seine, everything to do with history, and nothing at all to do with modern day logic.
It seemed that everyone had an opinion, too, which they passionately defended and virtually nobody was blasé. There were the haters (Parisians are such jerks!), the scaredy cats (Europe is dangerous) and the skeptical (it’s going to be frigid in February), but overwhelmingly there are people like me who are smitten with it and who love the city anytime, any way. Soon I was completely overwhelmed by the avalanche of “Oh you must…do/stay/eat/read” recommendations, links, reviews and other touchpoints. I had devoured so many helpful hints, travel content and Moleskine scribblings that I couldn’t keep it all straight.
RIGHT OR LEFT?
Go for swank on the Left or Right Bank, or trot far afield to find the newest nouvelle in cuisine and design. Moonlight in Paris, Anthony Bourdain or Linklater’s Midnights? Airy AirBnB on the super cute, but hushed Ille Saint Louis, or bijoux kitsch in the raucous Rive Gauche, like Hotel de Jobo? Try the lively 11th or 20th, or play it safe near the Champs d’Elysee? Hmm.
So, I finally did what any undecider would do. I waited until the last possible second and booked four nights and two vibes: A luxury suite at the famed and slightly old world L’Abbaye, with its roaring fireplace and pretty little bar, near the Left’s sumptuous Luxembourg Gardens in the St. Germaine-des Pres area of the 6th Arrondissement; and the other across the river in Le Marais, the Right’s stylishly romantic Pavillion de la Reine on the historic Place des Vosges in the 4th Arrondissement— a neighborhood and hotel red hot and trendy for all the right reasons.
Soon it was night-night on Flight 52 before landing at DeGaulle with thrills and chills—literally (but it’s not like we needed a dogsled.) We hopped in a taxi – better than Uber at the airport, I heard—and made our first surprising discovery, like a kiss that goes well on a first date. Our cheerful cab guy did not sneer at our raggedy French, question our American politics, or do anything but make happy haste to our destination, for only thirty euros.
Apparently, tourism has plummeted and the dollar is up. Paris, France is open, on sale and eager for company from across the pond. A much better value this year than, say, a destination long weekend anywhere in Texas.
Our plush digs were in a former monastery behind a lush and lovely wall, opening to a crackling blaze warming the lobby (L’Abbaye, 10 rue Casette). The superb staff took us straight to a breathtaking room with a glass-in sitting room. The early check-in meant our unbeatable anti-jetlag plan could move into immediate action: Stash stuff, early lunch, nap exactly 3.5 hours—set alarm! Take an oddball walking tour, hydrate, down the vin de table at an excellent neighborhood restaurant. Ramble home. We catch some Z’s by 11pm and dream of the perfect croissant ahead. Done.
We then wake up on the Big Day, taste reality (flawless,) and meet, yes, Remí.
Who? As a couple, our travel style is decidedly cross-cultural. I like spontaneous discovery and wandering; he prefers orientation and reservations. Retro Tour’s “Great Escape” seemed so perfect that I risked that it might be a complete waste of ninety minutes.
It wasn’t. Magnificently helmeted, goggled and lushly-bearded Remí, the utterly charming bilingual 30-something founder picked us up right on time on his vintage type motorcycle with a special elongated sidecar. I hopped on the back, while my long drink of water rode in the add-on compartment, which remarkably fit my husband. (He, in a leather jacket, wool scarf and six foot-four inches, lap-blanketed for the winter ride. Me, bundled up and extra snug clinging to our sueded hearty host.)
Remí delivered, radiating joy in a vehicle that is a showstopper itself. We hummed along wide boulevards and up narrow cobblestone lanes, across the Seine and down the quays, while our driver pointed out stunning arcades, hat shops, cafes, museums, sculptures, chocolatiers and curiosities along the way, including the not-to-be-missed Deyrolle. We saw Poulaine patisserie, Rue Mouffetard market, Shakespeare & Co and many promised “hidden gems” colored by sparkling wit and humor. We climbed hilly Montmartre and the lovely rue Lepic, and stopped at Sacre Coeur for its astonishing view, then discovered a secret city vineyard on the way back down.
I asked to be dropped anywhere Remí personally frequented, “on a pretty street in Saint Germain.” The boeuf bourguignon at his hangout, the bistronomic Chez Fernand (13 rue Guisard), made us weep.
Fast forward to my birthday “dinner in Paris” which was on the little known (to Americans) Le Calife, a magnificent glass-topped wooden boat built in 1939, which luxuriously cruises both sides of the Seine while capturing the Eiffel Tower at the height of its sparkle. This gasp-worthy dining experience was shared with Parisian couples who knew about Le Calife’s sensational food, wine and service… and its playlist, the best in the city. At 3 Quai Malaquais.
We capped the night (oh, why not?) with French 75s at the infamous Hemingway Bar at the Ritz hotel, and chatted up the alleged “world’s best bartender,” Colin Field.
Morning featured the giddy up to the historic and multi-faceted Marais district. I was prepared to be a good sport about the poor choice to move, but no need. My Austin pal, French/American expert Andra Millian was spot on with her brilliant recommendation of Pavillon de la Reine, dreamy and incredibly cool, as is the entire atmospheric neighborhood with its imaginative shops, inventive restaurants and narrow winding streets, like the wonderful rue du Rosiers flea market and L’As du Falafel.
We went to the Musee Picasso in a glorious Baroque mansion at 5 Rue de Thorigny, housing a retrospective of the Spanish master’s work and his collection of Cezannes, Miros and Matisses; and found the ideal authentic zinc bistro, Les Temps des Cerises a short walk away. Nearby is Huygens for custom natural cosmetics, Paul Marius for superbly crafted leather goods, and the Little Red Door speakeasy. Once we rounded a corner, happening upon ringletted newlyweds cramming the voluminously dressed bride into the teensy getaway car.
We laughed all the way to the Metro, willing to leave the Marais to try to get into the Louis Vuitton Foundation’s extraordinary Frank Gehry building. No reservation, no ticket? Wildly, no problem (exit stage left at Les Sablons.)
Days before our trip, with this story in mind, my editor sent me a The New York Times travel piece about the most enchanting walks in Paris, one of which was the Rue de Richelieu with a drawing of the little stairs to the exquisite Verjus, a small plate wonder at Number 52. When we were seated, I had no idea if the eager accented server was talking about the Sancerre or the saucier, but who cared?
As I gazed out the high louvered windows I thought, the City of Light still outshines everywhere else on the planet, and suddenly I knew it was really more the City of Love. Mais Oui! Paris will always be the right choice for me to love.
SIDE BAR ON LAST PAGE, VERTICALLY:
Puces de Saint-Quen market
BEST FLATS & BOOTS
Hugo & Victor
Le Café Marly
BEST WINE BAR
Costes Hotel Rooftop