Travel: The city of height

Forget the Seine or sidewalk cafes, you get the best views of Paris from above.

The observatory at the top of the Samaritaine department store hasn't changed since I was last there 20 years ago - or for that matter, since it was built in 1926. I clattered up a spiral staircase just wide enough for one person, into a glass and iron bubble like Captain Nemo's conning tower - and climbed out into a heady view of Paris. But this is the city's heart, not head; its arteries and organs radiate out from here as boulevards and grey mansard roofs shading distantly into purple.

La Samaritaine is an archipelagian department store, interlinked by bridges. Alongside, the roof of another Samaritaine building resembles a barge, all riveted lead and battened-down hatches. Beside it pours the petrol- blue Seine, bustling with bateaux mouches.

I remembered a circular ceramic panorama running all the way around the viewing platform, and it is still there, unchanged, disdaining to acknowledge upstarts like the Centre Pompidou, which protrudes like a binful of discarded computer parts a few blocks away. The painted panorama gives names to the spires and tree stumps that surround you - Montmartre, Pere Lachaise, Bois de Boulogne - as well as useful information such as the exact direction and distance of Moscow.

The secrets of the Parisian skyline have a fin de siecle charm, preserved by strict regulations on roof height. Up here, Jules Verne meets Tintin; it is not hard to imagine fleeing villians with mackintosh-clad heros in hot pursuit, clambering across a landscape of skylights, iron ladders and chimney pots.

Mind you, I used to live under one of those pretty mansard roofs - six flights up a urinous staircase - in a chambre de bonne, or "maid's room", under the Eiffel Tower. In summer the flat was so hot under its lead skin that on sunny days you got out by 10am or risked baking alive. The roof inclined at 45 degrees across the room, so that you could only stand up near the door. You did the washing-up kneeling by the sink in an attitude of prayer, or standing with your head sticking out of the sloping window. And the Tower loomed in the sky, a metal mantis.

The Eiffel Tower provides the highest view in Paris. I had not been up there for 20 years, either, and I remembered climbing to the top. Now, you are only allowed to climb to the "first floor", and to do that you have to queue for half an hour at just one of the tower's four corners, and no signs tell you which one it is and, when after trying the shut and shuttered Information Point you ask in the shops for help, haughty Frenchwomen wrapped in tatty foxfurs scream at you like caricature concierges from a Forties film.

But when you start to climb into that iron vortex - ah! Elegantly flung iron beams cartwheel around you, a Futurist painting come to life. How satisfying it is to work for the reward of seeing Paris fall away from you, how superior you feel to those whose need for instant gratification impelled them into the lift. Then you reach the first floor, and have to join them for a 30-minute scrum to get into the lift to the top.

Parisians tend to despise the Tower, scorning the notion of participating in an Italo-Japanese mob just to look at their own city. Gastronomes with large credit limits have an alternative: the Jules Verne restaurant on the first floor has a private lift.

But the view from the top is magical. It is not so much a bird's-eye view as a pilot's view from the gondola of an airship. For this chamber of iron plate and plate glass is the apotheosis of an epoch. A sequence of posters shows the Tower's involvement in everything from wireless telegraphy to air races, and there is an exhibition of magnificent ancient aero engines. You are enveloped by an age when technology was unambiguously for the moral and material Progress of Mankind.

The latest Parisian high is at the Institut du Monde Arabe. Its top-floor deck provides a restaurant and open-air cafe with fine views across the Seine to the south-eastern elevation of Notre Dame. The building represents a contemporary Gallic aesthetic; its southern facade Islamically eschews figurative decoration, and opts for a geometric pattern made from thousands of electrical motors sandwiched between plate glass. The entire wall is a living optic, its irises forever expanding and contracting to regulate the ingress of light, and so the inside temperature. Alas - according to an architect friend of mine - the cost of servicing all those little motors is beyond the limited budget of the Institut, and the eyes are frozen in mid-squint, gathering oily fur.

From the Institut, I crossed the Seine to climb the towers of Notre Dame. The gargoyle-framed views are marvellously evocative and here, high among medieval timbers, the guide invites you to do a Charles Laughton and bong one of Quasimodo's babies. "Jacqueline, Gabrielle, Thibauld, Marie!" The bells, the bells!

The weekend's penultimate Parisian high was Montmartre's Basilica of the Sacred Heart. I vividly recalled my last visit here: the newly installed Pope John Paul, engaged in his phenomenal world rock tour, visited Paris to uplift the masses in Montmartre. And I - no Catholic, but seduced by his pop-star appeal - clawed my way to the front of the crowd. In our thousands we basked in his charisma, and exhortatory platitudes rang out across the night-time roofs of Paris.

Now, it was twinkling night-time again, and too late to climb up into that oddly elongated cupola.

The Parachou restaurant provided a fittingly climactic view across the city, so seductive that time flew and suddenly I was late for the Eurostar.

I ran down through empty, curving cobbled streets until I managed to hail a cab in seedy Pigalle ( I once lived here, too, in a street of satin- frocked transvestite prostitutes). Most taxi drivers love to be asked to drive like hell. As the car screeched around comers and drove the wrong way down one-way streets, I experienced the weekend's last, and most adrenal high.

The Dorling Kindersley Paris guide is good on views. `Park Mode d'Emploi/ Users Guide', free from the Office de Tourisme de Paris, is also informative

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin