Enjoy Paris without burning a hole in your pocket

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The Independent Travel
HOW TO GET THERE

1 Air on British Airways: London-Paris is the most competitive international air route in the world and, as a result, fares are low. Through your local branch of Lunn Poly, you can get a fare of pounds 69 (including tax) from Heathrow or Gatwick to Charles de Gaulle or Orly. This is not available direct from the airline, which charges pounds 6 more.

2 Air on Saturdays only: the same branch of Lunn Poly should be able to put you on Air India's Saturday flight from Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle, for a total of pounds 62 including tax - possibly the cheapest 747 flight in the world.

3 Direct train: Eurostar (0345 881881) from Waterloo to Gare du Nord. The getaway fare of pounds 59 from Waterloo to the Gare de Nord requires you to spend a minimum of three nights away, and is not available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It is on sale until 28 March. Fares rise to pounds 79 thereafter, if you stay away a Saturday night or three nights. The fare is exactly the same from Ashford, 60 miles nearer Paris, and the only benefit you get is free car-parking (offer applies until the end of the month).

4Train and ferry: British Rail International (0171-834 2345) sells a pounds 55 return ticket for the Charing Cross-Dover-Calais-Gare du Nord trip. The journey takes a shade over nine hours, not least because of the bus connections required at either port.

5Bus and ferry: Eurolines (0990 143219) will get you from London to Paris and back for pounds 29, sailing Dover-Calais by ferry. You must travel out and back on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday on the 9am service (scheduled to arrive in Paris at 6pm French time, in London at 4pm British time,but may be later). The offer is barred over Easter and the late May bank holiday. Return any time within a month.

6 Hitch-hike: take advantage of the fact that motorists can take any number of passengers through the Channel tunnel without paying extra. Cost: pounds 0 (in theory at least); time: indeterminate, but allow at least eight hours. Where to stay... 1Grand Hotel Malher, 5 rue Malher, 4e (42 72 60 92). Metro: St-Paul. The sad little sign by the door, reading "We survived the last three months of `95 by chance", shows how tough the winter has been for Parisian hoteliers. On an opulent edge of the Marais, the Malher was previously a low-budget hotel that has been renovated and enhanced. Single 470F, double 570F.

2Hotel de la Place des Vosges, 12 rue Birague, 4e (42 72 60 46). Metro: St-Paul. Quiet, prim, and close to the handsome symmetry of Place des Vosges. Single 315F, double 425F.

3Hotel du Senat, 22 rue St-Sulpice, 6e (43 25 42 30). Metro: Mabillon. For 601F single or 642F double (breakfast included) you get a big, clean room with a fine balcony and expansive bathroom; more modest rooms are available for around 100F less. Close to St Germain, in a part of town that is too often overlooked.

4Hotel du Centre, 24bis rue Cler, 7e (47 05 52 33). Metro: Ecole Militaire. The name is misleading, as it is a long hike from the city centre. But rue Cler is a lively pedestrian street, in an area with a pleasing sense of community - more like a provincial village than a Parisian arrondissement. Rooms for 350F, single or double.

5 Marais, 2 bis rue Commines, 3e (48 87 78 27). Metro: St-Paul. In the real heart of the city, reliable value at 360F single, 390F double.

6Hotel St Paul, 43 rue Monsieur-le-Prince, 6e (43 26 98 64). Metro: Odeon. The reception area is lavished with Haute Epoque furniture, and guarded by the hotel cat. Each room has a bathroom, TV and minibar. The lowest "rack rate" is 480F single, 550F double, but I secured a discount of 100F just by asking.

Hotel Savoy, 5 rue Jarry, 10e (47 70 03 72). Metro: Chateau d'Eau. A short walk from the Gare du Nord, the Savoy is nothing like its namesake in London. This version is all peeling wallpaper and creaking floorboards, but a hot shower is included in the rate of 110F single, 140 double.

Breakfast

Rachinel patisserie, 81 rue Saint-Antoine, 4e (Metro: St Paul). This busy, narrow bakery doubles as a cafe, and needs a choreographer to shuffle customers queuing for baguettes as others sup vats of cafe au lait. The mouthwatering selection of cakes and croissants is sold at shop prices, so you can set yourself up for the day for as little as 25F.

Elevenses

If you've travelled on the first Eurostar train of the day, it will deposit you in good time for a coffee and croissant for 10F at the Cote Cafe, by platform 19 of the Gare du Nord - opposite the tourist office.

Lunch

Chartier, 7 rue du Faubourg-Montmartre (Metro: Rue Montmartre). Big, busy and in the fast lane of the tourist trail, but a good venue for midday fuel. Turn-of-the-century decor and waiting staff.

Aperitif

Cafe l'Industrie, corner of rue St Sabin and rue Sedaine, 11e (Metro: Bastille). This is the Parisian cafe you always hope you'll stumble upon: a welcoming haunt, decorated with monochrome photographs and oil paintings. The ambiance attracts a trendy crowd these days, and a beer is now 18F, but treat yourself prior to some economy dining.

Dinner

Le P'tit Gavroche, 15 rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie, 4e (tel 48 87 74 26; Metro: St Paul). Dine between 7 and 10pm, and a 48F menu in the centre of Paris (and the middle of the gay area) can be yours. On Wednesday I enjoyed a generous plate of crudites that would have cost 48F alone in many Parisian restaurants, followed by a delicate French version of shepherd's pie and a hearty bread pudding. You need to swallow a half-litre flagon of house Gamay, price 28F, to break the pounds 10 barrier.

Digestif

Majestic Cafe, 34 rue Vielle du Temple, 4e. A short step in the direction of the Seventies brings you to the handsome mirrors, elegant woodwork and garish lighting of the Majestic, which styles itself "Bar Rock" and plays Bolan and Bowie loud to prove it. Less rowdy options line the same street. What to see.. 1Pere Lachaise cemetery: terrorist scares in Paris have impacted on this celebrity cemetery. Some gates are closed for security reasons, so the Metro station nearest an entrance is Gambetta rather than Pere Lachaise itself. The main attraction is the lead singer of the Doors; Jim Morrison died in Paris in 1971, following a toxic cocktail of drugs. "Let's just say I was testing the bounds of reality" reads one scrawled testimony. Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde are relegated to supporting acts, but a two- hour guided tour (Tuesday and Saturday, 2.30pm, 35F) puts the place in its proper, theatrical and tragic perspective. Open 8am-6pm.

2Jardins de Luxembourg: a Left Bank oasis, populated by students from the Sorbonne, civil servants and serendipitous tourists.

3Galeries Lafayette: head through the perfume counters, and Art Deco splendour, to the self-service restaurant atop this grand magasin -one of the best free views of the French capital.

4Notre Dame: unless you insist on travelling to the top of this great Gothic confection, you can explore freely. The square outside is a terrific place to watch the weird touristic world go by.

5Centre Georges Pompidou: Richard Rogers' and Renzo Piano's assault on Beaubourg still startles, even though half is under wraps and renovation. The centre, and its suspended elevator, opens from noon (10am at weekends) to 10pm - but stays closed on Tuesdays and on 1 May.

6Virgin Megastore: the logo is familiar, but any resemblance between the Virgin Megastore in Paris and a British record shop ends at the front door. An over-enthusiastic staircase ushers you upwards to a chintzy salon purveying Piaf and Pink Floyd. Open 10am (Sundays: noon-midnight.)

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