If you're looking for some luxury to ease yourself through the dark days of winter, it could be time to visit the city of light. Kristina Ferris hops into a first-class Eurostar carriage and heads south for a bit of pampering

Why go now?

Why go now?

To lift your spirits: to be pampered, indulged, cosseted and surrounded with beautiful things and beautiful people. Head for the city that oozes flamboyance and charm. What is more, the sales here begin later than in the UK and carry on well into February - so retail therapy can complete a weekend of treats.

Touch down

The only way to travel is first class to Paris on Eurostar (08705 186 186, www.eurostar.com) from London Waterloo or Ashford to Paris Gare du Nord; your fare, which starts at £119 return, includes food and drink. You can fly from a wide range of UK airports to Paris Charles de Gaulle, from which the RER line B train takes half an hour to Gare du Nord. The fare of €7.85 (£6) also covers travel to the more central Châtelet-les-Halles or St-Michel RER stations, or to any Métro station in central Paris.

Get your bearings

The city is split by the Seine. The north, or right, bank was traditionally the richer, grander side, and the left, poorer and more avant garde. These differences have become blurred with time. Getting around is easy; within the central area, tickets for the highly efficient Métro, bus and RER cost €1.30 (95p) and a carnet of 10 tickets costs €10.50 (£7.50) - be warned that between 18-20 January, transport workers and other public sector staff may strike.

Check in

Money to burn? Head for the outrageously ostentatious Hotel Meurice overlooking the Tuileries at 228 Rue de Rivoli (00 33 1 44 58 10 06; www.meuricehotel.com), which has gilt, mirrors and murals everywhere. It also has a spa, too, so there's plenty of scope for pampering. Doubles start at €650 (£464), excluding breakfast. For more understated luxury, try the new, minimalist Hotel Esprit de Saint-Germain at 22 Rue Saint-Sulpice (00 33 1 53 10 55 55 www.esprit saintgermain.com) with its open fires, elegant decor, spa and gym. Doubles start at €260 (£186) without breakfast. More intimate is the Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais at 12 Rue Vieille-du-Temple (00 33 1 42 72 34 12 www.carondebeaumarchais.com). Named after the writer of The Marriage of Figaro, who lived on this street, its owners have recreated it in the style of a private Marais house.

Take a view

Aim for Montmartre. From Blanche Métro station, close to the Moulin Rouge, wind your way up cobbled streets and steep steps to Place du Calvaire where you may find a cellist busking and couples embracing on the steps. Move through the tourist throng in Place du Tertre to the Sacre Coeur church. Admission is €5 (£3.60); it opens 9am-5.30pm daily. If the slog up thenarrow stairway doesn't leave you puffing, the 360-degree view will take your breath away.

Lunch on the run

Patisserie Saint Preux at 13 Rue Lepic in Montmartre has large filled ciabbatas from €2.75 (£2), slices of pizza at €2.35 (£1.70); for dessert, a viennoise au chocolat is €1 (70p). Florence Finkelstajn at 24 Rue Ecouffes is a Jewish bakery in the Marais, where a giant onion roll filled with pastrami or turkey costs €7.50 (£5.40).

Take a hike

From one shopping district to another. Begin at the Marché St-Germain, a covered market that has a food hall and fashion chains such as Gap. Turn right on to Boulevard Saint Germain and left on to Rue de Seine with its street market selling speciality breads, pastries and sausages. This area was once home to artists, writers, galleries and bookshops, but now has Armani, Dior and Cartier. From Rue de Seine turn left on to Quai Malaquais and right across Pont du Carrousel to Cour Napoléon, where the Louvre surrounds you. Turn left onto the Rue de Rivoli, passing the Tuileries on your left and take a right on Rue de Castiglione which leads to Place Vendôme. The honeyed golden walls of this eight-sided 17th-century place are a fitting home to its present dazzling tenants: Van Cleef and Arples, Bulgari, and the Ritz.

Window shopping

You've seen the city's glitzy boutiques, now get down to business on Boulevard Haussman. In Printemps, which has a stunning Art Nouveau cupola, there are six floors of fashion plus the biggest beauty department in the world. But don't just buy the cosmetics, try them out first. Book a session with Elie Eric Bureau at the ground floor "beauty bar", where he will work his magic on you with a variety of innovative brands. What's more, Printemps offers a 10 per cent discount card to British shoppers, on top of its sale prices. If you didn't get a card with your Eurostar or plane tickets, go to the welcome desk on the ground floor with your passport to collect one. Open Mon-Sat, 9.35am-7pm, 10pm on Thursdays.

An aperitif

You're looking gorgeous now, so head to the classiest cocktail bar in town: Bar Hemingway. The wood-panelled walls and black-and-white photos of the man himself create a much cosier atmosphere than you would expect of a hotel as sparkly as the Ritz. What's more, the charm and attentiveness of barmen Pierre and Christophe are guaranteed to make you feel special. At €22 (£16) a dry Martini, complete with a fresh rose or orchid, is worth every cent. Don't order a Ritz Sidecar unless you are feeling reckless; made with 1835 Grande Fine Ritz Cognac, it costs around £400.

Dining with the locals

Mon Vieil Ami at 69 Rue St Louis en L'Ile (00 33 1 40 46 01 35) is an intimate, minimalist restaurant. For €38 (£27) you can dine on pâté, caramelised duck and tarte au chocolat. Boissonerie at 71 Rue de Seine (00 33 1 43 54 34 69) has an eyecatching blue fish mosaic exterior - a clue to the menu - and bare stone walls inside, with quirky fish sculptures hanging from the ceiling. For €29.50 (£21) you get mushroom and goat's cheese fricasse, roast red cod with shallots and chocolate terrine. Le Loir dans la Thiere (20) at 1 Rue des Rosiers (00 33 1 42729061) in the Marais is a warm, cosy, and very popular restaurant with wooden tables and ethnic art on the walls. Offerings include broccoli tart €8 (£5.70) and salad paysanne €9.50 (£6.80).

Take a ride

If it is late, cold and raining, ask your restaurant to book you a cab for an indulgent ride through Paris without the daytime traffic. Close to the top of each hour you will see the Eiffel Tower sparkling when its 20,000 lights are switched on. Your destination: l'Odéon. The theatre, built in 1779, is closed for renovation but the bars nearby will still be buzzing at 2am. Try the Café de Flore at 172 Boulevard St-Germain where Picasso and Jean Paul Sartre were regulars. Next door is Les Deux Magots, birthplace of surrealism.

Sunday morning: go to church

Eglise Saint-Germain de Pres on Place Saint-Germain de Pres is the oldest church in Paris, which dates back to 543. It's plain exterior contrasts with a sumptuous interior that was renovated in the 19th century; the blue ceiling scattered with gold stars is particlarly striking. Look for the funeral stone of René Descartes, who demonstrated his existence by thinking. It opens from 8am-7pm, with services at 12.15pm and 7pm. You may visit the church during the former but your tour will be confined to one part of the building.

Out to brunch

Ladurée at 16 Rue Royale is the original 1862 tea room in a chain of four, noted for its macaroons and gilded interiors. Tuck into omelette Ladurée for €9 (£6.40) or choose a mouthwatering pastry from the window display.

A walk in the park

Parc Monceau, has elaborate gilded gates, extensive lawns and 18th-century follies including an Egyptian pyramid and a Venetian bridge.

Cultural afternoon

What is more indulgent than being brought a cup of hot chocolate after you have finished a relaxing bath? See Degas' painting of this, La Tasse de Chocolat, at Musée d'Orsay at 62 Rue de Lille, 00 33 1 40 49 48 14. Look out also for his voyeuristic ballet paintings and his self-indulgent Seule. The building itself is impressive, too. Built in 1900, the Beaux Arts former Gare d'Orsay has an iron-framed roof with thousands of flower reliefs tiled across its ceiling. Admission is €7 (£5) - it opens 10am-6pm daily except Monday, with early opening on Sundays (9am) and late closing on Thursdays (9.45pm).

The icing on the cake

You've eaten lots of sweet stuff and tasted plenty of wine, so why not combine the two and slap them all over your body? The luxurious spa at the Hotel Meurice (00 33 1 44 58 10 77) offers Caudalie "Vinotherapie" treatments. Relax as your masseuse soothes you with a scrub of crushed grapeseed, honey and essential oils. A one-hour treatment costs €95 (£68); the spa opens 7.30am-10pm.