Somewhere For The Weekend: Indulgent Paris

A visit to the French capital is always delightful, says Cathy Packe, but factor in a chocolate festival and life doesn't get any sweeter. Go on, spoil yourself...


WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

From tomorrow until Sunday, Paris is celebrating chocolate, in all its forms. The Salon du Chocolat (00 33 1 45 03 21 26; www.chocoland.com) is an annual event held at the Carrousel du Louvre on the rue de Rivoli, in the centre of the city. There will be exhibitions, chocolate sculpture, chocolate face-painting for children, demonstrations by chocolate-makers and – most importantly, perhaps – opportunities to taste and buy the stuff. Tickets cost €10 (£6) for adults, €5 (£3) for children, and the Salon is open from 10am-10pm on Friday, until 8pm on Saturday, and until 7pm Sunday.

DOWN PAYMENT

Eurostar (08705 186 186; www.eurostar.co.uk) services from Waterloo will get you to the Gare du Nord in just over three hours. Return fares this weekend start at £240; (much cheaper fares are available if you book in advance). BA (0845 77 333 77; www.ba.com) and Air France (0845 0845 111; www.airfrance.com/uk) fly to Charles de Gaulle airport from a wide range of UK airports; Air France also flies from London City to both Charles de Gaulle and Orly. BMI (0870 60 70 555; www.flybmi.com) flies from Heathrow; Buzz (0870 240 7070; www.buzzaway.com) from Stansted, and bmibaby (0870 264 2229; www.bmibaby.com) from East Midlands. The airline claiming to offer the lowest fares is easyJet (0870 600 0000; www.easyJet.com) from Luton and Liverpool. Travelling out on Friday and back on Sunday, you might pick up a return ticket from Luton to Paris for £115. The easy way into the centre is on the RER, taking about 30 minutes and costing €7.70 (£5) each way.

INSTANT BRIEFING

The main tourist office is at 127 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, 8e (00 33 8 36 68 31 12; www.paris-touristoffice.com). Pariscope and L'Officiel des Spectacles, both available at newspaper stalls, have detailed listings. If you are going to use the Métro, it's cheaper to buy a carnet of 10 tickets. Serious sightseers can buy a Carte Musées et Monuments, which allows free entry to 70 of the city's attractions. Cards are valid for one day (€15, £9.50); three days (€30, £19); or five days (€45, £28), and are available from Métro stations, tourist offices, and also at the attractions themselves.

REST ASSURED

The Hôtel Costes (239 rue St-Honoré, 1er; 00 33 1 42 44 50 00; www.hotelcostes.com) is the trendiest place at the moment; it's also very luxurious. Rooms from €300 (£200). The elegance of the Marais district is best enjoyed from a room at the Pavillon de la Reine (28 Place des Vosges, 4e; 00 33 1 40 29 19 19; www.pavillon-de-la-reine.com). Rooms from €330 (£207). A lovely small hotel in a central location is the Hôtel Stendhal (22 rue Danielle Casanova, 1er; 00 33 1 44 58 52 52), which has been converted from the 19th-century writer's home. Rooms from €229 (£144).

MUST SEE

If you are familiar with the main sights of Paris and prefer to hang out with the locals, the 11th arrondissement, between the Place de la Bastille and the Avenue de la République, is the place to go. An area once avoided by tourists and Parisians alike, it is now one of the city's liveliest neighbourhoods. A more cultural indulgence is a visit to the Grand Palais (Place Clémenceau, 8e; 00 33 1 44 13 17 17; www.rmn.fr; open daily except Tuesday 10am-8pm, Wednesday to 10pm; entrance €8, £5). An exhibition of paintings by Constable has just opened here, the biggest collection of his work ever to be exhibited outside Britain, selected by Lucian Freud.Coinciding with the Salon du Chocolat, and in honour of the 500 years since Europe discovered chocolate, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (107 rue de Rivoli, 1er; 00 33 1 44 55 57 50; open Tue-Fri 11am-6pm; Weds to 9pm; Sat, Sun 10am-6pm) has a chocolate exhibition, too.

MUST BUY

For more luxury food, try either Fauchon (open 9.30am-7pm Mon-Sat) or Hédiard (open 9.30am-8pm, Mon-Sat), both in the Place de la Madeleine, 8e. A cheaper gastronomic option is the Grande Epicerie in the Bon Marché department store on the rue de Sèvres, 6e (Mon-Sat 9.30am-7pm).

MUST EAT

Among the many top-class restaurants in the centre of Paris, nine have three Michelin stars; one of the most popular of these is Taillevent, at 15 rue Lamennais, 8e (00 33 1 44 95 15 01; open Mon-Fri). Bofinger (5 rue de la Bastille, 4e; 00 33 1 44 18 98 39; open Tue-Sat 12-2pm and 7.30-10.30pm), the oldest brasserie in Paris, is still a stylish place for a night out. Founded in 1862, the elegant patisserie Ladurée in rue Royale, 8e (00 33 1 40 75 06 75; open Mon-Sun 7.30am to midnight; see website for other outlets: www.laduree.fr) is still famous for its fabulous cakes, macaroons and chocolates, and chic clientele. A more modern experience is dinner at Spoon Food & Wine (4 rue de Marignan, 8e; 00 33 1 40 76 34 37; open Mon-Fri 12-2.30pm and 7-11.30pm), the new, more affordable restaurant opened by the top chef Alain Ducasse. The elegant Train Bleu (Gare de Lyon, 12e; 00 33 1 43 43 97 96; open daily 11.30am-3pm and 7-11pm), with its belle époque decor, is one of the most romantic restaurants in Paris. It used to be where travellers would eat before boarding their train. And Angélina (226 rue de Rivoli, 1er; 00 33 1 42 60 82 00; open daily 9am-7pm, Sat and Sun to 7.30pm) serves the best hot chocolate in the city.

INTO THE NIGHT

The upstairs bar at Terence Conran's Alcazar (62 rue Mazarine, 6e; 00 33 1 53 10 19 99; Wed-Sun 8pm-2am) is a popular place for a late-evening drink, especially on a Friday night, when the atmosphere is particularly laid-back. For a really late-night experience, go clubbing at La Flèche d'Or (120 bis rue de Bagnolet, 20e; 00 33 1 43 72 04 23; Wed-Sun 10am-2am; Tue from 6pm).

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