Steve Lodge offers a guide to Europe's most famously romantic city
Wednesday 13 November 1996
Early spring is the traditional time for couples to go a-schmoozing in Paris, but the city is always romantic. But when it comes to upping the romance factor, where to go and what to do? Here are some tips:
Go lingerie shopping with your belle. The French do take their underwear seriously: there are whole boutiques devoted to the stuff, so buying it is a lot more intimate than your average Marks & Spencer experience. It can be expensive - pounds 60-plus for a two-piece is not unusual - but is very well made. Two shops with a good range of styles are La Storia (4, rue de Sevres) near St Sulpice, and Liane, on the Right Bank towards Bastille at 10, rue Saint-Antoine. The charmingly named Ci Dessous (Under Here), near La Storia (48, rue du Four), is more sporty.
If not lingerie, buy your belle (or beau) a single rose, carnation or the like, from one of the big flower markets. The one in Place Lepine, close to Notre Dame on the north side of the Ile de la Cite, is open six days a week (Sunday is caged animals) until 7pm, although it's best to go much earlier.
Go for a seductive afternoon stroll public jardins. Jardin du Luxembourg near the Sorbonne beats Jardin des Plantes on the south side of the river from Bastille. Plantes is quite Kew Garden-ish, while Luxembourg - ignoring a predatory species of French male that seems to stalk lone women in the park - has a more relaxing air, with random chairs for the bookish and for smoochers.
The Tuileries Gardens next to the Louvre should be reserved for the early evening (the gardens close at 7.30pm) when the museum closes. The Tuileries' swoon value comes from its sweeping views of illuminated Paris "sites" - the Louvre and its pyramid, the Musee d'Orsay (formerly a railway station, now home to Impressionist paintings), the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.
As to the Louvre itself, the Mona Lisa may be its most famous inhabitant, but for sensuality try the statue room. Look for Michelangelo's esclaves (slaves at their most physical) and Pysche ranimee par le baiser d'amour (Cupid up to his tricks again).
Walk the river. You can get down on to the banks of the Seine and way from the traffic for much of its length. Alternatively, browse along les bouquinistes, the little bookstalls that line the riverbank road. Extra romantic brownie points for being there in a light drizzle.
Go to a concert or church service. The listings magazine Pariscope has details. If you just want the atmosphere, you may prefer sneaking into a Mass - 7pm Saturday in Notre Dame and at various times on Sunday.
Take a bateau-mouche (riverboat). These overlit hulks are more romantic than they look. You go on an hour-long boat trip, and the idea is to take it at night. You might wish for a little less of the commentary, but the views of well-lit monuments and buildings make it more than worthwhile. If you need any excuse to get romantic, the commentator will inform you of the tradition to have a snog and make a wish as you pass under Pont Marie. Boats go from next to the Pont Neuf (as in the film Les Amants de Pont Neuf), and elsewhere.
Eating, of course. The French reputation for gastronomie is a great excuse for feeding each other under the pretext of a simple tasting exercise. Order one dessert and don't be surprised if you're brought two spoons.
For romantic blow-outs, recommended restaurants are Le Petit Prince (12, rue de Lanneau, in a quiet lane just round the back of the Sorbonne, telephone 43 54 77 26) - great Kir Royales and about pounds 55 for two - and Les Bouchons de Francois Clerc (12, rue de l'Hotel Colbert, close to the river on the Left Bank near Notre Dame, 43 54 15 34). Les Bouchons' claim to fame is selling wine and bubbly at "cost" price - but your meal will still probably cost you pounds 60 or pounds 70 or more for two.
Hotels, finally. Small cosy hotels (with romantic features such as steep windy staircases and long windows) that are centrally located and that won't break the bank (say pounds 40-plus a night) are not hard to find. A selection are recommended in The Rough Guide to Paris (pounds 7.99) and the new Cadogan Guide to Paris (pounds 12.99). My favourite is Hotel Saint Jacques at 35, rue des Ecoles, on the Left Bank (43 26 82 53).
By coach: a return trip to Paris with National Express (0990 808080) costs pounds 39. Leave from London's Victoria coach station (Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday) at 10pm and arrive in Paris, Avenue de Generale de Gaulle, at 7am the following morning. The price includes the ferry from Dover to Calais.
By train: a standard return on Eurostar from London's Waterloo station to the Gare du Nord costs pounds 79. If you can leave and return midweek (Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday), including staying Saturday in Paris, the price drops to pounds 59. Subject to availability. (Details 0990 300 003)
By plane: Standard fares from British Airways (0345 222111), bookable 14 days in advance, cost pounds 88.60 (including tax) on weekdays and pounds 98.60 at weekends. Flights leave from Heathrow to Orly and from Gatwick to Charles de Gaulle. Flights with Air France (0181-750 4066), which include spending a Saturday in Paris, cost from pounds 87.50 and go from Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle.
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