A nation with a £175bn black hole in its finances is surely a country worth abandoning. Never mind the Chancellor's bid to dampen our ardour for overseas travel by increasing Air Passenger Duty (which, handily, Mr Darling can also collect from foreigners, who have no votes).

We'll always have Paris, accessible by tax-free train from London. But from my experience in the City of Light this week, the collapse of sterling coupled with sharp price rises means you have your work cut out to enjoy the capital of the world's most popular country – touristically speaking – without vanishing into your own financial black hole.

We're all economists now, at least in terms of trying to eke out our meagre funds abroad. One piece of good cheer is that the lowest fare on Eurostar between London and Paris has fallen by an average of around 3 per cent annually since the Channel Tunnel opened, from £95 to £59.

Equally gratifying, the starting point has shifted from the busiest station in Europe, Waterloo, to the most beautiful in the world: St Pancras. Toast your good fortune at the self-styled "longest champagne bar in Europe"; justify spending £7.50 on a small glass of the house fizz on the only-slightly-spurious grounds that, in euro terms, the price has slipped from €10.50 on opening day in 2007 to a mere €8.25 today.

When your train arrives at the Gare du Nord (incidentally the busiest station in Continental Europe), your problems may only just be starting. Through the usually reliable LateRooms.com, I had booked a room in Le Chat Noir Design Hotel. The ninth arrondissement, in the ruffled skirts of Montmartre, has never been the most salubrious area of Paris. But when the establishment across the road from your hotel announces itself to be, in six-feet illuminated letters, a "SEXODROME", you know you have chosen the wrong part of town. And beneath a thin boutique veneer, the "Black Cat" was just an ordinary room in a slightly tatty two-star, and way overpriced at €120. Breakfast was not included, which meant I could splash out €8.50 on the full French in the Cafe Paris-Europe, just above St-Lazare station, then walk off the grande crème, juice, bread, butter and jam en route to my first appointment: the Eiffel Tower, the hard way.

The excellent new Rough Guide to France (11th edition, £15.99) is not published until next month, but already the information about admission to the ultimate Parisian icon is out of date. Three weeks ago the price for reaching the summit rose by a euro to €13. Impecunious Brits can keep the price to about the level that prevailed three years ago: pay €4.50 to climb the ornate iron staircase to the second level. You get the sense of clambering through a work of art while keeping fit.

No legal way exists of climbing to the very top level, so you have to pay €5 for the lift. But you are €3.50 up on the exercise – handy for later.

While the aptly named Société Exploitation Tour Eiffel raised prices, the Musée d'Orsay cut them: admission has fallen from €9.50 to €8, nearly matching the slump in sterling. I still looked longingly at the list of exemptions for this masterclass of Impressionism. Starting this month, all EU citizens under 26 get in free; just missed that one, then. Art critic? I know what I like, but can't produce a professional membership card. MEP? I wish. The rest of us, though, will always have the first Sunday of each month, when the Musée d'Orsay is free.

The Louvre offers the same Sabbath saving, but if you can't face the crowds then arrive after 6pm on Wednesday or Friday evening: you can stay until 9.45pm for €6 instead of the usual €9. Or turn up on Tuesday, when it is closed: you can't get in even if you're tempted, but you can gaze through picture windows into galleries empty of everything except exquisite art.

Tourists cannot live on bread alone, even if a fresh baguette remains a state-controlled bargain at €0.90. As financial fortune would have it, the city's newest hotel, Banke, is a Belle Epoque former bank. The property at 30 Rue La Fayette has been expensively transformed into a real design hotel, complete with a mosaic floor, marble columns the colour of fresh blood, plus imitation snakeskin toilets and a 15-foot-long gold velour sofa in the bar. I sat upon this affluent article and ordered what I believe to be my first-ever £5 coffee (including a tip, augmented when I learned I was the first customer of the day). But it arrived with chocolates, iced water and a smile. Good value, indeed.

Comments