It’s hard to take some time out in today’s high-pressure society.
Things seem to be moving faster than ever before and busy workers seem to be increasingly reluctant to take holidays longer than a week.
However, workaholics don’t have to miss out on rich and rewarding experiences just because they take short breaks.
My recent four-day trip to Paris was an almost non-stop feast of art and beauty from start to finish.
After a relatively quick and easy Eurostar journey from Kings Cross to Gare du Nord, my travelling companion and I decided to walk to our hotel instead of getting on the Metro. This efficient and inexpensive underground system is useful for those in hurry but walking is recommended if you truly want to get a feel for the city. It seems that every building in Paris has that unmistakable French look that consists of high windows and geometric designs on dusty beige stone and balconies with ornate black railings. It’s possible to spend hours just enjoying these aesthetically pleasing touches.
After dropping our bags off at Hotel De Lille – a pleasant two-star hotel on the south side of the Seine – my travelling companion and I took a circuitous route to the Eiffel Tower.
After crossing the Pont de la Concorde we walked up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, a road renowned for its superior selection of shops.
The sun went down as we approached the Arc de Triomphe, turning the white structure a gentle silvery blue, before the ground lights came on, bathing the archway’s carvings in a brilliant golden glow.
Night-time completely transforms Paris and it’s worth reaching the top of the Eiffel Tower just to see the city at night from above. Innumerable pinpricks of light shine and twinkle amid buildings that are almost hidden in darkness. The layout of the city is only revealed by a soft orange glow from the intersecting streets. Going to Paris in February means short lines and less daylight, so it’s an ideal month for people who want this experience. Wrap up warm, though, because night-time at the top of the tower is bitterly cold.
A brisk walk along the Seine warmed us up a bit, but not as much as the meal at Les Antiquaires. This comfortable restaurant near our hotel (rue du Bac) offered a range of delightful French dishes alongside simpler meals like burgers and steaks.
The next day, after a continental breakfast at Café des Beaux-Arts on the riverside, my travelling companion and I went to the Musée D’Orsay. This gallery, converted from a railway station, houses some of the most beautiful impressionist paintings in the world. Its collection includes works by Cezanne, Pissarro and Renoir, as well as pieces by the quintessentially Parisian painter Toulouse-Lautrec and, of course, art by Vincent van Gough. The building itself is a wonder to behold, its great arched ceiling offering a real spectacle for admirers of the art nouveau style.
The Musée D’Orsay isn’t a colossal museum like The Louvre, so afterwards my travelling companion and I had time to walk along the Seine to Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame Cathedral. The cathedral, mostly completed in the 14th century, is a true masterpiece of French Gothic architecture. Walking past the immense stone pillars and under pointed archways and hearing one’s footsteps echo against the medieval stone creates a sombre and otherworldly atmosphere. It sounds rather oppressive but light penetrates the gloom throughout the cathedral via colourful stained glass windows.
On the third day, my travelling companion and I walked to Montmartre. The Moulin Rouge is a surprisingly underwhelming sight but the rest of the area has its own unique charm. It’s arty, quaint and attractively scruffy.
I strongly recommend a trip to Café des 2 Moulins, which is immediately recognised by cinephiles as the café used in the heart-warming romantic comedy Amélie (a personal favourite). Fans will be happy to know that the owners haven’t changed the overall style since the movie was made and bar staff are friendly and down-to-earth.
It’s rewarding to spend some time exploring the picturesque streets and viewing the artwork on display, but Montmartre’s main attraction is the Sacré-Coeur. The oddly shaped domes make the structure look incredibly strange from outside. However, once inside, the Basilica has a serene feel and the design seems far more elegant.
My travelling companion and I arrived just in time to hear some of the nuns singing. ‘Heavenly’ seems the most appropriate word to describe the atmosphere they created.
Montmartre is one of the essential places to visit but it doesn’t take all day to see, so we decided to take the Metro – a speedy journey for €1.70 – to the Musée Rodin. The main attraction is The Thinker but there are many other astonishing sculptures to see, all apparently in some form of emotional turmoil or, at least, striking dramatic poses.
Our train didn’t depart for London until about 8pm on the fourth and final day so we decided to spend our remaining time in The Louvre. With about 35,000 pieces on show, this is a museum that demands an entire day to walk around.
We headed towards the Mona Lisa first and then covered the rest of the museum in a fairly systematic way, making sure to see the Venus de Milo before ending our visit in the luxurious state apartments of Napoleon III.
The Metro journey back to Gare du Nord wasn’t much fun, seeing as it was rush hour and everyone was squeezed into the carriages as tightly as possible.
However, my travelling companion and I were willing to put up with a few minutes of discomfort if it meant spending more time in The Louvre.
It could even be argued (probably by a Parisian) that being squashed into a train carriage is all part of a more ‘authentic’ Paris experience.
It’s almost a cliché to idealise Paris by reflecting on its character from afar, but it’s hard not to after only visiting the city for a few days.
Paris has a multitude of treasures and a mini-break encourages visitors to focus on those sights that are truly worth seeing.
An invigorating and intellectually stimulating experience, a four-day trip to Paris is ideal for travellers who want a small but transcendent taste of the finer things in life.
Our trip to Paris
Dates: Monday, February 10, to Thursday, February 13.
Journey (Eurostar) and accommodation: £226.95 (booked through expedia.co.uk.
Where we stayed: Hotel de Lille, 40 Rue De Lille.
Report and photos by Lawrence Smith