Oh Paris! City of Lights…City of L’amour…City of…er…laminated menus with photographs of omelette and frites in strip-lit bistros.
Romantic weekends in Paris come with expectations higher than the heels that all of Tom Cruise’s ex-wives take great pleasure in being able to wear again, post divorce. Those hand in hand strolls along the Seine, steak frites in neighbourhood bistros and glamorous shopping trips….quite often translate to getting lost in the Louvre, your sub-O level French being ignored and answered in perfect English, and narrowly avoiding being run over by a Parisian man parking his car a) in driving gloves and b) on the pavement.
So I’m re-thinking Paris as a city for love, not lovers. And therefore, for this task, rather than attempting a romantic weekend, I decide to take my darling Mum to Paris in the Spring. The once glamorous Eurostar seems to have gone a bit British Rail. However it takes more than 45 minute queues for the buffet car and 20,000 people being inexpertly funnelled through understaffed security desks to dampen your spirits when you’re going to Paris.
We are staying at the Hotel Lotti, in the 1st arrondissement. I have never stayed here before, but Mum once told me about a highly glamorous, race horse owning couple she met in Paris in the 60s who were off to the Hotel Lotti to celebrate winning a race. So I book us a room and Mum has no idea where we were staying, until we turn off the Rue de Rivoli and do a U-turn to stop outside the hotel, ‘Nooooooo’ Mum says when she sees the plaque, clapping her hand to her head. I’ve never organised a surprise before, and it’s really worth doing.
The hotel is traditional, but not old-fashioned. It has huge rooms, proper furniture, a shower that you don’t need a PhD in aeronautical engineering to use, a fabulous hotel bar,
good service, ornate decoration and beds turned down at night with chocolates left on your pillow.
Our first expedition is to the Louvre. Lunch first and then you-know-who. The pushing and shoving to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa belies the calm of the rest of the museum. Actually, the pushing and shoving is to snap a pic on an i-phone of the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa is a rock-star painting. Smaller than you expect, and kept behind a red rope. As everyone crowds to catch a glimpse, it feels like waiting for a glimpse of Madonna.
We have the most perfect weekend in Paris. We eat juicy steaks and drink creamy red wine in neighbourhood bistros packed with Parisians. We shop in the Marais, we talk over long lunches. We visit Jean-Paul Hévin, a chocolate shop with a chocolate bar above. It’s as beautifully designed and every bit as intimidating as a Chanel boutique. The ginger hot chocolate is rich, strong, sweet, not at all cloying, and I could drink about a gallon. Likewise the jasmine.
We spend all our time together and it’s perfect. Oh, we even have a furious row with an irascible taxi driver, who barely interrupts his conversations on two mobiles to acknowledge our fury; fabulous. No visit to a capital city is complete without a row with a taxi driver. Paris, I do love you after all.