x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Grand sights and surprises

A weekend guide to Paris Famous for its fashion, food and flair, Paris is an enviable example of refined urban living - and a joy to visit.

The Eiffel Tower is celebrating its 120th year with an exhibition devoted to Gustave Eiffel, its creator, at the Hôtel de Ville.
The Eiffel Tower is celebrating its 120th year with an exhibition devoted to Gustave Eiffel, its creator, at the Hôtel de Ville.

Life feels good when you're in the French capital. Famous for its fashion, food and flair, Paris is an enviable example of refined urban living - and a joy to visit. The City of Light has a well-deserved reputation as a place for romance and its leafy boulevards and cobbled squares are never short of wonderful sights and surprises - from the glorious Gothic architecture of Notre-Dame cathedral to chicly dressed gendarmes on Rollerblades. Here you are never far from a treat - be it the impeccable couture of Chanel, a crêpe suzette cooked before your eyes amid the art nouveau splendour of the 1903 brasserie Julien, or a gift box of brightly coloured macaroons from the patisserie Ladurée, which has been making shoppers sigh since 1862.

Above all, Paris reminds us of the richness in life. Getting around is phenomenally easy thanks to the comprehensive Métro system, and the coming months are an ideal time to visit. Now the parks are coming to life and the city is in party mood as it looks forward to celebrating Bastille Day (July 14), the climax of the Tour de France cycling race (July 26) and the opening of Paris-Plage, an artificial beach built on the banks of the River Seine.

Get your bearings with a stroll through the oh-so-French Jardin des Tuileries. Look west for heart-stopping views up the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe, east to behold the world's largest museum - the Louvre, slated to open an outpost in Abu Dhabi in 2013. Walk south and a pedestrian bridge leads across the Seine to the bohemian Left Bank where the Musée d'Orsay, once a railway station, bulges with Impressionist masterpieces.

To avoid cultural overload the Musée de l'Orangerie has a little of everything in one easy hit, including works by Renoir, Matisse and Picasso plus a dreamy set of water lily paintings by Monet. This year the Eiffel Tower celebrates its 120th birthday and there's an excellent free-entry exhibition devoted to its creator at the Hôtel de Ville until Aug 29. If the sun is out, pick up one of the free bicycles available from stands across the city (see www.en.velib.paris.fr), or take the RER train (line C) to Versailles for a queenly walk through the delightful Domaine de Marie Antoinette.

Budget Youthful and welcoming, Mama Shelter is a newly built, 172-room hotel in the 20th Arondissement with double rooms costing from $124 (Dh469). Designed in collaboration with Philippe Starck, all rooms come with a Mac and free Wi-Fi, while downstairs there's a huge, laid-back lounge, communal French restaurant and bakery. It's a bus ride from the centre but the celebrity-filled Père-Lachaise cemetery is close by and there's great live music across the street at La Flèche d'Or club. Mama Shelter, 109 rue de Bagnolet, 75020 Paris (www.mamashelter.com; 00 33 1 4348 4848).

Mid-range Close to the Palais Garnier opera house and Galeries Lafayette department store, the 94-room Hôtel Jules is a traditional city centre hotel that's just had a contemporary makeover. The standard rooms remain typically small, but everything feels refreshingly clean, cool and comfy - plus there's a friendly bar and breakfast room. Double rooms cost from $187 (Dh686) - book early for the best rates. Hôtel Jules, 49-51 rue La Fayette, 75009 Paris (www.hoteljules.com; 00 33 1 4285 0544).

Luxury With the Tuileries gardens opposite and the fashion-filled shops of rue St-Honoré behind, the richly historic palace hotel Le Meurice has a terrific feeling of "Yippee - I'm in Paris!" Add in an exceptional staff, a jewel-box restaurant, a Valmont spa and 160 pampering rooms and suites (the best offer panoramic views of the Paris skyline) and you can't fail to have a wonderful time. Double rooms cost from $927 (Dh3,402). Le Meurice, 228 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris (www.lemeurice.com; 00 33 1 4458 1010).

Breakfast For many Parisians petit déjeuner is just a perfunctory encounter with some coffee and a croissant or baguette with jam. Pick any streetside cafe you fancy from the thousands available, which are all uniformly equipped with rows of cane chairs and tiny, circular tables. On the Left Bank, Au Bonaparte (42 rue Bonaparte) is a choice spot to sit and watch the day gather strength, with a view of the oldest church in Paris at Saint-Germain-des-Prés. A set French breakfast costs US$19 (Dh70).

Lunch The gardens and shop-lined arcades of the Palais Royal offer a welcome refuge from traffic and tourists - and are a great spot to munch a sandwich. Alternatively, a short stroll north in rue Vivienne is Le Grand Colbert (www.legrandcolbert.fr; 00 331 4286 8788), a classic, high-ceilinged brasserie with all the mirrors, potted plants, smartly aproned waiters and trysting lovers you'd expect in this city of romance. A plate of six oysters costs $14 (Dh51), or splurge on a grand plateau of crab, langoustines and mussels, $132 (Dh484) for two.

Dinner Paris is now home to 10 restaurants with three Michelin stars - and the latest member of this elite club is Eric Frechon, the chef at the luxury Hôtel Le Bristol (www.hotel-bristol.com; 00 331 5343 4300) in rue de Faubourg-St-Honoré. Favoured by President Nicolas Sarkozy, its summer dining room is a smart and civilised affair that lets you give full attention to such sublime dishes as green asparagus with caviar ($188; Dh690) and Challand duck breast roasted with spices and foie gras ($128; Dh470).

Return flights on Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) from Abu Dhabi to Paris cost from $996 (Dh 3,655), including taxes.

Paris Tales ($20; Dh74) is a collection of short stories by such writers as Balzac and Zola inspired by specific locations around the city.