x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

If a perfect city were possible, Paris comes the closest

My Kind of Place With great museums, shopping and fine cuisine, the French capital is made for pleasure.

The imposing Louvre museum is visited by some 8.5 million people every year, making it the world's most-visited art museum. Getty Images / Gallo Images
The imposing Louvre museum is visited by some 8.5 million people every year, making it the world's most-visited art museum. Getty Images / Gallo Images

Why Paris?

Few cities can claim to be perfect but Paris, perhaps, comes closer than any other. There's no other world capital where the pursuit of beauty is both explicit and implied. From Paris's architectural triumphs to its almost fanatical obsession with good food, high-fashion and culture, one visit to the French capital is enough to seal the deal. Straddling the River Seine and split into 20 arrondissements (districts), Paris's city centre is relatively compact and is easy to navigate on foot or by bicycles (Velibs) readily available for hire throughout the city. With world-class museums, myriad restaurants, gorgeous vistas and shopping for every appetite, Paris is a city made for pleasure.

A comfortable bed

There's no shortage of five-star options but hitting the right side of fancy is Le Bristol, with its patrician hints of old-world luxury, classic service, attractive staff with impeccable manners and deliciously cosy rooms, complete with Hermès bath products. The best views of Rue de Faubourg Saint Honoré are from the suites with balconies on the sixth floor. Rates from €800 (Dh3,850) per night.

For a mid-priced stay, check into boho-luxe Hotel Le Bellechasse (http://hotelebellechasse.com; 00 33 1 45 50 22 31) on the Left Bank opposite the Musée d'Orsay and within walking distance of shops and galleries. With interior design by fashion designer Christian Lacroix, the 34 rooms feature a riot of theatrical prints and murals from fin-de-siècle gentleman stamped on gigantic butterflies to cartography maps on the walls. Double rooms from €180 (Dh866) per night.

Situated in the up-and-coming 20th arrondissement, Mama Shelter (http://mamashelter.com; 00 33 1 43 48 48 48) isn't as central as you might wish (about six kilometres from the centre), but this design-conscious hotel is a budget traveller's dream. Designer Philippe Starck has decorated this trendy 179-room hotel in a tongue-in-cheek style. Rooms are kitted out with 24 inch iMacs that quadruple up as a TV, CD and DVD player and computer. Best of all, the smallest rooms start at €79 (Dh380) per night.

Find your feet

Paris is a relatively small city, which means it is easy to navigate. Since the city's main attractions are situated smack bang in the middle of the city, it means you can walk during the day from one place to another without too much of a worry. If you do get tired, you can always hop on the Métro or even rent out the readily available cycles.

You'll probably spend most of your time drifting around the Left Bank (6th and 7th), the Marais (3rd and 4th) or the 1st. You can use the city's great museums, which are located in each of these districts, as a springboard to explore the wider area once you've viewed the exhibits.

First up is Musée du Louvre (1st), which houses many spectacular collections and famous works from ancient Babylon through to the mid 19th century. It's huge but there are tours that allow you to see the edited highlights. In any case, spend at least half a day here. Cross over to the Left Bank where you can wander and head to the Musée d'Orsay (6th) to wonder at art produced between 1848 and 1915. Head to the modern art museum at Georges Pompidou (4th) to see works from Picasso and Kandinsky up until modern day.

Meet the locals

Parisians love a good market, so haggle alongside the city's denizens at perhaps the most famous and largest market in the city, Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen in the 18th arrondissement. You'll find everything from tat and knick-knacks to vintage furniture and jewellery - look carefully around the 15 different areas. It's best to go on a Saturday or Sunday (closes at 5pm and 6pm respectively) as not every stall is open on a Monday.

Marché Rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement is a food market situated along a hilly cobbled street. It isn't the most comprehensive market but quite scenic, and feels like the Paris of imagination. It features fruit and vegetable vendors, delis, chocolatiers and lots of local cafes and restaurants.

Book a table

With its crumbling exterior, you might be forgiven for thinking you were entering a construction site. Fear not, the fussy Parisian fashion pack swears by Anahi (49 rue Volta; 00 33 1 48 87 88 24), a small, buzzing bistro situated in the medieval Marais district. Overseen by oh-so-friendly sisters Carmina and Pilat, meat is the name of the game. The house speciality is the Argentinian beef steak. Do try the scrumptious empanadas or the lentil stew. Pricey at €70 (Dh337) per head.

Regularly voted as one of the world's best restaurants, Le Chateaubriand (129 Avenue Parmentier; 00 33 1 43 57 45 95) is a surprisingly unpretentious dinner-only eatery in the 11th district. Basque chef Iñaki Aizpitarte serves up original and intelligent dishes in which ingredients are deconstructed and then artfully rearranged together. The fixed price, seasonal and daily-changing, five-course menu is a democratic €55 (Dh265) per person - no two days are same. In the past, they've served up ingredients from melon jelly to duck heart. Book approximately two weeks ahead, or start queuing for second seating around 30 to 60 minutes before 10pm.

Shopper's paradise

For high-fashion and luxury, head to the Avenue Montaigne (8th arrondissement; nearest station, Franklin D Roosevelt) and the Rue Faubourg Saint Honoré (1st arrondissement, nearest station Palais Royal/Tuileries). Boutiques belonging to world's most famous fashion from Hermès to Lanvin are dotted around these areas. Didier Ludot (24 Galerie Montpensier - Jardin du Palais Royal) for vintage fashion from the likes of Dior and Givenchy is well worth the visit. In the Marais, do head to Merci (www.merci-merci.com; 111 boulevard Beaumarchais), an uber-cool shopping emporium that serves up everything from homeware to antiques. On the Left Bank, apart from the lovely design and interior shops dotted around the area, Le Bon Marché (www.lebonmarche.com; 24 Rue de Sèvres) is a wonderful all-in-one department store, great for gifts and shopping trips.

What to avoid

Da Vinci's Mona Lisa in the Louvre. It's not the artwork itself but the hordes of spectators who crowd the bulletproof masterpiece on a daily basis, especially since The Da Vinci Code movie. Skip it and spend your time admiring works elsewhere.

Don't miss

The Palace of Versailles. For a taste of royal bling at its apogee, check out the gigantic chateau complex about 32km from Paris, where the French kings lived after 1682, a remarkable testimony to their extravagant tastes. It's difficult not to gasp when passing through the Hall of Mirrors, with its Rococo ceiling frescoes, where courtiers once met to exchange gossip.