There’s something special about Paris that’s for sure. It’s special, even in the face of adversity. Or maybe I mean, especially in the face of adversity. When we undertook our Big UK Trip last Christmas, it was also a special request from my teenage daughters.
This was trip to remember for many reasons:
- The novelty of seeing Paris for the first time (and for me, seeing their reaction).
- The timing (days after the Charlie Hebdo attack).
- The incredible food
- And the elegance of a luxury Parisian hotel.
Paris is for lovers, sure, but it’s also for romantic teenage girls, who fell in love with its monuments watching films like Amelie and Moulin Rouge as well as Disney’s Ratatouille and the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
I’m looking back on this girls’ weekend in Paris now – to remember what made it so special.
I have to say that travelling there by train, with Eurostar makes it special to start with. Starting our journey at the beautiful St Pancras Station, a short ride on the Underground from our London hotel, is far more pleasant than airport transfers.
After the pleasant three-hour journey we hop into a cab on the cobbled street outside Paris Norde and head for our digs for the weekend: the Shangri-La Hotel Paris.
The Shangri-La is housed in the former residence of Napolean’s grandnephew, Prince Roland Bonaparte, and hotel chain has spent over four years renovating it, bringing it back to its former palatial glory.
The marble floor, columns and ceiling in the lobby are gleaming, reflecting light from the chandeliers above. Furniture and balustrades are decorated with intricate patterns and gilt for good measure.
Our room, which looks out onto the perfectly manicured garden below (oh, and the Eiffel Tower), has big soft beds and imposing antique furniture, a bottle of champagne chilling by the window and a selection of fruit and chocolates laid out on the side table.
We peek in the bathroom and discover an enormous bathtub with gold-plated taps and a headrest. Miss 14 stakes a claim for first use of it, but first, we decide to go and find some lunch and explore the riverbank.
A short walk from the hotel, we stop at the Café Trocadero, recommended by our concierge as having Quiche Lorraine that is second only to his own mother’s. We sit outside, braving the cold (and the smokers) to watch people going about their business in the square beyond.
Vegetarian Miss 19 chooses French Onion Soup and Miss 14 and I decide to go for the quiche Lorraine, accompanied rather decadently with hot chocolates. As it turns out, the quiche is also second best to mine according to Miss 14 (but it’s still delicious).
We walk around the square, down the steps of the Trocadero, cross the Seine via the Pont d’léna and find ourselves at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. By now it’s late in the afternoon and the Eiffel Tower looks like it’s made of gold, shining against the twilight sky.
We take several hundred photos and stop for a crepe (dessert) before jumping on the Metro again to visit the site watched so many times by the girls on DVD; Moulin Rouge.
Now synonymous with Ewen McGregor, Nicole Kidman and an Elton John medley in their heads, the girls can’t help strike a pose in front of the neon windmill.
We head back to the hotel, Miss 14 disappears to the bath for about three hours and I crack open the champagne while we watch Moulin Rouge. Again.
The next morning we’re up bright and early for a bit of exploration, but not before breakfast in the Shangri-La’s very grand main restaurant, La Bauhinia. We sit in its centre, looking up at an enormous chandelier hanging below a domed glass ceiling as we choose from a menu that (much to Miss 14’s delight) includes Chinese steamed pork buns and the most perfectly poached eggs I’ve ever eaten.
We head first for the catacombs, getting there before its opening time of 9am to try and avoid queues (we don’t quite manage it). It’s a long and rather claustrophobic descent down the 130-step spiral staircase before the catacombs open up. We’re led from one chamber to the next as we listen to the English-language audio tour provided.
The catacombs started life as quarries in the Middle Ages, the stone mined to build Paris’ buildings and monuments, then covered over and forgotten. In the late 18th Century, following a number of cave-ins, an investigation was established to stabilise the city from this honeycomb beneath.
At the same time Paris was looking for a solution for its overflowing principle cemetery, Les Innocents. Et Voila. Several centuries worth of human remains were moved here. It’s estimated the catacombs hold the remains of about six million people.
The walls of the caverns and tunnels are lined with bones, walls of skulls laid on top of neatly stacked arm and leg bones, yet for some reason, it’s not that macabre.
Our next stop is Notre Dame, (home to the heartbroken Hunchback) first to wander around inside and marvel at the lead light windows, and then to climb the tower to the roof and see Paris from a gargoyle’s perspective.
Along the Seine a few hundred metres we come across a sight that becomes another special memory for us; the Pont des Arts. Special because the this was the last time we were ever likely to see the thousands of love locks, that have since been removed.
We stop for lunch at one of the many cafés in Montmarte before heading up (more) steps to the sacred basilica, Sacre Couer, for yet another view of Paris.
On our way back to the hotel we take a detour to Le Arc de Triumph, and a wander along the Champs-Elysées.
Tonight the triumphal arch is lit up with a tribute; “Paris Est Charlie”.
We treat ourselves to hot chocolate in the lounge before heading for bed and a rerun of Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The next morning we head straight for the Louvre, with tickets to the side entrance provided by our helpful concierge. Starting in the west wing, we wind our way round from the old foundations through the Egyptian collection, eventually finding the French, Dutch and Italian masters, some proto-renaissance and pre-Raphaelite beauties and eventually, the enigmatic beauty herself, Mona Lisa.
Lunch today is an incredible treat. Pavillion Ledoyen is on the Champs-Elysées, just past the Palaise Royale. The restaurant itself is like a palace, surrounded by an expansive garden which we look out onto from the dining room through large windows. Read my full review here.
And the food is divine, beautifully presented, flavours delicately balanced. I was worried before bringing the girls to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris that the dishes might be too rich or too subtle for their teenage palates, but I was wrong.
We grab a taxi and head the few blocks north to la tour Eiffel. Miss 14 has been dreaming of this day a very long time. By sheer coincidence, a school friend is in Paris this weekend with her family, (also on a Big Trip), and they’ve arranged to meet at 3pm under the Eiffel Tower.
Worried about the queues, our concierge suggests we book ourselves on a tour, which means we can jump the queue and get to the top level of the tower. There are only three spaces left on this afternoon’s tour, so I snap them up, and give one of them to Miss 14’s friend.
The rest of us, having discovered that the queues are only for the lift, opt to walk up to the first and second levels. It’s a clear winter’s day, and even from the second level of the tower we can see for miles.
We wander back to the hotel and grab another hot chocolate before jumping into a taxi and heading to Paris Norde and the Eurostar back to St Pancras.
It’s a beautiful city, and it’s been a magical weekend. Paris is special for so many reasons, and for me, especially for this weekend, shared with my girls, their first Parisian experience.
Where to Stay
For pure Parisian luxury: the Shangri-La Hotel Paris. You can’t get more luxurious than the former home of Napolean’s grandnephew. Centrally located, each room has a view of the Eiffel Tower.
The Shangri-La Suite has arguably the best view in Paris. The Eiffel Tower is right in front of us and the Seine stretches in each direction for as far as you can see.
To your far left you can see Sacre Coeur and as you pan your sights around you’ll spot Notre Dame, the Palaise Royal, and a million glittering lights in between.
Eurostar from St Pancras Station in London to Paris Norde is the best way to get to Paris. The 3-hour journey goes by in a flash, the seats are comfy (even in third class) and it’s lovely and relaxing watching the countryside sweep by. RailEurope is the best place to book tickets – and if you book well in advance (about 4 months) you’ll usually find some good deals.
All photos by thatraveller, Holly O’Sullivan.