A hopeless romantic’s guide to Paris
With its decadent dining rooms, ever-changing arts scene and accommodations fit for royalty, the City of Love can’t help but bring out the romantic in all of us, as Amelia Hungerford well knows.
The signature dessert at L’Oiseau Blanc, ‘The Cloud’, is still enveloped in a plume of sweet smoke when something even more entrancing catches my eye. Beyond the sixth-floor windows of The Peninsula Paris, the Eiffel Tower is glittering in the night, its hourly frenzy of illumination distracting all but a few diners in the 40-seat restaurant. A minute later, the dazzling show has ended and my attention returns to my dessert. The white-chocolate casing shatters pleasantly under my spoon, revealing the mousse, caramelised apple and speculoos within, floating on a bergamot-infused jelly.
With its unimpeded view of Paris’ most famous landmark and Christophe Roux’s elegant interpretation of French cuisine, this aviation-themed restaurant – celebrating pilots Charles Nungesser and François Coli – offers one of the most romantic settings in the City of Love. The Palace-rated Peninsula is the revitalisation of a Belle Epoque grand hôtel (where Gershwin penned An American in Paris) that had fallen into bureaucratic obscurity by the end of the century. Every detail has been lovingly restored with a Peninsula twist: grand marble corridors, monochromatic elegance and an extraordinary collection of modern art. In our room, The Peninsula’s impeccable service shines through and my favourite feature by far is the marble bathtub and ‘Spa’ setting on the control panel; with one touch, it dims the lights, plays soothing music and illuminates the suite’s ‘Do No Disturb’ sign. Bliss.
City of art
The Peninsula’s location on Avenue Kléber, one of the streets that fans out from the Arc de Triomphe-Place Charles de Gaulle, puts it at the centre of the Right Bank’s tourist district. We have climbed the Arc de Triomphe and paid far too much for lunch on the Champs- Elysées in the past, so we opt to explore one of the city’s newest museums and cultural centres, Fondation Louis Vuitton.
The building itself is worth the journey to the nearby Bois de Boulogne – Frank Gehry’s glass masterpiece seems to set sail on a tranquil reflecting pond – but it’s just one of many attractions. The Auditorium hosts an ever-changing musical program, Jean-Louis Nomicos dishes up French-inspired international cuisine at Le Frank and there are public events and discussions galore.
Later, after an unhurried browse through a few of the ever-impressive exhibitions at the Louvre, we take a stroll via the Tuileries Garden to Place de la Concorde. It’s lined with everything from grand hotels (including newly reborn Hôtel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel) to the requisite souvenir shops. Pause for Coco Chanel’s favourite hot chocolate à l’ancienne l’Africain at Angelina tearoom before losing yourself in the spectacular bilingual collection at celebrated bookshop Galignani.
Le Marais, a quartier spanning the third and fourth arrondissements, has a reputation as one of the coolest districts in the city. Diving into the vintage shops is a must, as is exploring the fashion-lifestyle-gallery concept store Merci, while art-lovers make a pilgrimage to the district for Musée Picasso.
We’re here for the food, flitting from fromagerie to epicerie before stocking up at Pierre Hermé on macarons and fruit jellies in the signature flavour, Ispahan (rose, lychee and raspberry).
It has become one of my Paris rituals to dine at Le Comptoir du Relais. Yves Camdeborde’s Saint-Germain restaurant remains a star of the neobistro movement where gourmet meals are served in tiny, almost stereotypically Parisian surrounds. Scoring a dinner reservation is best done months out or by staying in the Camdebordes’ boutique hotel upstairs. Tonight’s menu features scallop ravioli, cod marinated in plankton, and melt-in-the-mouth pigeon with cabbage and foie gras. The caramelised apples with pepper crumble and salted caramel ice-cream are the perfect finale, concluding a well-thought-out and never-excessive menu.
A private reserve
Behind the scarlet doors of La Réserve Paris Hotel and Spa, 19th-century decadence lives on. I half expect to see Guy de Maupassant or Oscar Wilde delighting guests with a witticilsm whenever I enter a room. Michel Reybier’s vision for this Haussmannian mansion, a block from the Champs-Elysées, is true to its aristocratic heritage first as the home of the family of the Duc de Morny and more recently as the property of designer Pierre Cardin. Now this 40-room pied-àterre bears the Palace rating and is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, every space richly adorned in the manner of a private home.
Our suite is sublime, and breakfast is served at La Pagode de Cos, a pinkmarble salon beside the courtyard. My idea of heaven, however, is The Library. This bookshelf-lined parlour features 3000 or so rare and first-edition French literary classics, emerald armchairs, and a grand piano.
The four-course Experience Menu at Le Gabriel is a two-Michelin-starred treat. Executive chef Jérôme Banctel’s mastery of Southeast-Asian flavours adds dimension to each otherwise traditionally French dish. Cherry blossom leaf and coriander complement glazed artichoke hearts, Breton mackerel meets miso-flavoured potatoes, and red cabbage pastry infused with tamarind accompanies a delicate fillet of venison. A finale of coffee-bean meringue is so light it disappears on the tongue.
It’s my favourite kind of morning in Paris: dove-grey and chilly. When it comes to Paris, you either delve beyond the clichés or you revel in them. We’re about to embrace every single one in the book, with our Flytographer travel photographer, Lucille, capturing it all. After a quick shoot in front of Sacré-Coeur, we head to the back streets of Montmartre, posing all the while.
The hour-long session passes all too quickly. We finish in sentimental style sipping hot chocolates at a cafe, quizzing Lucille about the quarter’s best boulangeries. The experience has been more fun than I could have imagined and, when we see our photos a week later, we feel more in love with Paris – and each other – than ever.
Air France flies to Paris daily from gateways across Asia, with connections to Australia through its SkyTeam partners.
MAIN IMAGE © LUCILLE IN PARIS FOR FLYTOGRAPHER