No matter how many times I visit Paris, there is always reason to come back – which is a sign of a true world capital. Fall may be the perfect time to visit, too, as the stultifying summer heat is gone, Parisians have returned from their holidays, and the cultural calendar is in full swing.
I took my mother Susan there last fall to celebrate her 70th birthday and booked us a room at Le Meurice, in the tony 1st Arrondissement. At €700/night, it was clearly a splurge, but it was what I call a “smart splurge” – while five-star hotels like the Georges V, Crillon, Ritz-Carlton, and Plaza-Athénée are all similarly priced, Le Meurice offers the same luxuries, plus stunning views of the Tuileries Gardens and a prime address on the famous Rue de Rivoli, near some of the city’s best upscale boutiques. Our fourth-floor room had two balconies overlooking the gardens. Having breakfast at Le Meurice was like eating at a monarch’s palace.
It’s hard to beat seeing Paris on a bateau-mouche cruise along the Seine, especially at night. Gliding past the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, and the Pont Alexandre III as they’re all lit up, you really get why Paris is called the City of Lights! Another highlight was the “Da Vinci Code” tour we took of the Louvre.
Though some of my favorite neighborhoods are Île St. Louis (4th Arrondissement), Le Marais (3rd), and St. Germain (6th), the area around the Marais remains my top pick for boutique shopping and sights, like the stellar Musée Picasso and the magnificent Place des Vosges.
Of course, Paris is a major dining city, too. I love Robert et Louise, a cozy family-run French bistro in the Marais that’s known for its steaks. Several of the tables are shared, so I got to practice my French with friendly locals. I also enjoyed the great views from Georges (Place Georges Pompidou), the modern fusion restaurant at the top of the Centre Pompidou; Les Deux Magots (6 place St. Germain des Prés), a classic café in St. Germain – its steak tartare alone is worth the flight to Paris; and Pershing Hall (49 rue Pierre Charron), a trendy New French restaurant in the 8th Arrondissement with an amazing garden setting (though the food could be better).
After a few days in Paris, we took a side trip to visit the Caen Memorial, a D-Day museum just 3 hours away, near the beaches in Normandy where the Allies opened their second front against Germany in World War II. A tour of the beaches and the U.S. cemetery where some 9,000 U.S. soldiers are buried promises to be an emotional experience and is a must for history buffs. Check the Western France Tourism Board (www.westernfrancetourismboard) for more information, and stay over in Deauville, as we did, to spend more time exploring the countryside.