I love France…. well the bits I’ve been to anyway, which include Paris, Nice, Monaco, Cannes, Antibes and a good few parts of Brittany.
My first visit to France was in 1988 for my honeymoon. I’d hardly been abroad, and Paris to me was the most magical place I’d ever seen. It was grey and cold and I could hardly understand a word anyone said. The waiters were gruff, I ordered food that wasn’t what I thought it was and everyone kept trying to give me goats cheese….NOOOOO!!
I fell in love with the place; the atmosphere, the smoky Gailoise fume filled cafes/bars and the whole pavement cafe culture. 29 years later, I still feel the same. I feel at home in Paris and every time I visit I want to stay.
France is a big place and I feel I’ve only scratched the surface. My trips to France have been some of the most wonderful holidays I’ve had and each time I’m there, I curse myself and my laziness for not making the effort to learn the language that just make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on edge. For me, French is the most romantic, expressive, gorgeous language there is. Maybe one day I’ll get off my arse and learn how to speak it!
Our honeymoon was wonderful, it was 29 years ago so some of the details are a little sketchy but I remember things like seeing the bonkers sight of the Pompidou centre for the first time, travelling on the metro and drinking wine outside cafe’s in the freezing cold, just watching the world go by. I also remember the friendliness of the French. We went at the end of April and in one restaurant we were presented with a Lilly of the Valley plant as it was almost 1st May which is the Feast of Our Lady.
Several trips later, we’ve had many great meals, worn out much shoe leather as we walked around the streets and saw so many lovely things.
A couple of years ago I had a fantastic surprise. As a Christmas present, John arranged for me to go to Paris for the day to one of my favourite shops, the Kooples. He’d secretly organised the flights and arranged for my friend Charlotte to come with me. He also gave me some money to spend and took us to the airport and picked us up again when we go home. We had a great day, had steak frites and Sancerre and a few glasses of Champagne in several bars along the way. It was such a treat and I know that I’m lucky to be married to such a thoughtful man.
Our last trip to Paris was for Christmas 2016. We flew out on Christmas eve and had a great few days there. When we arrived we went to the tourist information centre to buy tickets for the Roissybus to the centre of Paris and a carnet du billet for the metro. Whilst we were sorting things out, the lady on the desk was asking if it was our first visit and we explained it was our 8th. When we’d finished she presented me with a beautiful Christmas tree bauble, decorated with a glitter Tour de Eiffel! I felt really special as she hadn’t given one to anyone else she’d seen.
We stayed in a fantastic hotel called Hotel Platine. We chose it because it looked quirky and stylish and so different from any of the formula hotels that were on offer.
The place had a Hollywood/Marilyn Monroe theme and each room was different. The staff were really friendly, there was an honesty cocktail bar and a small hammam in the basement which guests could use for free. Breakfast was served in an American themed diner and served a great selection of things to suit everyone.
We would definitely recommend the hotel to anyone with a sense of humour and a desire to stay somewhere different…….oh and the best bit of the room we were in was the bathroom……THERE WERE DISCO LIGHTS IN THE BATH!!!!!!!
We spent Christmas Eve just trawling the streets of Paris. We took the metro to one of our favourite places which is Place du Madelaine. This is where all the fabulous foodie shops are such as Fauchon (which is famous for macarons and cakes), and Hediard, which is a really posh gourmet food and gift shop…….we once made the mistake of buying a beautiful punnet of cherries which looked hand polished and beautifully arranged in a lovely wicker box. The mistake was not looking at the price so we paid about £15 for around ten cherries!
After lunch and the obligatory Croque Monsieur, washed down by bottles of beer and a cognac for John and half a bucket of Sancerre for me, we mooched around the posh shops until it was time to go back to the hotel for a nap and a disco bath before going out for the evening.
We wanted to eat at Bistro Saint-Louis, near to Notre Dame, however, after spending what seemed like ages to get there we found it was closed, despite the website saying it would be open but you couldn’t book a table. Never mind, we made our way across the road to The Saint Regis for a very nice Christmas eve meal.
Steak and Potatoes and Chicken Chasseur were on the menu, followed by mousse au chocolat for me and a large slab of nougat for John (it came with a lovely foil wrapper to take home what you couldn’t eat, which was most of it!)
I thoroughly recommend St. Regis if you are having a trip to Paris, the food and service are great and it’s definitely not an expensive restaurant.
After a few more drinks, we walked to Notre Dame to watch them getting ready for midnight mass. As we walked there, we saw huge concrete blocks to prevent a terrorist using a vehicle to cause harm and we were searched several times on the way to the cathedral and on the way inside too. We didn’t mind this at all, given what had happened in Paris and the shocking attack at the Bataclan in November 2015 and the attack at the Christmas markets in Berlin the month before, it was totally understandable and small price to pay to keep everyone safe. It has to be said that the police officers who were carrying out the searches did so politely, and with a smile on their face, wishing everyone a Joyeux Noel when they were finished.
Notre Dame at night is so beautiful, but it was a little cold for hanging around to take photo’s. It was also incredibly busy with a small queue forming to get inside.
Once inside, it was hardly a tranquil haven, there were many people shuffling around taking photos. There were even people taking selfies with statues and the little candles you can light which seemed a bit strange to me. Lots of people were seated in the main body of the cathedral having got themselves in prime position for midnight mass. I’m not religious in any way shape or form, but I can’t deny that the organ music and the incense were very atmospheric and special.
Christmas day arrived! We opened the presents we had brought then after breakfast we went wandering again, this time we made our way towards the Eiffel Tower. It was a mild day so we didn’t mind missing out the metro and getting some exercise and let’s be honest, how can you complain about a long walk when you’ve got the Seine and Paris around you.
It was a lovely walk, only slightly spoiled by numerous people trying to sell us Eiffel Tower souvenirs every 15 paces. It’s a shame to be pestered but it’s even more of a shame that people have to resort to making a living like that. Once thing I’d say about Paris this time is there certainly seemed to be more people on the streets or street vending and I have to say it seemed a lot ‘poorer’ than it had on previous visits. Maybe it’s a sign of the times everywhere, austerity seems to be hitting everyone and everywhere.
We went from the Eiffel Tower to Sacre Coeur, where we wanted to have a look inside but it was so damn busy. We’d visited many times before so we headed off for lunch of chicken Quiche for me (not recommended, warm and waaaay too eggy….bleugh!) and a burger for John. We’d gotten into a bad habit by now, which involved ending every meal (apart from breakfast of course), with a brain frazzlingly strong coffee and a cognac, but why not, it was Christmas after all!
After a long walk home to get rid of the food and booze, we made our way back to the hotel to get ready for our Christmas Day dinner at restaurant we were keen to go to and had checked out during the day. Chartier was our destination and we were really, really excited!
In 1896, the Bouillon Chartier was born out of a very simple concept – provide a decent meal at a reasonable price and give customers good service in order to earn their loyalty. 50 million meals, and only four owners later, the recipe is still every bit as much a success…..well that’s what their website says, and it seems to be true.
You can’t book a table, you have to queue. That means backpackers, tourists, locals, celebrities all have to get in line with everyone else and wait in anticipation for your turn to be escorted by an elegant, black-apron clad waiter to your seat. When you get there, don’t expect an intimate dinner – not a chance. We were seated upstairs next to some railings over which we had a fantastic view of the whole restaurant. We were shown to the table with two other people and we ended up sitting with a couple from Greece who were on their first trip to Paris and looked like rabbits caught in the headlights!
Our waiter was lovely, not at all grumpy or arrogant as some of the reviews on Tripadvisor had said they were. He was professional, had a sense of humour and was keen to make our meal a pleasant occasion for us. He left us to look at the menu while he ran himself ragged with the rest of the diners in his station, it was packed out with Christmas diners.
We chose our food and wine, opting for a 14 euro bottle of fizz, not expecting much from either the food or the wine for the prices. How wrong can you be? We had pate and charcuterie to start, then steak frites with green beans. The food was fantastic and the cheap fizz was really great! I think we frightened the Greek couple though, they were drinking coke while we polished off the fizz, had half a carafe of red wine and finished the meal with………yes you guessed it cognac!
We had eaten well, drank plenty and after desert we were ready for the bill and a walk somewhere else for a drink. When l’addition arrived, we were pleasantly surprised at how cheap it was. It came to 78 euro which was amazing considering we’d had everything we wanted.
I absolutely loved this place. It felt like going back in time and I found the hustle and bustle mesmerising. I love to sit at a table with white linen, old-fashioned cutlery and I think its lovely to have waiters who care about what they do. It isn’t a job for them, for most it is a vocation and that’s the difference to most of the waiting staff in UK restaurants. Yes some can be grumpy, yes you sometimes have to wait a while, but I’m just absolutely blown away when I eat somewhere like this. It feels truly special, even with no elbow room, little chance of having a ‘serious’ conversation and having to share your table. Anyway, you shouldn’t have a serious conversation over dinner, it is bad for your digestion!
I think I might be too romantic, but I just love places like this with a history and character built up over years and I could happily eat there again and again. In fact I even think it worth a day trip to Paris just for a lovely long lunch and a bottle of that fizzy wine!
After a couple (or maybe it was three or four) cocktails, we made our way back to hotel. I found a friend at the metro station, and I also found a football, which I insisted on kicking back to the hotel. I was drunk of course, but I remember dribbling the ball around lampposts, rescuing it when it rolled down into an underground car park and I also remember people laughing at me along the way. I don’t care, I had a great time and it made me laugh when woke up the next day and saw a football on the dressing table in the hotel…….oh dear, I’ve done it again!
The next day, it rained and it rained. It wasn’t the best day as most of the museums and galleries were shut, which meant the ones that were open were rammed with people. When we tried to go to La Louvre, it looked like we’d have to queue for nearly an hour in the rain so we gave it a miss. We walked, had coffee, walked and had lunch, then we walked to the metro back to the hotel.
That evening, we went to La Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis. We’ve been here before and really enjoyed it so we thought we’d go back. They serve local brewed beer in stone mugs which I love and it was a really light refreshing brew.
We found this time that whilst we enjoyed the place and the eccentricity of the waiters, we weren’t blown away by the food. The style is traditional French with main courses such as
Sauerkraut with sausages and bacon
Porkknuckle grilled with apple
Stew white beans and pork
Sirloin steak with butter sauce
Hamburger steak with fried egg
Ray fish with butter sauce
Haddock with boiled potatoes or sauerkraut
Special sauerkraut for two
Undercut steak with shallot fondue
Raw beef minced steak
Vealliver with boiled potatoes
Tripe terrine with white wine
Home made cockerel with white wine
I had the cockerel in red wine and John had the cassoulet, neither of which were amazing. It was rather expensive too and we left feeling rather disappointed and thinking we’d only go back for drinks next time.
Next day was a disaster. Whether it was because of the food from the night before or a stomach bug but John wasn’t well. He spent hours doing what people do when they’ve got stomach troubles and with our flight home at 8pm in the evening it was a long, long day.
Fortunately there was a shopping centre near the hotel with comfy sofas so we spent a few hours there just sitting and watching the world go by. Then I put my ‘I’m a genius’ hat on and remembered I’d seen a sign for a cinema in the shopping centre, so we went and watched the latest Star Wars film Rogue One. It was perfect, there was a toilet handy, John could have a well needed sleep for a few hours and I had some entertainment. Not what we’d intended for our last day but it we made the most of it. It was a shame because it was a glorious sunny day, nice and cold too, which would have been perfect for a walk.
Overall, we had a great couple of days in Paris, but I can’t deny that the last day took some of the magic away. Would I go back again, yes of course, I’d love to take a friend to Chartier for lunch and spend a weekend showing them around and sharing what I love with them.
The world is a great big place though, and I’ve got many more places I want to visit, so I will look at my bauble next Christmas and remember the lovely time we had.
Au revoir mon amis xxxxxx