You’re alone in one of the most romantic cities on the planet. But with only 24 hours, you want to take in as much as humanly possible. Here’s a survivor’s guide to one night in Paris:
1. What do you do if you’re lost and alone on the Metro? People are strange, when you’re a stranger, as Jim Morrison sang (the Doors frontman met his death in a Paris bathtub and is buried in the city) and you really shouldn’t engage with oddballs when you’re lost. Ever. Even if they seem “nice” and helpful. Don’t let your guard down. Remember: you’re a Joburger. Don’t do what you wouldn’t do back home. Trust no one. Paris is far bigger than your home town which means, statistically, you’re more likely to run into weirdos here than in Jozi.
Rather get off that train, find someone official-looking and check your map again. And don’t be too cheap to pay for a taxi when you’re lost. Remember that if you allow a stranger to accompany you to your hotel, they know where you’re staying – and then you might never shake them.
2. With only one night in the City of Light, if you can afford not to, don’t slum it. An intimate hotel within walking distance of the Champs Élysées is a good choice. Yes, it’s a tourist trap and it’s going to put a dent in your pocket, but you can’t beat a gorgeous place to sleep.
Check into the Hôtel Daniel (Tel: +33 01 4256 1700). It’s quiet, centrally positioned in Paris’s 8th Arrondissement (district) between the stylish Champs Élysées and Faubourg Saint-Honoré avenues, at 8 rue Frédéric Bastiat, and has a superb fine-dining restaurant on site.
Antique stores, art galleries, fashion houses, prestigious restaurants and nightclubs are all within walking distance. Request a room near the top floor, so you can take in the Parisian skyline, with red-tipped chimneys and black metal roofs.
The hotel’s owners found inspiration during their travels on the Silk Route, returning home with exotic objets d’art ranging from sumptuous silks, silver trays from Turkey, lamps and mother-of-pearl inlays to carpets from Kazakhstan, Murano glass and Syrian chairs. Walls are either softened in chinoiserie-inspired Toile de Jouy fabric from some of Europe’s grandest textile houses or wallpaper from China, hand-painted in flowers, birds and hunting scenes.
Each of the 26 rooms is individually decorated and bathrooms are tiled in either Italian marble or Moroccan zellige.
This Relais & Châteaux property was originally designed by Baron Haussmann, whose urban planning renovation project of Paris modernised the city in the 19th century.
3. Take your time over dinner in the Restaurant Daniel before exploring Paris at night. In summer, darkness falls only after 10pm and the streets are safe (police and tourists are everywhere), so you can walk as far as you want to.
Chef Jérôme Bonnet heads the restaurant’s kitchens to create dishes of pure pleasure. Adding his signature to French cuisine, Bonnet’s approach is dictated by the best quality product (meat and poultry are selected by a renowned expert; fruits and vegetables are sourced daily at the Rungis food hall, the world’s biggest food market).
Order his five-course tasting menu, or venture à la carte with carpaccio of avocado with blue shrimp ceviche and toasted almonds or white asparagus scented with orange and caraway.
Main course could be a toss-up between beef fillet with a smoked jus and fondant potato – more succulent and flavoured than our local Kobe-style or Waggu – roasted lobster with smoked malt, or lacquered pigeon, a French version of runners.
If you still have an appetite after this, you could try the marmalade fruits with soft meringue or infused vanilla bourbon crème brulée for dessert. Wrap up your dinner with a platter of organic cheese. The French do love their food.
And when you think you’re spent, open the little box of macaroons on your pillow and let them dissolve on your tongue. It’s bliss.
4. After dinner, let your walking tour of Paris begin, starting along the Champs Élysées. Shops and restaurants along this avenue are frightfully expensive, but people-watching is free. Be sure to spend some time checking out the street performers – from hip hop dancers who bring their boom boxes along for a festive party vibe and encourage audience participation, to Michael Jackson impersonators. When the police arrive to complain of a “public disturbance”, the performers obligingly disperse, only to return minutes later.
5. At the top end of the Champs Élysées is one of France’s most treasured national monuments, the Arc de Triomph. Access to this monument (built in 1806) is through a tunnel beneath the western end of the avenue and hundreds of stairs take you to the top (cost: E9 or R90). From the top of the tower, you can view the Eiffel Tower (the tallest structure in the city) and marvel at Haussmann’s unified urban landscape and green spaces. If you don’t have time to go up the Eiffel Tower, the view from the Arc at night is magnificent.
6. If, as I did, you happened to speak to a stranger on the Metro and your new “friend” contacts you first thing in the morning to enquire about your movements that day, either go with the flow (not recommended) and allow him to take you on a personalised tour, or play it safe and take the hop-on, hop-off bus, for which you can buy a day ticket and hop on as often as you like. These buses explore all the sites and are reasonably priced.
My new friend and I jumped on the Metro and got off near the Notre Dame in Île de la Cité, considered to be the epicentre of Paris. The cathedral was built between 1163 and 1250AD, badly damaged during the French Revolution and restored.
Today its relative good condition is a testament to the national obsession with preserving architectural treasures year-round. Access to this ancient church is free and is a magnet for tourists and the faithful.
In France, road distances are measured from the “0km” cut stone on the square outside the cathedral, so – in France at least – all roads lead to the Notre Dame, not Rome.
7. Cross the River Seine at the Pont de l’Archevêché (Archbishop’s Bridge) near the Notre Dame. It’s the narrowest road bridge in the city and was built in 1828. Its low clearance has always been an impediment to river traffic and in 1910 the city decided to rebuild it – but somehow it never was replaced.
In recent years, the bridge has become resplendent with “love locks”, placed by lovers from all over the world. The city decided in 2010 they were a nuisance, removed them from three bridges, but in typical Parisian defiance, they reappeared almost immediately after.
8. You won’t get the “real” Paris experience without sitting alongside the Seine with a picnic basket and a bottle of French wine. Everyone does it. It’s a glorious way to while away time taking in the charms of this magnificent river. If you haven’t brought food, stop by a boulangerie, stock up on some bread and pastry, and create your own picnic. Or hop on the Metro to travel a short distance to the artistic quarter of Montmartre (18th Arrondissement) for a meal after a walk up the Montmartre hill (“Martyr’s hill). You can also jump on the funicular to the Sacre Cœur, or Sacred Heart Basilica. This 130m hill is the highest point in the area and a sacred place for Catholics (said to be the place where the Jesuit movement was founded) and druids.
Just below the Basilica, artists set up their easles amid bright umbrellas and traditional musicians. It has a lovely bohemian vibe and some of the most incredible views.
9. After lunch, do your tourist duty by supporting the vendors along the Seine selling vintage movie posters, paintings and other trinkets. Stock up on fridge magnets, pens and other dust collectors for home and family. Forget about visiting the Louvre – the famed art museum takes more than a day to explore so there’s no point to queuing for it if you’re only going to see a tiny part of it. Rather walk around its gorgeous Tuileries gardens, which were commissioned by Catherine de Medicis in the 16th century. Louis XIV lived in the Tuileries Palace (destroyed in 1871) while Versailles was being built. It’s been the site where Parisiens have come to preen and party for centuries, and where the first hot-air balloon was launched.
Fountains and pools were built and sculptures were brought from Versailles and Marly. Lately, some of these have been replaced by copies and the contemporary works of Giacometti, Ernst, Moore and Mason have taken their place.
Today, tourists relax here after their Louvre visit or locals picnic in the gardens.
10. And finally, if your “friend” turns out to be dodgy and touchy, or claims to be wanted in 10 countries by Interpol, make a dash for it.
Yes, Paris, the City of Light, is one of the most romantic cities in the world, but trouble will find you anywhere – if you’re looking for it. - Saturday Star