If you need to be reminded of just how fabulous Paris is, watch the first three minutes of Woody Allen’s homage to the French capital. Panning across Boulevard Haussmann, Notre Dame and the Quai De La Tournelle, those early shots in his film Midnight in Paris are a visual prompt to visit the city of love immediately.
The dramatic scenes we have witnessed in Paris over the past few years has deterred some from going, but UK cities have also been targeted by terrorists, so it feels right to hop on the Eurostar in a show of solidarity.
The trip was also historic for us because it was my daughter’s first time in Paris and as city breaks are usually adult-only occasions, I hoped she would cope with sightseeing on foot for hours at a time – and in the rain. Confused by the fact that she could travel by train under the sea and not see any fish, she was then as excited as I’d hoped when we arrived at Gare Du Nord and all the more when we arrived at our hotel –Pavillon des Lettres on the prestigious Rue des Saussaies,around the corner to the Elysee Palace, home of the President. The hotel itself is a favourite with the fashion crowd, but as Paris’ first literary hotel, it is the ultimate location for writers. Each of the 26 rooms and suites are dedicated to authors in alphabetical order from A for Anderson to Z for Zola.
We were in the B for Baudelaire suite at the top of the building and though the décor of muted beige with adjoining black slate bathroom is luxurious, the small rooftop windows with a clear view of the Eiffel Tower, conjured up the image of a writer’s garret in the artistic 1800’s.
Pavillon des Lettres is a property where details matter, so on arrival one is presented with a ‘Blind Date With A Book’ – a novel wrapped in brown paper typed with clues to the content.
There is also a form on which guests can reveal their reading preferences, so an appropriate book can be sent up for bedtime and I should also mention that breakfast on room service was a baker’s feast with croissants light as clouds. Oh how my daughter loved the breakfast. Downstairs in the voguish lounge, a log fire is surrounded by hefty tomes on art and architecture and given more time, an evening devoted to words in luxury would have been on the agenda. But the city beckoned and our girl’s must-see list was long. Undeterred by the rain, we did a quick selfie stop at Le Bristol – the hotel in Woody’s film and then headed for the Eiffel for an eyeful of the city in a cold wind.
More walking, still no complaining with the promise of a souvenir or two and scene and then it was back to dress for dinner and cabaret at the Paradis Latin on Rive Gauche which is owned by Harold Israel and his brother Sidney. In 1830 this theatre designed by Gustav Eiffel was the hot spot for Honoré de Balzac and Alexandre Dumas, but it’s now an alternative to the Moulin Rouge for a performance of the Can Can supported by trapeze artists, jugglers and a lot of topless ballet.
Yes, topless!! When I asked if the show was suitable for children, I was told it was and reassured by the fact that they have a kids menu. But serving nuggets alongside nudity is not an issue in France and one can only admire their joie de vivre. My daughter certainly did.
More serious matters followed the next morning with an arranged meeting at the The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme or mahJ as it is known. Based in the Marais the museum is housed in the remarkable 17th century Hôtel de Saint-Aignan which echoes with the voices of the Jewish occupants who once ran businesses in its warehouses that have long since disappeared. The museum opened in 1998 and the tone of this very special place is set by Louis Mitelberg’s haunting statue of Captain Dreyfus which guards the courtyard and continues within where cases and walls hold enviable collections of religious objects, manuscripts and art by among others Chagall, Soutine and Kikoïne, representing Jewish history across Europe.
Few will have the privilege of being given a tour by the museum director Paul Salmona and on a Saturday to boot, but the Sabbath opening policy brings more visitors of all denominations. With Salmona taking us round at top speed (he had an appointment) my daughter got to see and learn enough without being bombarded and was very taken with the exhibition on Asterix creator René Goscinny which is coming to the Jewish Museum in London. I was on the hunt for Passover stories and the painting by Lissitsky was one of many fitting exhibits.
Without a little darling in tow, the tour of the Marais that followed would have been longer, as guide Pascal Fonquernie leaves no stone unturned because he knows the history beneath it and the Jewish area is bursting with it.
With Pascal you get to see the shops that were once Jewish-owned with only a mezuzah as evidence and the ones that still have signage and now serve the best falafels. Passing chasedim en route from synagogue, one notices how they walked closely together, an indication of the fear that remains in a targeted district. Our last French supper was at the elegant art deco restaurant La Coupole which is an old haunt of my husband’s and Picasso’s – clearly both men of good taste. Buzzing with Parisians celebrating birthdays, it was a grande finale before a final sleep in the Baudelaire suite. Weekend breaks don’t get much better and my daughter will always have Paris to remember.
Brigit’s Travel tips:
- Hôtel Le Pavillon des Lettres: Tel: +33 (0)1 49 24 26 26 – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme www.mahj.org/en
- Marais guide Pascal Fonquernie: Email :email@example.com