If you’re going on a romantic city break, don’t try setting the tone with a stress through the airport followed by being herded onto cramped seating with airline staff trying to sell you raffle tickets.
This, I discovered by accident flying out of Cork Airport and travelling with Air France. The Southern capital’s gateway to the world now has a brand new lounge so relaxation and fine food begin as soon as you check in. On the plane, they give you a sandwich and a drink. Magnifique!
The other thing about visiting Paris for a few days is that you’ve got to have a theme. Paris is a vast city and there’s no point in making a plan to wander its beautiful streets aimlessly like Beaudelaire in a Consumption-induced delirium. You need an aim; to pick a limited number of things to visit and then go and see them in your limited timespan.
We chose the themes of modern art and traditional cuisine. While there are plenty of good options on the artistic front, it’s not so easy to seek out the best places for traditional cuisine in the French capital. In a way, Paris is a victim of its own multiculturalism so that it’s easier to find Vietnamese, Italian and Moroccan food than it is to find good old-fashioned French fare in the City of Light.
I started the modern art trail with the man considered to be the father of modern architecture: Le Corbusier. I’ve been fascinated with this man ever since I saw how he basically desecrated our own Eileen Gray’s house down on the Cote d’Azur in a seemingly desperate fit of jealousy against a woman who was even cleverer and more talented than he was.
Le Corbusier’s apartment (fondationlecorbusier.fr) is at the top of a building on the south-western edge of Paris, with views front and back (and from the roof terrace) of the Bois de Boulogne, Roland Garros (home of French Open Tennis), Stade Français Rugby’s home ground, and the Parc des Princes – Paris St Germain’s home stadium.
The museum/apartment is so discreetly located that you might (as I did) walk up and down the street several times before deciding that this must be it. There was a good crowd gathered inside of fans of the man who made his mark in 1940s Marseille, when there was acute demand for simply designed apartments that could efficiently deal with the post-war housing shortage and still look stylish.
The apartment is suitably Spartan in design, with plenty of Le Corbusier trademarks to be found all over the space – maximum use of light, space-saving quirks such as walls that become doors, a raised bed in order to get a better view of the Bois de Boulogne, minimal living living-room area, maximum creative workshop area, as well as the separate bathroom areas for him and her within the conjugal bedroom.
The bus ride back from the Appartement Le Corbusier towards La Muette metro station takes you through some impressive avenues lined with embassy residences and millionaires’ homes. Finding a good spot to eat an affordable lunch and still have that Parisian buzz is a challenge but the solution is to go to the nearest boulangerie. Here, you’ll find that you can sit down and eat sandwich of impossibly crispy fresh baguette accompanied by a drink, allowing you to lunch like a king for under €10 a head.
It was back on the metro then to the Musee d’Art Moderne (mam.paris.fr, metro: Iéna). It’s in a large splendid building overlooking the banks of the Seine. Inside, the permanent exhibition was partially closed due to refurbishment works but even the ground-floor exhibits were a wonderfully condensed collection of some of the most stunning and important works of modern art from the early and middle part of the 20th century. Best of all, however (and well worth the additional price on your entrance ticket) is the awe-inspiring temporary exhibition of the late Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki, which runs until just after Christmas 2019.
For dinner that night, we found a cracking brasserie close to Nation metro station called Le Petit Louis. It was the kind of place where an absinthe-soaked artist wouldn’t look out of place and which has immaculately maintained its 1900s ambience. It offers a friendly service, where the rabbit and the home-made burger were cooked to perfection, followed by the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had.
The next day was a big highlight – one of the best things in modern art since Portrait of Sliced Bread. The Atelier des Lumières (atelier-lumieres.com) opened earlier this year in an old disused industrial space in the centre of Paris near Rue Saint-Maur metro stop. Using multiple projectors and a stunning soundtrack, the work of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt is presented in a spectacular animated show that illuminates every surface of the walls, floor and pillars of the former foundry. It’s one of the best uses of technology to showcase the beauty of Klimt’s work as well as telling you a lot about his personal story.
It’s something of a culture shock to re-emerge blinking into 21st-century Paris after such an emotionally immersive experience. Another delicious lunch sitting at a table in a wonderful Parisian boulangerie was followed by a visit to a museum that houses all the best of art from the era that kick-started the entire movement of modern art. The Musée d’Orsay (musee-orsay.fr) is a former train station that holds the treasure trove that surely comprises the best Impressionist collection in the world in the heart of the city where Impressionism was first revealed.
We kept the turn-of-the-century buzz going with an even more atmospheric choice for dinner at the Le Bistrot du Peintre (the Painter’s Bistro). This is a paradisiacal spot representing all the best in art deco style, with a beautifully tiled floor, carved timber staircase, painted ceiling panels and an open terrasse from where you can watch Parisian life strut by. Sumptuous duck confit and slow-cooked lamb were the choices to match the magical ambiance.
Get Yourself There: Air France (airfance.ie) have increased the frequency of their popular and romance-friendly flights from Cork and Dublin, with lead-in fares starting at €80 per person return.
Staying There: We stayed at the Hotel du Printemps (hotel-paris-printemps.com), 80 Boulevard de Picpus, 75012 Paris – a superior 3-star immaculately clean hotel in a disarmingly charming part of Paris close to Nation metro/RER station.
Eating: For lunch, we went to Eric Kayser Boulangerie (maison-kayser.com) on Rue du Bac, 75007 Paris and A la Flûte Enchantée (a-lafluteenchantee.com), 7 Avenue Mozart, 75016 Paris. For dinner, the nostalgic choices were Le Petit Louis (lepetitlouis.fr), 240 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, 75012 Paris and Le Bistrot du Peintre (bistrotdupeintre.com), 116 Avenue Ledru-Rollin, 75011 Paris.