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TRAVEL: Discover Paris in a single weekend

From: CountryClubuk Magazine.
Discover Paris in a single weekend

Paris is so beautiful, and so rich in monuments and treasures, fashion and gourmet food, theatre, dance and opera, that it is almost overwhelming. The best of Paris can be discovered in a single weekend (though a lifetime is hardly long enough). Discovery starts, as does everything in Paris, with the lovely River Seine.

From the banks of the Seine you not only gain your bearings‹Left Bank to the south, Right Bank to the north‹but capture the essence of Paris: its magical light, its soaring, statuesque bridges, its bustling river life and its elegant architecture. Almost every building of note is along the riverbank or nearby. On the Right Bank the path starts at the Louvre and runs to the Jardins du Trocadéro facing the Eiffel Tower. On the Left Bank it starts from the Pont de la Concorde and ends at the Pont d¹Austerlitz. The enchanting promenade on the Ile de la Cité, the heart of Paris, and on neighbouring Île Saint-Louis runs between the two bridges of Pont Neuf and Pont de Sully. Take a walk here and you see Paris as it was centuries ago.

For the quintessential Paris museum, head for the Musée d¹Orsay. This impossibly luxurious former train station was saved from demolition by President Giscard d¹Estaing, who proposed that it be transformed it into a museum of 19th-century art. Words cannot describe its riches: all the Impressionists are featured here, from early to late, with their forerunners and those who came after. Escalators take you high into light-filled galleries to see a feast of works by Manet, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Cezanne, van Gogh, Gaugin, Courbet, Redon, Signac and so many more. The photographic collection is also stunning.

For true Parisian streets, give Montmartre a miss and find Rue Vieille du Temple in Le Marais, in the Jewish Quarter. The street crosses the recommended walking tours, and, for now, has escaped being preserved; it is filled with tailors and printers, a laundry, a charcuterie, two boulangeries, a patisserie, a confectioner and a truffle shop with restaurant. Also in Le Marais is the Picasso Museum and the Place des Vosges, built by Henri IV and surrounded by 36 symmetrical pale pink stone townhouses with ground floor arcades and French windows. It is very splendid, and you can sit on the grass, which is not always the case in Paris. The Place is important to Parisians: try Place Dauphine, on the Île de la Cite. The noise of traffic over the Pont Neuf fades as you enter this secluded square with its chestnut trees and benches, cafés and outside tables.

Paris has so many fine churches, but La Sainte-Chapelle, which stands on the Île de la Cité, is a precious jewel among them. Built by King Louis IX in 1248, to house relics which included the Crown of Thorns (now in Notre-Dame), it is a spectacular Royal chapel on two levels: lower for the Royal servants, upper for the Royal Family. Enter the upper chapel and you will be amazed at the kaleidoscope of coloured light which streams in through the 50ft high windows. The effect is truly inspiring.

Restaurants and brasseries are too tempting, even in the railway stations. The most fabulous railway restaurant in the world is Le Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon; go for a drink to see the fabulous belle époque decoration. But to eat, choose Terminus Nord, where you catch your Eurostar back to London. Writers, artists, and politicians have long frequented Brasserie Lipp, in the Boulevard St-Germain; some say it is still up to standard, others disagree. President Mitterand used to eat Chez Lipp, which is a decided vote in its favour. Bofinger, next to the Bastille, is unfailingly good and loved by Parisians, and tourists alike.

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