Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 15, 2017
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Paris match

Pair your taste for the good life with the French capital's most affordable finds

Paris is the city of eternal clichés: the city of lights, city of romance, city of grand boulevards and monumental architecture, city of artists and bohemians. Yet around every delightful corner, it does live up to its accolades.

Some might opine that "budget Paris" is an oxymoron; I beg to differ. Many of the pleasures in the city that Ernest Hemingway described as "a moveable feast" are free and there are savvy ways to scrimp and save -- leaving a little left over to indulge in a few frivolous fantasies.

Air Transat Holidays (tel: 866-322-6649; www.airtransatholidays.com) offers an irresistible reason to pack your valise for Paris. Starting from $1129, their package includes flight, airport/hotel transfers, seven nights and American-style buffet breakfasts at the three-and-a-half-star Hotel Bleu Marine (30-40 Rue du Commandant Mouchotte; tel: 011-33-1-5654-8400) in Montparnasse. Normal room rates here start at €140 plus €13 for breakfast. A taxi to the airport costs about €50 -- and let's not forget the cost of a flight. You do the math.

The hotel is modern with in-room Internet access, a fitness centre and sauna. Unusual for Paris, they even offer some non-smoking rooms. There's a cosy library bar where newly arrived guests are treated to a flute of Champagne. I'm not much of a breakfast eater, so while I sipped a café au lait and nibbled on a buttery croissant, I made a baguette sandwich of ham and cheese and wrapped it in a napkin for lunch on the road. Their Rose des Vents restaurant offers a fantastic all-you-can-eat buffet starting at €17, including fresh salads, oysters, steamed jumbo shrimp and langoustines.

For $220 (each way) clients can upgrade to Air Transat's Club Class offering roomier seats, a choice of meals, free bar service, headsets, advanced seat selection and priority baggage service.

I also checked out the four-star Hotel Littré (9 rue Littré; tel: 011-33-1-5363-0707) where a seven-night package starts from $2179. Located on a quiet street, it's in the same lively Latin Quarter with large rooms, deluxe marble bathrooms, turn-down service and an elegant breakfast room. Regular room rates here start at €240; €15 for breakfast. Both hotels are Left Bank gems.

Air Transat's package also includes a complimentary cruise along the Seine aboard Bateaux Parisiens (tel: 011-33-1-4411-3344; www.bateauxparisiens. com; €9.50). Starting at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, it's the ideal way to soak up the major sights. A tape-recorded commentary provides history and anecdotes as the boat floats under Paris' many beautiful bridges, passing the Assemblée nationale, the Musée d'Orsay, the Louvre, Notre-Dame Cathedral and plenty of joggers. Parisian architecture seems even more impressive viewed from the water, and the hour-long cruise also offers new camera angles for avid shutterbugs.

Pass it On
Paris is vast. You'll want to explore its many neighbourhoods on foot but to get from one end of the city to the other, buy a Paris Visite transport pass (3 days for €18.25; 5 days, €26.65) for unlimited travel on the subway, RER trains and buses. The bus system is well mapped and often preferable to the metro. Wouldn't you rather see more of Paris and less of its tunnels? Some metro stations are so big you'd swear you could walk to your destination by the time you reach the correct platform.

It's also worth considering buying a Museum Pass (3 days for €36; 5 days, €54), available at tourist offices, museums or metro stations. The pass gives you access to 70 museums and monuments (where ticket prices are generally between €5-10), including the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Rodin and Picasso museums, plus the grand châteaux of Versailles and Fontainebleau, where nothing succeeds like excess. You'll be able to visit the same museum multiple times and, most importantly, bypass ticket lines -- which can be daunting.

Just Wandering Around
Absolutely free for the walking are the statue-filled Jardin des Tuileries beside the Louvre and the Jardins du Luxembourg in Montparnasse. At the Tuileries tots can enjoy a twirl on a vintage carousel for €2. At Luxembourg, kids can sail toy boats in the fountain or watch a puppet show. Find a sunny spot and do as the French do, pull up two chairs -- one to sit on, the other to rest your feet after all that walking. On weekends they're both perfect spots for people watching.

If ever there was a who's who of cemeteries, it would have to be Père Lachaise. Named after Louis XV's confessor, father Lachaise, the 43-hectare park is the final resting place of Molière, Balzac, Edith Piaf, Chopin, Proust and rock star Jim Morrison, to name but a few. Oscar Wilde's Egyptian-style gravestone is covered with lipstick kisses. You can easily spend a peaceful afternoon wandering through the maze of graves. Buy a map at the gates or nearby tabac store.

Name it and you'll most likely find it at the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, a flea market by the Porte de Clignancourt metro, open Saturday to Monday. Beware of pickpockets as you walk the few blocks through the junky tent-covered stalls to rue des Rosiers where the real antique market begins. You'll find an amazing array of items that recreate Parisian life throughtout the eras: Art Deco items, old military costumes, tapestries that must have hung in grand palaces, dolls, silver, oak armoires, marble mantles, vintage Louis Vuitton trunks, to name a few.

This being Paris most of the vendors bring along their dogs, so you'll see King Charles spaniels snoozing on the Oriental carpets or poodles perched on the tasseled pillows. There are several places to grab a bite but the only one with entertainment is Chez Louisette (132 avenue Michelet; tel: 011-33-1-4012-1014) where a songstress belts out Edith Piaf tunes to the accompaniment of an accordion player and pianist. It's kitsch and the food is mediocre but it's great fun, especially on a rainy day.

 

Palaces for the Palate
Yes, it is possible to have a bad meal in Paris. Try to avoid the tourist traps, especially on the Champs-Elysées, and eat where the Parisians do. Generally the small maman-et-papa run establishments offer the best value. Not far from Gare Montparnasse, at L'Amuse Bouche (186 rude du Château; tel: 011-33-1-4335-3161), Gilles and Chantal Lambert serve a starter, main course and dessert for €29.50. You might begin with a Provence-style artichoke stew, followed by rabbit and wild mushrooms in philo pastry and finish with a crème brûlée. Often you'll save on wine by ordering a pichet (pitcher) of house red, rosé or white. Paris water is perfectly drinkable; order a carafe instead of bottled water.

Café Hugo (22 place des Vosges; tel: 011-33-1-4272-6404) in Paris' oldest and most magnificent square -- Place des Vosges -- is the perfect spot to stop for a steaming bowl of French onion soup or an all-day omelette (about €5) after a visit to the Maison Victor Hugo at number €6. The writer's former home is now a museum and literary shrine. Afterwards, you'll be ready to explore the smart shops on rue des Francs-Bourgeois.

Near the Tuileries, at 226 rue de Rivoli, join the queue at Chez Angelina, a grand tea salon known for its velvety African hot chocolate (about 6 for two cups) and decadent bonbons and pastries. The century-old spot was a favourite with Proust, Coco Chanel and George V.

Or if you're on the Left Bank, rue Mouffetard (nicknamed rue Mouff) is one of the liveliest streets in the area and makes for a great stroll. It's filled with cheap and cheerful Greek, Lebanese and French restaurants, and even cheaper crêperies. Le Jardin d'Ivy (75 rue Mouffetard; tel: 011-33-4-4707-1929) serves traditional French cuisine and has a charming secret garden. Should you be in the mood for a picnic, the bustling street market (closed Mondays) is the place to fill your basket with wine, cheese, rotisserie chicken, baguettes and fresh produce.

If heaven ever froze over, some say it would be served in an ice cream cone at Octave (138 rue Mouffetard; tel: 011-33-1-4335-2056; two scoops, €3). They use no colouring or preservatives and only seasonal ingredients. Others prefer to take their licks at Berthillon (31 rue St-Louis-en-l'Île; tel: 011-33-1-4354-3161; two scoops, €3.50) behind Notre-Dame Cathedral on peaceful Île St. Louis. Either way, you'll enjoy the streetscapes.

Window-Licking Good
We say window-shopping. The French say lèche vitrines, which literally means window-licking, and no city creates more delicious displays. Start with a stroll down the fashionable rue Faubourg St-Honoré. At Hermès (number 24) you might be tempted to buy the ultimate French status item, a silk scarf (about €245) or tie. Or you might prefer to just continue down the street past Cartier, Chanel and Givenchy. Further along at 26 place de la Madeleine, venture into the ultra gourmet Fauchon store and pick up some exotically flavoured mustards such as violet, fennel, tarragon or cognac for only €4.25.

If all this window-licking has worked up a thirst, head to Lavinia (3-5 boulevard de la Madeleine; tel: 011-33-1-4297-2020; lunch menus around €30-40 including wine), a wine and spirits emporium with 2000 foreign wines and 3000 French wines starting as low as €3 per bottle. The great deal here is that the third-floor restaurant lets you enjoy lunch while drinking the wine you bought at the shop, with no additional mark-up.

One of the trendiest addresses in town is the new Baccarat crystal headquarters (8 place des États-Unis; tel: 011-33-820-322-222), where designer Philippe Starck theatrically renovated a sumptuous mansion. Downstairs, brushed concrete walls and mile-long crystal tables showcase glassware and jewellery. Upstairs is the Baccarat museum (€7) and Cristal Room restaurant (entrees €30, main courses €60). Forget about dinner unless you've reserved weeks in advance. With luck, you might get a table for a chic lunch.

If you're travelling with teens, you might want to pop into Colette (213 rue St-Honoré; tel: 011-33-1-5535-3390), a minimalist temple to the ultra trendy that oozes attitude. In the basement you can rehydrate at the Water Bar or maybe get your Starbucks caffeine fix. The ground floor sells funky, fun items. How about a pair of Prada training weights designed by Philippe Starck? On the top floor, the merchandise gets pricier and the sales staff gets snobbier for the full Parisian experience.

Chef for a day on the Champs-Elysées
Lenôtre (10 avenue des Champs-Elysées; tel: 011-33-1-4265-9760; soulier_celine @lenotre.fr), caterer to Paris' rich and famous and celebrated for its exquisite French pastries, now runs afternoon cooking classes from its restaurant/boutique/school. I decided to sign up for a class orchestrated by François Schmitt, who I'm told is one of the best pastry chefs in the city.

From two in the afternoon until six in the evening, our group of six created a confection known as Le Fraisier. From its white chocolate bottom to its layers of spongy cake, butter cream, Italian meringue, wild strawberries and raspberry coulis to its pistachio top, we followed Monsieur Schmitt's exacting instructions. There was no guessing or throwing in a pinch of this or a handful of that. This cake was made with scientific precision.

Four hours later, our masterpiece was carefully cut into six sections and boxed for each of us to take with us. Now that I know how much meticulous work goes into one of those Parisian pastries, I can almost justify their outrageous prices. The course costs €100, but the cake is worth about €30 and feeds six. And there's something to be said for learning the vaunted art of French pastry in the shop serving Paris' most noble palates.

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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