How to spend the perfect long weekend in Paris
The first question anyone is bound to ask you if you’re going to Paris for the weekend is: “Oh, are you getting the train?” Such is the British love for the Eurostar that no one even cares what you’re actually going to do when you get there. For those that do care, in a long weekend (we went Friday morning to Sunday evening) we wanted a real mixture of food, culture and exploring new parts of the city. The best part of going to Paris if you’ve been before is that you will have ticked off all those “iconic” destinations, and now have room to explore the parts that don’t pop up in every “top 10 things to do” list.
Our base was the Plaza Athénée (rooms from £1,531 per night, dorchestercollection.com), and if you have the means to stay in total unapologetic luxury, then you should absolutely go for it. Our suite was on the sixth floor, with a balcony that looked out onto the Eiffel Tower — near enough to the landmark to see it in all its beauty, but far away from all the crowds and queues. It was such a calm oasis away from the streets below. And if like me you were an avid Sex and the City fan, that episode where Carrie arrives in Paris, checks into the Plaza and screams in sheer delight at her balcony view — that was the room next door.
We arrived into light drizzle and grey skies, picking up the blue-grey zinc Haussman rooftops perfectly, and headed (after a quick nap — 5am wake-ups are never easy) to the Marais in search of lunch. I can wholeheartedly recommend the famous Jewish bakery Sacha Finkelsztajn (laboutiquejaune.fr), where I’ve had incredible bagels on more than one trip to Paris. This time, though, we opted for the Israeli cafe Miznon (miznonparis.com) for heaped pita breads. Stepping off the rain- soaked streets into a room filled with warm music, steamed up windows and the smell of freshly chopped herbs was incredible. I chose a falafel pita, drenched in Tahini and chilli and fresh tomato — a balance of tart and fresh and spicy and rich. My boyfriend went for the lamb kebab, and a happy hungry silence followed.
Well-fuelled, we explored a myriad of vintage shops all around — from the curated Système Solère, Le Temple Du Vintage with striking pieces from Courreges, YSL, Dior and Missoni to the mish mash of Vintage Désir under its wooden ‘coiffure’ sign with strange five-euro hats and a yellow fur coat I didn’t buy but someone else did five minutes later. We also made the pilgrimage to Merci — a concept store of the most buyable things (homeware, jewellery, clothes) — that you will struggle to leave empty-handed. I also recommend having afternoon coffee and cake from their cafe with its floor-to-ceiling lined shelves of old books, which you can take off the shelves and read… if you’re fluent in French.
From Merci we braved the rain and headed for the Ile Saint Louis, one of the two natural islands in the Seine — past Notre Dame to read about the vast restoration project underway after the 2019 fire — and to one of my favourite bars, the St Regis (cafesaintregisparis.com). People often talk about the famous Angelina hot chocolate, thick and gloopy and indulgent, but the St Regis does a much less cloying and more delicate version topped with a flower of whipped cream. A shot of espresso afterwards is good to shake off the chocolate too. We sat and drank slow glasses of wine on the brink of early dinner time whilst watching groups of locals spoon onion soup into their mouths, curls of Gruyère falling back into the white china bowls.
Afterwards we made a pit stop in the rain for ice cream from Berthillon just down the street from the St Regis. My boyfriend declared this complete daylight robbery — a very neat (small) boule of ice cream is four euros. If you’re imagining heaped Italian gelato, this is not the place. But the flavours — pine nut praline and burnt butter caramel — are subtle, not too sweet and, in my opinion, worth the price.
That night, we decided to try a chaotic dinner in the 9th, at Bouillon Chartier (bouillon-chartier.com) — a sort of Berghain no-booking bistro where you join what looks like an endless queue with everyone from huge groups of dressed up locals to extremely casual solo diners. When you make it near the front, a bouncer will pick you off in odd numbers after constant one-word phone calls. The line is its own event and has a point about 20 minutes in where you can get a glass of sangria for a euro — which makes the whole thing feel quite fun.
When you’ve made it inside, the place is like a genuinely authentic Brasserie Zedel — 1950s decor with vast ceilings, luggage racks for your bags, and a waiter who will seat you and take an order within minutes — scrawling your decisions illegibly on the paper in front of you. The prices are well worth it. You can get an Americano aperitif (an almost negroni) for less than three euros. One tip is that this is not the place to be adventurous with food … my boyfriend chose the calf’s head and let’s just say — the spaghetti might have been better. Do try their ice cream profiteroles dusted in flaked almonds to finish though. It was a brilliant atmospheric dinner venue, where you will probably leave after midnight, having spent under 30 euros a head each after three courses, and having heard all 200 people inside the restaurant burst into gleeful choruses of happy birthday at least twice.
We woke up to another grey day on the Saturday, our balcony dusted in droplets — and enjoyed a slow morning of a long breakfast at the hotel (pistachio pastries, croissants filled with jam, fresh juice, porridge and fruit, and the rather English boiled eggs and soldiers), before walking to the Pompidou via the Tuileries. We had been aiming for the Musee Orangerie to see the exhibition of Matisse’s work in the 1930s, but had made the mistake of not booking so a queue stretched down the length of horse chestnut trees.
At around 4pm we were hungry again (the sign of a good breakfast), and decided to try a place that had been recommended to me by a friend who grew up in Paris: Le Barav (lebarav.fr). An unpretentious wine bar in the upper Marais, it was dotted with an eclectic mix of Parisians spilling out onto tiny round tables on the side of the street. It is the perfect place for a very late lunch or an early evening snack if you’re having a classically late dinner. While the sun finally made a welcome appearance, we devoured a generous cheese board washed down with several cheap glasses of light white wine from the Loire — and enjoyed every second. Our only mistake we realised after going inside to the menagerie of bottles inside — is that you can choose any bottle of wine you want to drink and pay six euros to drink it outside.
We took Lime scooters back to the hotel for dinner, zig zagging the base of the Seine past groups of friends and lovers drinking by the river as the sun went down. Ditching our scooters round the corner from Avenue Montaigne (not sure how many Plaza guests arrive to formal dinners by electric scooter), we arrived just in time to shower and change and be downstairs in time for the chef’s menu at the Jean Imbert — a restaurant that only opened nine weeks ago but already has a Michelin star.
The setting is nothing short of Versailles: vast ceilings and gilded cornices tower above huge urns teeming with pink roses — all dotted down a central table made from one singular slab of marble. Our dinner — we opted for ‘Le Menu De Jean’ — was all a surprise, and frankly more akin to performance art. We started with wisps of cheese pastries; langoustines covered in individually-hand-placed vegetable scales that made the shellfish look like a rainbow mermaid’s tail, before moving onto a brioche filled with egg yolk, cream and covered in caviar (delicate and surprising, one of the highlights of the whole menu). Then, we ate multiple parts of the lobster — including the head — all seared in front of our eyes in cognac. It was rich and warming with a hint of spice. By the time we made it to dessert I don’t think either of us actually thought we could eat a bite more — until two golden balls arrived in front of our eyes — a glittering sugar shell that satisfyingly cracked to reveal a lemon caramel and the softest vanilla cream. It didn’t stop there — a whole copper tub of homemade pistachio ice cream came alongside — the perfect shade of pale yellow-green, and a rhubarb tart to offset the sweetness, the strings of fruit laid across pastry like thick brushstrokes of pink paint. We staggered upstairs to bed, swearing we would never eat again.
On our final day, we woke up to full sunshine pouring onto our balcony and marvelled at how different Paris looks in the sunshine and blue skies: a totally new city. After taking a moment to read on the balcony — or in my case to stare at the Eiffel Tower again and take a lot of pictures — we ventured downstairs for another lavish breakfast we almost couldn’t face after the dinner the night before. From there we walked off the rich food by going to Montmartre to experience its winding cobbled streets and charming painted signage — and on market day where stalls of classic french crockery, glassware and mother-of-pearl jewellery boxes sat alongside records tattered books and frilled blouses that shimmered in the wind. If you’re not looking for the tourist hotspot of La Maison Rose (lamaisonrose-montmartre.com), where you’ll experience the Montmartre paparazzi taking “the” shot over and over, head just a few minutes away to Les Cinq Marches (5marches-montmartre.com) for coffee and cakes, or to Café De Luce (cafedeluce.com) for drinks outside in the square under dappled light from tall green trees.
We wound our way on to the Canal St Martin (Paris’ answer to East London), for lunch sat basking outside in the sunshine. We grabbed a bottle of wine from a natural wine bistro Le Verre Volé (leverrevole.fr) with floor to ceiling bottles boasting playfully printed labels (if wine bar Early June (early-june.fr) just 30 seconds round the corner had been open yet we would have also tried there), and huge sandwiches crammed with myriad vegetables from the vegan Plan D — which tasted anything but vegan. The huge queue that snakes round these tiny streets is testament to how delicious the food is. We even convinced them to lend us two plastic wine glasses so we could enjoy our bottle of Nicolas Reau Muscadet by the canal, watching boats go up and down the green water and forget that we were about to leave.