Belfast Telegraph

Travel review: A fresh perspective on Paris

By Paul Ferguson

I needed a fresh perspective on Paris. A different outlook on the city of love and light. The French capital’s stunning sights still delight and amaze me, but in recent times there was a predictability about my visits.

I wanted freed from the regular tourist traps of the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, river cruises, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral and Sacre Coeur to savour the sophistication of such a chic city.

The ultra cool and trendy W Hotel, in the heart of the Opera district, offers such an alternative.

A concierge can put forward ideas and make reservations, but Lea Fabrizio, as the hotel’s full time ‘W Insider’, and with a vast knowledge of every aspect of the city, is there ‘to make things happen’ — bringing a unique Paris experience for a guest.

From intimate wine tasting at Les Grandes Caves, just a 10-minute walk east of the Arc de Triomphe, to a relaxing walk and picnic in the grounds of Parc des Buttes Chaumont or an off-beat museum, Lea has welcoming suggestions and can put forward itineraries for each individual guest, depending on preference.

Restaurant reservations suddenly become available with Lea and her handy hints and tips can really improve and make a long weekend so much more enjoyable. For instance, when my wife and I met Lea in the DJ playing cocktail bar of the W Hotel after flying in from Belfast, it was early evening. We wanted a restaurant close by and within minutes Lea had written down her favourite Italian (Paparazzi), Spanish (La Demesure) and French (Maria Magdalena and L’Absythe) eateries — all within a stroll of the hotel.

Paparazzi proved to be a popular and pleasant Italian with excellent food and service to match.

Similarly, steak house Volver in St Germain, a 20-minute taxi ride away, for the following evening’s dinner, which Lea recommended, was a great choice, even though first impressions did not look overly positive with scaffolding nearly camouflaging the restaurant on the street and inside it was a tight squeeze. But Argentinian steak houses are renowned throughout the world for serving incredible beef dishes and Volver was no exception, washed down with the restaurant’s native beer and wine.

While Lea’s suggestions were most welcome, I also did my own research beforehand and managed to secure a table on a Saturday night at the Peninsula Hotel’s famed LiLi (19 Avenue Kléber).

For a special occasion, this is the ideal restaurant. In an incredible and luxurious setting, with only the finest waiting staff, each Cantonese dish, under the direction of Chef Ma, is a culinary delight.

Dim Sum, the two services of roast Peking duck and monkfish were absolutely delicious — so much flavour and enjoyment in each bite.

For late evening drinks, I found Experimental hidden on rue Saint Sauveur — an unpretentious cocktail bar with live music, where the staff provide quick and quality service, and with the cosy surroundings, there is a really good vibe to the place.

If Experimental is all about class, then Harry’s Bar (far right), on rue Daunou, especially at the weekend, is a good loud and proud pub — a haunt for locals and celebrities alike. Indeed, when we were there we literally bumped into Holywood actor and heartthrob, Jamie Dornan — out for a drink with his pals — and enjoying the buzz of the popular nightspot.

A final drink in Harry’s Bar brought to an end a day which unlike the rest of the long weekend wasn’t at all planned but was equally gratifying. With the sun shining on our backs we started to walk along the Seine at Notre Dame Cathedral, a delightful stroll that took us past street performers, Parisians enduring their morning outdoor work-outs and small sporting events on man-made beaches and pitches.

It was a hive of activity along with the stalls and markets. Before we knew it we were at the bridge for the Place de la Concorde and the start of the world famous avenue, Champs Elysees.

And just off the Champs Elysees we found Wine by One — a  quirky little ‘wine bar’ that serves over 100 different wines, from all over the world, by the glass in optic format. Simply put some Euro on a wine card and enjoy as many tastings as you desire. And if you really like a certain wine, there are bottles to buy and take home with you.

While Wine by One was a novelty experience, we soon returned to our district in Opera and much preferred the character bars such as Bistro De La Banque, great for beer and also the most mouth-watering beef bourguignon.

However, the abiding memory of this short city break is the ultra stylish W Hotel, overlooking the architecturally stunning Palais Garnier Opera House and close to the famous shopping mall — Galleries Lafayettes, the Macy’s of Paris.

Just walking through the doors, seeing the quills on the pens at reception, the expensive artwork displayed all over the walls with the theme of the six famous characters and the elegance combined with a modern twist make this hotel an incredible cool and chic place to stay.

New York influences combined with Parisian flair are evident.

The rooms and suites, of which there are 91 in total, are referred to by superlatives such as ‘Wonderful’ and ‘Spectacular’. And indeed their names are correct with the rooms masterfully decorated in French chic, luxurious beds, rain showers, free-standing baths and the latest widescreen plasma televisions. If you upgrade to a Suite, especially the Extreme Wow, you’ll find the TV as a free standing mirror.

The bathrooms in each room are large and that has been planned for people to get ready together. According to the ‘W Insider’ the ethos of the hotel is to relax, detox and chill during the day and then party all night long.

But in the Extreme Wow suite there really is no need to head for the comfort of the bar when you have your own personal bar space in the living area of the suite, along with neon lights, open fire and great views of the city with the huge high raised windows.

It is the dream living quarters for a short break and allied with the facilities on offer including Coquette restaurant and cocktail bar and unique ‘W Insider’, W Hotel really offers the WOW factor.

A completely new and favourable perspective on Paris for me.

How to get there:

Fly from Belfast International to Charles de Gaulle in Paris with easyJet. For flight information and fares log on to www.easyjet.com

Taxi from Charles de Gaulle to central Paris is 50 euro set fee.

Where to stay: the majestic W Hotel, 4 rue Meyerbeer, Paris. For offers, hotel

information and availability -

www.wparisopera.com or phone (0033) 177489494

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