Paris je t’aime

There's something very special about Paris. We visit the city of love and discover there's no escaping its romantic spell.
Paris je t’aime
By Laura Collacott
Wed 02 Jan 2008 04:00 AM

Paris is famous the world over for its chic style and effortless elegance. Historical monuments sit comfortably alongside bustling shopping areas and creative districts, an inspiring melange that has long formed a fertile breeding ground for creative minds.

Feeding on the atmosphere of the city, brilliant minds have produced some of their finest work: the impressionists developed their breakthrough new style of painting, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote his treatise on existentialism, Stravinsky composed some of his best orchestral works and Hemingway published his distinctive novels.

The Eiffel Tower has been visited by over 200 million people who come to admire the landmark that has become a symbol of modern Europe.

Today, Paris is a centre of culture and of business as well as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Though visitors may still spend many pleasant hours in one of the hundreds of cafes that pepper the city, there are some landmarks that guests should make an effort to go and see. Some may shun the famous attractions in search of a more authentic Parisian experience but the iconic are iconic for a reason and should not be overlooked.

Primarily, tourists should head for the Eiffel Tower. Originally built in 1889 as a temporary centrepiece of the Universal Exposition, the tower was the subject of much controversy when first announced, on account of the aesthetic sensitivities of locals. However once built, the landmark proved so popular that it has remained in place ever since.

To date, the tower has been visited by over 200 million people who come to admire the landmark that has become a symbol of modern Europe. Set in beautifully landscaped gardens and skillfully illuminated at night, visitors can go almost to the top of the 324-metre iron structure, either by lift or (for the more energetic) by climbing the 1,665 steps. The sweeping view of Paris that awaits is well worth the effort.

The other renowned image of Paris is the Notre Dame Cathedral. Set on a small island in the middle of the River Seine, the picturesque cathedral has stood in place since 1345. Firmly established on the tourist map, the cathedral can get pretty busy in the daytime so getting up early to be among the first at matins is recommended.

One of the main draws is the impressive stained glass ‘rose' windows that scatter coloured light artfully through the interior. Visitors can also scale the lofty gothic towers to see the Paris skyline from another angle and the famed gargoyles up close.

Francophiles will want to stand on the ‘point zéro' that lies in front of the cathedral (from which it was decreed that all of France's highway distances should be measured) as tradition has it that those who do will one day return to the city.

Once visitors have had their fill of the majestic ancient cathedral, a short stroll back across the bridge will lead past the traditionally styled and beautiful Hotel De Ville, or town hall.

This sits in Paris' cosmopolitan Latin Quarter, so named because of its historic and standing connection with the student community (scholars of the Sorbonne University in the area used to loiter, holding academic discussions in the Latin tongue of their studies) and so forms a vibrant and fashionable area to spend time in.

Business etiquetteThe French are known as a very formal people. The common first-name greetings in the US and Britain will tend to make your acquaintances aloof. Address everyone in the meeting room as ‘Monsieur' and ‘Madame'.

Knowledge of the French language will surely be a big plus in meetings. Otherwise, make it a point from the beginning that you would prefer to converse in English.

Parisians have an exaggerated reputation for rudeness. Make a lively conversation with the locals by saying ‘bonjour' (good day), ‘merci' (thanks), and ‘au revoir' (goodbye).

Shaking hands is a well-accepted greeting. Kissing on both cheeks as a form of greeting is reserved for those who have known each other well, so a handshake will put you in a safer position.

Its a norm in French bureaucracy to have meticulous business planning and long hours of debate before a business project is agreed; so patience would certainly be an asset. Once the wheels are running, the system moves with cunning efficiency.

Steeped in character, the left bank is a wonderful area to simply stroll around and take some lunch in one of the many bistros. Its trendy appeal has made the riverside areas home to the art community. The Musee D'Orsay, itself an architectural gem in the form of a renovated train station, houses a collection of impressionist masterpieces by Monet, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Gaugin.

Not far away is the Louvre, the most famous of the galleries in France's capital and the most visited art museum in the world (soon to be opening a branch in the Middle East).

The Louvre is the most famous of the galleries in France’s capital and the most visited art museum in the world.

It houses a huge collection of fine art and ancient artefacts, the undeniable highlight of which is Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The original Palais du Louvre forms the main fabric of the museum retaining a traditional French architectural style and adding the enviable bonus of the Tuileries gardens to the museum - a perfect spot for contemplation after cultural overload.

The now celebrated glass pyramid that stands in front of the museum was added in the 1980s. As with the Eiffel Tower, the structure was initially considered an abomination by many people but its striking design has swiftly been incorporated into the fabric of Paris' cityscape.

The Louvre's collection tends to a more classical style of art; those interested in modern art should make their way to the Pompidou Centre. Some have likened the arresting design to an oil refinery but the blueprint was created with functionality in mind; the escalators, service pipes and air conditioning units were all moved to the exterior of the structure to free up as much space as possible inside for displays.

Established in 1969, the museum now accommodates one of the best modern art collections in the world. Even the public square in front of the centre is a hotbed of creativity, being a popular venue for street performances.

Much of the above can be best viewed from a ‘Bateau Mouche' as it wends its way down the river that cuts through the heart of the city. The trading roots that Paris is built on have meant that much of the most ancient and beautiful sites fall on the river banks. Capitalising on this fact, the Bateaux Mouches are the equivalent of the famous London bus tour.

Wide, glass-roofed boats ferry eager tourists up and down the thronging river day and night. Entrepreneurial operators have combined the boat cruise with dinner onboard the spacious boats - an ideal way to take in the major sights while enjoying a dinner (accompanied fittingly by the tunes of a string quartet).

If there are some hours of daylight left in the sightseeing schedule, the Sacre Coeur and surrounding area of Montmartre is a stunning setting for sunset. Standing at 130 metres, the hill is one of the highest points in the predominantly flat capital and as a result proffers fantastic vistas across the landscape. The church at the summit is exquisite and is an ideal place for the symmetrically-minded to round the day off with evening vespers. Those who want to continue their tour of Paris by night should linger in the area after a spot of dinner as the nightclub district gets going a few hours after sundown.

Paris guards so many treasures to batter the keen tourist's senses that comfortable lodgings are essential. A range of options are available in the thousands of hotels scattered across the city but some stand out from the crowd. The Ritz Paris, for example, is a classic 5-star luxury hotel. Located in the centre of town, it has achieved the perfect mix of modern amenities and antique style. Another choice popular with celebrities is the Four Seasons George V, a stone's throw from the Champs-Elysées.

Where to stayThe Ritz ParisThe luxurious Ritz consists of the Vendome and the Cambon buildings with rooms facing Place Vendome and on the opposite side, rooms overlooking its famous garden. The Ritz has been the favourite among the well-known, with luxurious suites named after some of its notable patrons, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marcel Proust, King Edward VII, Elton John, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo. Four Seasons George V

Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris, an eight-storey landmark 1928 building, offers 245 guest rooms, all with unique architectural details and many featuring private terraces overlooking the world's most romantic city.

The Presidential Suites include spacious living and dining rooms with all the ambience of a luxurious European residence. Located on the first, three floors, these suites have stunning views of the Marble Courtyard and Avenue George V.

The epitome of Parisian style it offers superbly styled guest rooms and suites with private terraces, some of which overlook the Eiffel Tower. Guests weary of an active sightseeing schedule should consider retreating to La Galerie within the George V for a lightly refreshing traditional afternoon tea and a spot of discreet people watching.

Many of the hotels also have excellent bars at which to enjoy pre-dinner drinks. The Hemingway bar at the Ritz is so named because it was the venue of choice for Papa Hemingway's relaxed drinking sessions and the opulent piano bar retains its charm to this day. Equally, the George V hotel bar, or Le Bar to those in the know, has recently been refurbished and has an extensive cocktail menu that lends itself to an elegant soiree.

If the hotel dining does not appeal, there are countless other eateries to take advantage of in the gastronomic capital of the world. The Jules Verne restaurant has an untouchable location on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and a cuisine to match (leading chef Alain Ducasse took control in January 2007). Accessed by a private lift on the south pillar of the tower, the evening views from the restaurant are exquisite. It's a romantic spot but waiting lists of up to three months for a dinner reservation should impel plenty of pre-planning if a proposal is in order.

If the demand at the Jules Verne is too immense, the Tour D'Argent is another exclusive restaurant that overlooks the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral.

As with any good French restaurant, it has a vast cellar and talented sommelier staff to guide diners through the extensive choice available. However, the food is not secondary to the wine; the restaurant speciality is the canard au sang, duck in a rich blood-based sauce.

Few have sampled it and given it anything other than a shining review.

Once evening drinks and dinner have been attended to, some may care to venture out to sample the true Parisian nightlife. Being a European city, there are countless clubs and bars open until all hours; trendy watering holes have sprung up all across the fashionable areas of town. One of the front-runners in the latest crop is the Murano Urban Resort in the Marais district. Attracting a youthful, achingly fashionable crowd, the bar is in a converted apartment and car park which has been doused in white and accessorised with artwork and furniture in bold colours.

For the less fortunate, a trip to France's capital may be more business than pleasure. The city is one of the leading European centres of industry and as such, a distinct business district has emerged.

La Defense sits at the end of the city's 10km historical axis which runs from the Louvre and down the Champs-Elysées in a poker straight line that runs through the Arche De Triomphe to the geometric Grande Arche of the district itself. Steel and glass structures fill the skyline, marking the location of many of the country's most significant business deals. Although hotels and services are available in La Defense, it is easily accessed by RER, Metro and road - if in town to seal a big deal, enjoy the comforts and culture of central Paris and make a short commute to the office.

How to get thereGulf Air

Return flights four times a week between Dubai and Paris with an approximate time of 9 hours 35 minutes.

Business Class fare - US$ 2,566 per adult return

First Class fare - US$4,031 per adult return

British Airways

Return flights five times a week between Dubai to Paris, with an estimated travel time of 10 hours 15 minutes.

Business Club class fare - US$4,169 per adult return

First Class fare - US$4,698 per adult return

For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.