DESTINATIONS FELL IN LOVE WITH HOTELS & SPAS

A sybaritic weekend in Paris: Memorable but costly

August 24, 2012

Reception lobby at Fouquet’s Barriere in Paris

When our 30th anniversary was approaching, my husband and I realized we had never been to Paris as a couple. We decided that this milestone was a good as any excuse for planning an over-the-top weekend celebration.

Paris is so rich and monumental—in terms of history, cuisine, art and culture—that mapping out an itinerary, particularly for short period of time, can be daunting. Since this was a last-minute indulgence, we decided to let our visit unfold.

An oasis from the bustling streets below

We booked a deluxe junior suite at the Hotel Fouquet’s Barriere, requesting an early Saturday morning check-in. Open since 2006, with 81 rooms and suites, Fouquet’s Barriere is one of the newer, boutique luxury hotels in Paris. Located at the corner of the Champs Elysee and avenue George V, the hotel is across the street from the flagship Louis Vuitton store (where a perpetual line of tourists wait to enter, even in the rain) and only a short walk to the Arc de Triomphe.

Fouquet’s Barriere is built atop and around the façade of the legendary Fouquet’s restaurant, a brasserie considered a shrine to films and celebrity. Both the architecture and interior design of the hotel are classic, reminiscent of the twenties. The lobby is decorated with oversized curved seats, somewhat like fainting couches, tufted in gold with red velvet pillows.

Check-in at the undulating, mirrored reception desk was seamless. Within a few minutes, we were shown to our room and taught to operate the TV. Embedded in a piece of furniture at the foot of the bed, it could be raised and lowered with its remote. All of the suite’s lighting could be operated from either side of the headboard.

Spacious and blissfully peaceful, our 500-square-foot suite had high ceilings and overlooked a beautiful garden below. The room had every amenity you might imagine: a complimentary minibar, a reading alcove off the bedroom, a separate (from the bathroom) lavatory with a toilet and bidet, high-thread bed linens, and Hermes toiletries with a gift bottle to take home.

With a knock on the door, Charles, our butler, introduced himself to see how he might make our stay more pleasant. Strikingly tall, handsome, and beautifully dressed, the Hugh Grant look-alike offered to unpack my suitcase. I declined rather than face the humiliation of him seeing my not-very-sexy underwear. He asked if we had plans for our stay and when we said we had none, offered suggestions about what to see, what to do, and how to get around.

First things first

Admittedly, it was hard to leave that palatial (and pricey) room but it was still before noon, so we headed to Café Marly, adjacent to the Louvre, for a cup of espresso. Once you step on French terroir, however, your mind quickly wanders to thoughts of fine foods and wine.

In our front-row seats under an arcade overlooking the museum’s courtyard, we sipped on Moet & Chandon and shared a plate of duck foie gras. We watched a row of tourists posing for photos while standing on concrete pedestals, with their arms seeming to touch the top of courtyard’s giant glass Pyramid designed by I.M. Pei.

When we travel to large cities, we can’t resist the allure of the open-top, hop-on, hop-off bus tour. It is one of the easiest ways to get an overview of a city’s iconic sights and to hear a bit of history in your language of choice through plugged-in ear buds.

The sun was shining all day as we traversed two of the four loops of the bus route.  We caught glimpses (and pictures) of the l’Opera, Tour Eiffel, Palais Royal, Notre Dame, Place de la Concorde, Moulin Rouge, Sacre Coeur, Hotel des Invalides, and more.

Over three and a half hours, traffic got snarled multiple times, allowing us to people-watch: lovers sitting at outdoor cafes or riding on scooters, mothers shopping with their kids, and tourists waiting on lines.

At the end of our tour, we stepped into Galleries Lafayette where we endured a long queue at the Longchamps counter on the first floor. The crowds made us wonder whether the economic decline was truly global. Then we hopped on the Paris Metro headed to the Marais district to stroll past the arty shops and peek in the windows of food markets.

A delectable dinner 

Le Diane is the Fouquet’s Barriere’s Michelin-starred restaurant. Its circular dining room is decorated in plums and ecru; an oversized round table in the center is resplendent with fresh flowers. Ours was one of ten tables placed around the room’s perimeter, each elegantly set with Christofle silver and Limoges china. The tables were so comfortably spaced that we felt like we were dining alone.

The seasonal tasting menu, with four courses and two dessert courses paired with wines, allowed us to sample French gastronomic classics. After a few amuse bouche, we lost track of the actual number of courses but tasted artichokes with black truffles; frogs leg ravioli; lightly-cooked salmon with razor clams; roasted asparagus from the south of France garnished with rhubarb; turbot with peas and morel mushrooms; braised veal sweetbreads with cauliflower risotto; and a cheese course. Dessert was fresh mango with lime zest, served in a crispy wafer with pina colada sorbet. After we were sure we couldn’t eat one more spoonful, we had wild strawberries with cheese sorbet served Suzette-style.

A dose of culture and more food

On our last full day in Paris, we had to be strategic. Given the predictable hordes of visitors, we decided to forgo a visit to the Louvre (the largest and most visited museum in Paris), whose collections sprawl over an area larger than 11 football fields.

We were certain our butler could point us in the right direction. After a single phone conversation, Charles arranged tickets for us at the Musee d’Orsay, world-known for its collection of impressionist art, and the Musee Jacquemart-Andre, a much smaller private museum. At the Musee d’Orsay, we started with the special Degas exhibit and then wandered through the floors filled with Monet, Manet, Renoir, Seurat, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

We peeked at the D’Orsay cafeteria but opted to take a taxi back “home” for a late lunch at Fouquet’s restaurant, the first brasserie to open on the Champs-Elysee. On a Sunday afternoon, it was filled with a mix of families and distinguished older men accompanied by attractive young women who looked like starlets or models.

My husband noticed a small plaque on the wall beside our table that read, “La table preferee de Charles Aznavour.” That lunch was truly memorable. With my eyes closed, I can still recall the taste and texture of the juicy piece of calves’ liver.

The Musee Jacquemart-Andree is open 365 days a year. With an excellent English-language audio guide we wandered through the opulent rooms of a preserved 19th century mansion that depicted upper middle-class Paris life during that period. The museum houses a world-class art collection with French, Dutch, English and Italian paintings.

That evening, Charles offered to pack our belongings. I declined. I still didn’t know him well enough. But when he suggested we book an illumination tour on our last night, we agreed it was a perfect way to end our visit. The evening was magical as the reflected lights of the monuments of Paris shimmered on the Seine.


IF YOU GO


[A version of this article previously appeared in the travel section of the Chicago Tribune on August 22, 2012 and in the Hartford Courant on August 21, 2012.] 

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  • Reply
    Sheryl
    August 24, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Sounds magical…what a wonderful write-up of your special celebration!

  • Reply
    Brette
    August 29, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Paris in on my must-see list and it’s definitely getting near the top of the list. I’m bookmarking this for future use!

  • Reply
    HeatherL
    August 30, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    This sounds like a grand way to have a special celebration.

  • Reply
    Jennifer Margulis
    August 30, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    Sooo jealous. I love Paris. Have been dying to go to France for a l-o-n-g time now (finances making it impossible, along with the unexpected death of a family member.) Sounds like you had an amazing trip!

  • Reply
    merr
    August 31, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Congrats to you! How wonderful to have such a terrific milestone to celebrate – a gift in itself!

  • Reply
    Jane Boursaw
    August 31, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Such a bounty of choices! Stay in the magnificent room or venture into the magnificent city. Sounds lovely, though I’d likely have to win the lottery before I book a trip like this. 🙂

  • Irene S. Levine
    Reply
    Irene S. Levine
    August 31, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    There are some benefits to being of a certain age! You’ll get there, Jane. Ruth, go for it!

  • Reply
    Jane Boursaw
    August 31, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    Irene – I’m already “there,” but being the one and only breadwinner in a family of 4 with a kid in college and another one headed to college in the next few years, extra cash for travel is not in the plan. 🙂

  • Reply
    ruth pennebaker
    August 31, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    Loved this so much I want to do it, too. We have a 40th anniversary coming up — so pourquoi pas?

  • Irene S. Levine
    Reply
    Irene S. Levine
    September 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Hope things get easier when yours is out of college….travel close at home can lift your spirits, too, without compromising your pocketbook 🙂

  • Reply
    Ruth Stiemann
    September 4, 2012 at 2:09 am

    I already mentioned to Irene what a wonderful article she wrote – it was right on – we had a similar trip to Paris in 2001. My brother and I enjoyed a European vacation that included visiting Paris for a few days. We were 65+ years old, planned it ourselves and loved every minute of it. To all of you only “thinking about it”, just do it. Keep your eye on a good airfare – they do sneak in there every once in a while. Take that trip wherever and make your own memories – soon. My brother passed away suddenly two years ago – he was a wonderful travel partner. Don’t wait too long!!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 4, 2012 at 2:43 am

      So sorry for your loss, Ruth, but I’m glad that you have wonderful memories to sustain you. Thanks so much for your kind note to my editor and for your post.

  • Reply
    MyKidsEatSquid
    September 14, 2012 at 2:03 am

    Congrats on the anniversary. My hubby and I have been thinking about where we’d want to go to celebrate some day and we’ve settled on Spain. So someday…Thanks for sharing this.

  • Reply
    Kris @ Attainable Sustainable
    September 15, 2012 at 7:03 am

    I’m dying to get to Paris, but when I go I want to be able to stay in the area for several weeks. Pipe dreams, I know, but it’s a goal.

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