By Pamela Jacobs
The first visit to Paris, I imagine, is the most magical. Indeed, every visit to the City of Lights, the city that many consider the most romantic in the world, is surely spectacular, but the first one carries the weight of a lifelong dream, and the splendor of seeing something extraordinary for the very first time.
On my recent first visit, I had approximately 36 hours—not even a full weekend. I was headed for a trip to the Rhone-Alps region of France, and decided to fly into Paris to begin my journey there. “Only one weekend?” someone asked me shortly before I went. “That’s just not enough time. Is it worth it?” Not enough time to see everything? Absolutely. Worth it? Without a doubt. “If someone who’d never been to New York had the opportunity to visit for a weekend, would you tell them not to bother?” I asked this skeptical, die-hard New Yorker. “Or if you could have a little taste of something wonderful, would you not try it if you couldn’t have the whole thing?” “Point taken,” he replied. Indeed, a weekend was brief, but perfect, magnificent, and all I could have asked for, and more.
I must admit, I was staying at what many consider the best hotel in Paris, so that didn’t hurt. Le Meurice, my 2-night home in Paris, was not only possibly the best hotel in Paris, but certainly up there with the best hotels I’ve ever seen, or stayed at. It was, in a word, divine. In fact, when I arrived after my overnight flight, my original plan was to check into the hotel and hit the streets immediately, but when I got to the hotel and set foot in my room, the plan changed. I had to spend the next few hours basking in the splendor of my luxurious, opulent, regal room. What other words ran through my head? Grand, decadent, lavish, perfect. I felt like a princess. Better yet, it was like I was in a movie about Paris, and I was the star. Le Meurice is the Paris we all dream of.
Located incredibly close to the Louvre and Place de la Concorde, and across the street from the gorgeous Tuileries Gardens, it couldn’t be a more convenient place to call home. The hotel, really a Parisian palace, has a rich history, dating back to 1771, when its proprietor welcomed upper-class British travelers to the shores of France. Later the hotel became known as a respite for royalty and aristocracy, having hosted Queen Victoria, Alphonse XIII (King of Spain), the King of Montenegro, the Dukes and Duchesses of Windsor, Kent, York and Marlborough, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Picasso, Tchaikovsky, Salvatore Dali, and many, many more.
The lobby is at once breathtaking and overwhelming in its sheer beauty, and seems to magnetically pull you in, making it hard to leave. Past the entrance is the dramatic Restaurant Le Dali, which includes tones of gold and ochre, hints and references to Dali, and a stunning canvas painted by Ara Starck, Phillipe Starck’s daughter (Phillipe Starck is responsible for the hotel’s gorgeous interiors). Restaurant Le Dali’s three-Michelin star chef, Yannick Alléno, presents diners with sophisticated, transporting gastronomic masterpieces that are both modern and traditional, simple and sophisticated, classic and inspired.
Off of this grand restaurant lies another, equally overwhelmingly beautiful one, Restaurant Le Meurice, whose décor was inspired by the Salon de la Paix at Château de Versailles. The 17th century “grand siècle” style is exhibited with grand marble fireplaces, ancient mirrors, antique chandeliers, frescoes, paintings, and gilded glass doors—the view of the Tuilleries Gardens outside of the enormous windows adds even more to the spectacle. And amazingly enough, the stunning food and wine offerings live up to the grace and regality of the setting. It’s all enough to take your breath away.
That first night I chose to take advantage of the warm, cozy, sophisticated Bar 228, located off of Le Dali, and indulged in a glass of port while simultaneously drinking in the sights of the dark wood and leather furnishings, and the equally sophisticated international crowd.
Le Meurice’s guests looking for pleasure in the form of relaxation and body bliss are delighted to find that the Spa Valmont is a treasure. Massages, facials, and makeup applications are all offered in yet another stunning setting, utilizing Valmont products, an upscale Swiss brand of cosmetics. Here, like everywhere else in the hotel, luxury and beauty combine to form an enchanting experience.
And now I must talk about the rooms—the reason I spent my first four hours in Paris in the hotel. I simply couldn’t leave it. The large tub in the marble bathroom, combined with the soft robe and slippers contributed to my inability to walk away. As did the plush king size bed with silk-like sheets and what seemed like a hundred soft pillows. I was tired from my flight and wanted to nap in the bed, but at the same time, I didn’t want to close my eyes. Once again, perfection.
Every one of the 160 fully appointed rooms is opulent and spectacular, combining Louis XVI style décor and class with modern conveniences and comforting amenities. Additionally, there are 45 suites and junior suites, most of which overlook the Tuileries Gardens, all of which are fit for royalty. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to leave either.
But leave, I finally did, and I spent the next day and a half in what I referred to as an out-of-body, dreamlike state. Seeing one’s dream destination for the first time can do that. I couldn’t believe it was the actual Mona Lisa (La Joconde) I was looking at at the Louvre, and not far from her, the Venus de Milo (both housed in what might be the world’s greatest museum). When I walked along the quays of the Seine, I was lightheaded from the meaning of it all. Here I was, walking beside the Seine River in Paris, the Louvre behind me, the Arc de Triomphe ahead, the left and right banks on either side, and the Eiffel Tower somewhere in the near distance. It was all I had imagined it would be and more.
When I finally made it to the Eiffel Tower on the afternoon of my second day, I had already walked what felt like 100 miles. I had been on both sides of the river, to several museums, the top of the Arc de Triomphe, various neighborhoods, and a bistro where I sat outside and devoured a croque madame. When I got to the Eiffel Tower, I was tired, but exhilarated. I looked up and thought I might cry. It was the actual Eiffel Tower, not a photo. I rode to the top, stopping off at the two levels prior to the top, each time getting a little more excited about the prospect of reaching the very pinnacle of the tower. And when I finally reached it, it was extraordinary. I spotted a little window where they were selling glasses of champagne (Alain Ducasse champagne—only in Paris!), and bought a glass, sipping it while looking out onto the view of the entire city, and beyond. Words can’t do justice to what I felt at that moment, and it’s something that needs to be experienced, not just described. As I rode down the elevator, a young Australian girl said to her friend, “do you realize we were just at the top of the Eiffel Tower?” Exactly.
I slept like a baby my second and final night, having ended my day with a late dinner at a bistro consisting of a variety of cheeses, bread, and a good glass of wine. Early the next day, as I ate my plate of croissants in Restaurant Le Meurice, I knew it would be hard to get up off that chair and walk out of the hotel and away from my brief but wonderful 36 hours in Paris. I also knew that I had a week to look forward to traveling around the Rhone-Alps, and that certainly made it a lot easier. I do know this: whether you have a day, a week, or a month in Paris, whether you can see some of the many amazing sights, or just one, your visit there will be nothing short of a dream come true, and you’ll leave knowing that you spent time in, without a doubt, one of the greatest cities on earth.
Your Weekend in Paris:
Stay at Le Meurice, a Dorchester property. 228 Rue de Rivoli, Telephone +33 1 44 58 10 10,
Be Sure to visit the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Seine, and the Musée d’Orsay. To get around the city, pick up a Plans de Paris (maps of Paris) guidebook at any local bookstore, which includes easy to use maps of every arrondissement.
Paris has an overwhelming amount of fantastic restaurants. Try Chez L’ami Jean (www.amijean.eu/) for authentic Basque cuisine on the left bank; Les Deux Magots (www.lesdeuxmagots.fr), in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, is a famous, historical restaurant whose patrons have included Hemingway, Picasso, and Simone de Beauvoir. Le Fumoir (www.lefumoir.com) is an excellent choice for a casual French dinner near the Louvre. Le Meurice’s restaurants are exceptional and should not be missed.
Air France flies nonstop, and boasts free champagne and wine, earplugs, and sleep masks as gifts to all flyers, even in coach.