It was the kind of assignation much loved in trashy novels. Woman travels to Paris for a weekend away, checks into luxury hotel and settles in. There’s a knock on the door and she rushes to open it. Standing there is the man she has been waiting for. She greets him... do I need to go on?
This wasn’t a novel, it was our wedding anniversary. To mark the occasion that had seen us embark on a lifetime’s journey of shared bills, two children, nine house moves and lots of love, my husband Martin, otherwise known as the wandering executive, and I decided that this was an opportunity for a weekend in Paris. The fact that he mainly works overseas and I hadn’t seen him for several weeks added a frisson of excitement to the arrangements.
I travelled by train from Yorkshire, avoiding airport hassle. The real bonus was in London where I strolled from the vast, clear space that is now Kings Cross station to St Pancras to take the Eurostar straight into the heart of Paris. He flew in from somewhere in Eastern Europe, still in his business suit, carrying two computers and the cares of a busy week, but with dinner booked and two clear days ahead of us, this was going to be a weekend to remember.
To be honest we have visited Paris before. Our son was a student there so we have battled around the périphérique, flat-hunted in dodgy districts, eaten steak frites and stayed in a tiny hotel room up four flights of stairs. This was going to be different. There was no schedule and no key tourist sights to tick off a list, just two days to wander, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy some time together. And because this was our anniversary treat, a little luxury was called for.
We stayed at the five-star Le Bristol in the heart of the city. Wherever you stay in Paris the Metro is never far away, but we had just two days to enjoy the city so Le Bristol’s location just off the Champs Elysées put us within walking distance of the main attractions. It is also one of the best hotels in Paris. They have spent E150m renovating this grand 18th-century building and it shows in the huge comfortable beds, marble-clad bathrooms and soft furnishings to die for. There is a tranquil garden where afternoon tea is served, a swimming pool in the eaves with views across Paris and quiet, attentive staff who can rustle up extra toast at breakfast or a restaurant reservation for dinner with speed and a smile.
My first port of call, before the exhausted wanderer appeared at my door, was the Paris Tourist Office where I picked up our Museum Passes, pre-ordered online and costing around the same as the entry to two of the major museums. This was the magic ticket that would take us to the head of the queue at museums and galleries, avoiding the long line of people waiting in the rain.
This weekend definitely had no schedule but I was going to make the most of my time in Paris and art was the theme. On Saturday morning we headed to the Musée d’Orsay, formerly a railway station and now converted into one of the best art galleries in the world. With masterpieces at every turn there had to be a plan so we decided that we would only look at works of art that we might offer a home to, given an unlimited budget and a vast new extension to our house. So we gazed at works by Monet, Manet, Renoir and Van Gogh, planning where each one would hang. It was like window-shopping with a billionaire’s budget. There was a break for coffee in the fabulous gilded, mirrored Belle Époque restaurant.
From there it was a short stroll to Musée Rodin housed in the graceful mansion where the sculptor lived and paid rent with his work. Once again we cherry-picked some masterpieces, enjoying the dynamics of choosing our favourites. I don’t think we have conversed so much in months.
In the evening sunshine, we walked down the Champs Elysées, window-shopped on Rue St Honoré and drank cocktails in Le Bristol’s bar.
On Sunday it was time to tackle the Louvre and that needed a plan. Despite the fact this wasn’t the first Sunday in the month when the world and his wife can visit Paris museums free of charge, the world had turned up anyway. It was packed, so we made a strategic decision, deciding not to visit La Gioconda and her enigmatic smile. I have tried to see this famous painting before but only managed a glimpse between the backs of other people’s cameras. So we toured as many galleries as our feet could manage, running out of wall-space in our imagined art-filled home.
Eating and drinking in Paris is easy, the most difficult part is deciding where to go. On our first evening we ate in the Michelin star restaurant in the hotel, 114 Faubourg, where my lobster salad and pigeon casserole were not only delicious but looked good enough for an art gallery.
On the Saturday we choose the nearby Les 110 de Taillevent where they have 110 different wines open and available by the glass so we could chop and change to suit each course – fabulous.
This was just two days away but it felt like a week’s holiday. Relaxing, reviving and hugely indulgent, it was just what a special wedding anniversary needed. On Sunday afternoon the wandering executive flew off to another bit of Europe and I headed back to Gare du Nord to join my Eurostar train home.
My Business Premier seat gave me access to the lounge before boarding and once on the train a glass of champagne was poured for me almost as soon as we left the station. In less than two and a half hours I was at St Pancras ready for my trip back to Yorkshire.
The wanderer rang me when I arrived back home. “Nice weekend,” he said. “Why don’t we do that again, soon?’ What a great idea. This city of romance isn’t just for young lovers, it caters for slightly older ones as well.