Paris matchless

Paris never seems to change and is as chic as ever. Hannah Start returns to the city after 15 years.

The last time I was in Paris a little book called Paupers' Paris was my bible. As a student, I would dine on a take-away baguette and spend all my spare money whiling away the hours with one caf crme on a terrace.

I loved to watch places like the grand Hotel Lutetia in the heart of St Germain Des Prs as the Parisiens went about their daily lives. A Paris institution – where even De Gaulle spent his wedding night – it is here where well-heeled left bank locals, artists and writers come for business and pleasure.

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This time it could not have been more different – I stayed there, waking to views of the Invalides' golden dome and a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. And it really is worth pushing the boat out for. There is nowhere better to feel truly Parisien.

Some say for your first trip to Paris you should always stay on the Right Bank – seen as the sophisticated side, home to the magnificent Louvre and the wealth of the Champs Elyses. Only on your second visit, or so they say, move over to the Rive Gauche. But I always favoured the Left Bank over the cold and rather austere Right. I love to stroll through the higgledgy piggedly Latin Quarter until it meets the bustling Boulevard St Germain, once a haven for writers and artists and now boasting some of the top designers in the world.

It feels like the true spirit of the city and as the freethinkers who frequented the once smoke-filled brasseries of the Left Bank would no doubt have agreed – rules are made to be broken.

It was some 15 years since I last visited, but little seemed to have changed. Like good French style, the city seems to stand the test of time regardless of modern fads or trends. And one other crucial thing was no different – it is hard to believe but many of the great things about Paris don't have to cost a fortune. From the Left Bank most of the main sights are within walking distance and the streets of the city are a museum of their own. A door will open suddenly to reveal the most beautiful courtyard or around a corner an ornate balcony appears. Pause in front of a patisserie to admire the delicacies, works of art in their own right or simply admire the smart ladies as they queue for the best baguette.

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Stroll from quarter to quarter to soak up the ambience and see how they change in spirit as the roads become wider and the buildings ever more grand.

On a Sunday, take a walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg and watch how

the Parisiens relax.

Here among the statues are joggers and groups doing Tai Chi, but don't miss the older generation, straight-backed and smart, out for a Sunday stroll as they have done for decades.

As part of its centenary celebrations the Lutetia has even produced its own secrets guide listing the exclusive and unique addresses at the heart of St Germain Des Prs.

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There are plenty of hidden treasures for you to find on your doorstep and a chance to get a glimpse behind the scenes. Then for a well-deserved break, put your feet up and take a caf crme as

you watch the world go by – whatever your budget there is no better way to spend the day.

Centenary stay at the Hotel Lutetia

The four star Hotel Lutetia is at 45 Boulevard Raspail in the sixth district of Paris. The hotel has 231 rooms including 60 Junior Suites and Suites. The Arman Suite was decorated by the sculptor Arman. There is also a Michelin-star gourmet restaurant decorated by Sonia Rykiel. To mark the centenary, the Centennial offer is available from e240 (about 202) per night per room for a minimum of three nights. This includes: Accommodation in a superior room on a bed and breakfast basis with a e100 gift voucher per room to use at any of the hotel's restaurants, bar or room service. The Lutetia Secrets offer is available from e265 (about 223) per night, per room including: Accommodation in a superior room on a bed and breakfast basis; the Lutetia Secrets Guide – a tour of the hotel's best-kept secrets; a surprise gift in the room. Reservations: Free number 0 800 028 9880 or at The Lutetia is part of the Concorde hotel group whose other hotels in the city include the Concorde Opera Paris.

Hannah Start travelled to Paris by Eurostar from St Pancras in London which is adjacent to King's Cross.

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She travelled from Leeds to King's Cross by rail with East Coast Trains. Advance return fares, booked online, start from 23 Standard Class or 94 First Class: book via, call 08457 225225 or visit any staffed station.

YP MAG 17/7/10

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