JUST a hop, skip and a jump away on the Eurostar, Paris is a hassle-free holiday ­destination for anyone with train links to London.
It takes just over two hours from London’s St Pancras station and you will arrive in the beating heart of the French capital — where top hotels, restaurants and bars await.
THE festive fun is in full swing right now and you’ll be treated to a free show at department store, Printemps Haussmann. Its Christmas window displays are nothing short of extraordinary — expect animatronic teddies and all-singing, all-dancing puppets on strings.
If it’s a special occasion and you plan to travel this month, upgrade your Eurostar ticket to Business Premier and you’ll be treated to a ­limited-edition menu designed by French chef Raymond Blanc. The dishes are inspired by his two- Michelin-star Oxford restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
ARRIVING at Gare du Nord rail station, you will be able to tick off some of the main tourist attractions without hopping on a bus or the Metro. And exploring by foot is by far the best way to soak up the Parisian architecture, ornate buildings and old-fashioned cafes that make this city so special.
Montmartre hill and the stunning Sacre Coeur basilica are less than 20 minutes’ walk from the station and you’ll need comfy shoes to climb the seemingly endless stairs to the top (although for €1.90 you can grab the funicular).
If you can manage it, though, go on foot — it’s part of the experience and your efforts will be rewarded with views that, in my opinion, surpass those of the Eiffel Tower.
The Champs-Elysees is made for strolling too. This wide, tree-lined street is famous for shopping, with some of the poshest hotels and stores packed into the two-kilometre stretch.
Even if you can’t afford the lavish diamonds and couture on display in the windows, the walk is entertainment in itself, and you’ll end at L’Arc de Triomphe, one of France’s most famous war monuments.
THE world-renowned Moulin Rouge cabaret show is a favourite of chef Raymond Blanc. It’s every bit as raucous as you would imagine with feather-clad can-can dancers twirling on stage, red cloth draped over lights and bejewelled costumes galore.
If you have spare cash floating around after the Champs-Elysees, then Galeries Lafayette is Paris’s answer to Harvey Nichols or Selfridges — only way better.
The flagship store is on Boulevard Haussmann with an enormous Christmas tree at its centre, stretching up from the bottom floor towards a magnificent domed ceiling crafted from stained glass.
BLANC recommends cabaret club Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit on Rue du Colisee for a stylish setting. Or for typical French food on a budget, Brasserie La Coupole on Boulevard du Montparnasse does most of the classics, he tells me, including fresh seafood platters, chocolate-covered profiteroles and a cracking creme brulee for €7.50.
The French are famous for their fromage, but you don’t need to venture somewhere fancy to sample some, says Blanc.
Those wanting to load up their suitcases with quality cheese can venture into any supermarket.
WANDER down any of the narrow side streets and take your pick from any of the traditional bars and cafes that are all pretty much guaranteed to serve delicious wine by the gallon — as long as you’re drinking the French stuff.
After a specific cocktail? A couple of kilometres north of Notre Dame cathedral is Bisou on Boulevard du Temple where the drinks are as decorative as its flower-covered exterior. It’s small and intimate and staff will prepare whatever you want.
THE M Social has injected colour and fun into the once-tired walls of this traditional hotel.
Old-fashioned gated lifts and huge windows, mean you still feel like you are experiencing classic Paris, but with modern comforts like fluffy pillows and a restaurant serving classic food “en cocotte”.
After a recent refurb, rooms now feature ultra-comfy beds splashed with emerald green and orange bedding and sparkling ensuites loaded with glamorous L’Occitane toiletries.
At no extra cost you can request a room with views of the Sacre Coeur, just a 20-minute walk away.
GETTING THERE: The Eurostar goes from London St Pancras to the Gare du Nord in Paris from £39 each way. Anyone travelling on Business Premier before November 23 will be able to sample the limited-edition menu crafted by Raymond Blanc. See eurostar.com.
STAYING THERE: Alcove rooms at the M Social Hotel Opera Paris cost from £316.24 with breakfast included. See millenniumhotels.com.
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