I don't know about you but I have always found Paris a rather tough place to visit. The Parisians don't always make it easy to enjoy their beautiful city, and any confidence you may have in your 30 words of French disappears after your first request for a croissant is met with a sniff. But - it had to happen - I have now fallen in love with the place, and I am pleased to report that Paris has fallen in love with me.
For a magical weekend in Paris, take the Eurostar from London's Waterloo, and step out at the Gare du Nord three hours later ( generally speaking) in time for lunch. First of all, you need a great little hotel on the Left Bank. Secondly, you are going to have to pay a considerable amount for it. Thirdly, once you have your hotel, concentrate on the two, maybe three blocks around it, and really explore them get to know them, go to the same cafe every morning for coffee, the same patisserie for eclairs, the same bar for a glass of wine. If you do these things, and don't go any further and try to do too much, you will fall in love with Paris and Paris will fall in love with you.
Hotel de Buci
This is just the most charming of all charming hotels in Paris, in the prettiest, wittiest Rive Gauche street. Everything you need is within one block, from a small street market, a hip bar, a cheese specialist, and fashion stores run by women who know your size better than you do, to a fabulous and cheap bistro/bar for lunch, the most extraordinary bookshop in the world, a great bakery for breakfast, and my beloved Allard, home of the leg of lamb for two, roast duck for two and roast chicken for two dinner. (All revealed below). It's also close to Cafe de Flore for hot chocolate, and Cafe deux Magots for a cold beer in the sunshine.
Rooms are small ( naturally), highly detailed without being tizzy, with good bathrooms, and excellent double-glazing and window shutters for noise and light control. On the ground floor is a lobby bar lounge area which is one of the nicest spots to just sit and catch your breath and have a glass of wine. Skip the hotel breakfast ( why are they always in boring basements?) and go across the road to Paul ( more later). If you can't get in to Hotel Buci, try the cheaper and racier Hotel La Louisiane at 60 Rue de Seine across the road, (tel 0144321717 www.hotel-lalouisiane.com) or the elegant and comfortable Hotel de Fleurie at 31 Rue de Gregoire de Tours )Tel 0153737000, www.hotel-de-fleurie.tm.fr). Or change your trip dates until you can get in to the Hotel de Buci.
Hotel de Buci, 22 rue Buci, Paris 75006
Tel 0155427474 Hotel Buci website
It's a wow sort of place. Wow - you walk in to the restaurant through the kitchen, where all the chefs say hello. Wow - the rooms are golden-olden, tables are narrow, plates are faded and old. Allard has been taken over by the Claude Leyrac group, but done so sympathetically - it's probably in fact now better than it was, in many ways. Maitre'd Gabriel is The Man. Sit in the front room with the zinc bar and cellar, and don't go too early or it will be whispery tourists. Later, it's all noise and huge platters groaning with whole roasts, and glittering dresses and gleaming bottles. The food is spectacularly honest and rustic, with every main course for two people.
Start with a cucumber salad or snails. Then hit the leg of lamb for two, roast wild duck for two, guinea fowl with lentils for two, or cote de boeuf for two. If you can, order cheese, and the entire marble cheese selection is dumped on your table. Another bottle of your fine Bourgogne, m'sieur.
This is where Barry, Karen, Nina, Gracie, Terry and I all decided that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives shopping by day and eating here by night.
41 rue Saint Andre des Arts, ( entrance 1, rue de l'Eperon)
Au Chai de l'Abbaye
This is just one of those little neighbourhood bistro bars that are a dime a dozen in Paris - but I happen to like this because it specialises in the cooking of the Auvergne, which means platters of hearty charcuterie, and lots of saucisses with potatoes, alongside the Parisian hunger for lunchtime salads and les croquantes ( things on toast). Most mains are around 7 or 8 Euro, which is nice, the atmosphere is warm and lively and buzzy, the waiters over-worked but cheerful, and the food is quick without being fast, if you know what I mean.
26 rue de Buci, Paris 6 Tel 01 43 266826
A brilliant if touristy place for breakfast. Go for Le Parisien for 4 Euros -a tea or coffee, a flute (baguette) and superb confiture in a tea salon atmosphere as Parisians line up at the patisserie counter for their daily bread. The bakery next door ( seen through a glass window) runs 24 hours a day, so everything is super fresh. Even the butter is sweetly beautiful. The tea is beautifully scented. A good place to have a snacky lunch if you're en famille.
Cnr Rue de Buci and Rue de Seine. Tel 0155420233
Taschen, 2 rue de Buci Tel 0140517922
Apart from the fact they don't stock my cook books ( different publisher) this is the sort of bookshop in which you can spend hours. People do. They just stand there, studying, reading, turning pages, oohing and aahing at the diverse products of Germany's most imaginative publisher from erotica and exotica to the Philippe Starck coffee table book, which is bigger than your coffee table. Open every day.
Le Petit Zinc.
An oldie but a goodie. Still hard not to enjoy a big platter of fruits-de-mer and a bottle of Sancerre for lunch. Just don't order anything else. It's never going to be as good as the fruits-de-mer.
11 rue Saint Benoit Tel 0142866100 www.petitzinc.com
You can perch on a stool here and have a cheese tasting and glass of wine. More proof of the civilisation of man.
81 Rue de Seine.
A terrific little patisserie with excellent tarts for picnics by the Seine.
6 Rue de Buci.
Claude Boulle Gallerie
Stop and have a good look at these tiny little 'dreamscapes' of marble.
28 rue Jacob.
Hotel de Buci
Paris Bistro Love
Window wine list
Paris steak and frites