Friday afternoon, I was speaking with a friend of mine in Paris as she was walking down the street. A few minutes into the conversation, she burst out laughing: She had seen a man walking a pig. She made me wait while she went over to talk to the owner and pet his little Gaston or Josephine. Later, we joked about whether I should get a pet pig, which I’m sure my kids would love, but let’s not kid ourselves: I would end up walking it, feeding it and cleaning up after it. And that was all. I hung up, thinking that my most recent memory of France would be porcine-related. Obviously, it wasn’t.
I’ve always felt that the best way to support a country is actually to go there. Nobody needs a list of reasons to go to Paris, though. One of the most popular destinations in the world, the city of lights is on just about everybody’s bucket list. But for those of you who don’t have it there, here’s a few reasons to add it:
1. The Sites
Few cities in the world have the breadth of attractions for visitors. From some of the best art museums in the world to the Palace of Versailles, you could spend weeks exploring the city and still visit the majority of sites. Sure, you could spend a week at the Louvre, but then you’d miss out on the Musee d’Orsay, home to the impressionists, or the Centre Pompidou, the architectural wonder best known for its modern art collection. You can see the city from the top of the Eiffel Tower, or see a part of the city that few ever get to, the underground Catacombs. Visit some of the city’s heroes at Les Invalides, best known as the final resting place of Napoleon (who, it turns out, was of average height for men at that time).
You don’t need me to give a list of the museums in Paris, but the wide variety of sites ensures that you will never be bored in the city. And when your legs tire out, just grab a seat and watch the street performers.
2. The Luxury
Few do luxury better then the French. You could hit the Champs Elysees and do a number on your credit cards, but I write a travel blog, so I wanted to look at a couple of other options.
There are a number of good options on which to burn your miles, but if you’re going to Paris, you might as well fly Air France. My friend Mike, the author of Travelzork, recently wrote a review of the new Air France business class product at Inside Flyer, and it looks like one of the best in the sky. With lie-flat seating, direct aisle access from every business class seat and upscale cuisine and wines, it may turn out that Sky Team miles have some value, after all.
There is no shortage of luxury in Paris, but with the Hotel de Crillon closed for renovations, you might want to consider the George V, the local Four Seasons. The property has 244 rooms, many with a view of the Eiffel Tower, and countless categories of suites. The luxury starts from the moment you walk in, with the grand flower display in the lobby. In fact, it’s hard to walk anywhere in the hotel without being surrounded by flowers.
Every detail, and I mean every detail, is impeccable, and the service is flawless. Want to take a swim? Forget the local YMCA, there is an indoor pool to do your laps, where an attendant will hand you bottles of Evian while you swim.
Don’t want to stay there but do want to experience the hotel? I’d recommend the afternoon tea. Sure, high tea is a modest 50 Euros, but you might not need to eat for a week afterward. With tray after tray of finger food put in front of you, you’ll soon be waiting for Lumiere to show up and start singing “Be Our Guest.” Here’s a hint for the non-drinkers in the crowd: the white hot chocolate may be the best I’ve ever had.
But you can also do Paris for free.
Just down the street from the George V is Starwood’s Prince de Galles, a category 7 hotel (30,000-35,000 points per night). Part of Starwood’s luxury collection, the hotel has a more “traditional” feel to it but doesn’t seem at all stuffy.
The Intercontinental Le Grand Paris has one of the best locations in the city. Located near the Opera House and about a mile from the Louvre, this hotel is an excellent use of points in terms of value and quality.
3. The Food
I’m not talking about the 5-star restaurants, although there are plenty of those. Frankly, I’m more of a 3-star kind of guy, at the most. But I’ve found the best food comes not from the place you sit down while wearing a coat and tie, but rather, the small places up and down the street. Full meals can be found at small, family-run restaurants throughout the city, but cafes everywhere serve excellent, inexpensive sandwiches. The meal is an experience, rather than fast fuel.
Want more specifics? A couple of ideas for the sweet tooth include Laura Todd cookies (Galeries Lafayette) and Berthillon ice cream, Ile de St Louis and other locations.
4. The Rest of the Country
There is, of course, a big, beautiful country surrounding Paris. Head to the Loire Valley, where you can see some extraordinary chateaux, including the one at Orleans, associated with Joan of Arc (Hang in there, Joan!) or the numerous ones in nearby Tours. Of course, you could always stick to the Sun King’s at Versailles, which makes William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon residence look like a small shack. And for the oenophiles in the group, there are also plenty of vineyards to visit in the Valley. In other words, you won’t lack for luxury.
Want the beach? Head to the southeast of the country and the famous French Riviera (Cote d’Azur). You can either find a local hotel or one that is part of a larger chain but, regardless of which one you choose, you’ll be treated to over 300 days of sunshine per year. Once a resort area solely for the wealthy, the beaches will now accommodate us common folk. Be careful to do your research, though, as the beaches of Nice are covered in stones.
Winter is just as much fun. Top skiers can head to Mont Blanc in Chamonix to visit Mont Blanc, but there are plenty of spas for those who don’t want to be swooshing down the slopes. But you can still go shopping, as well: Stores hold their big sales between mid-January and mid-February.
5. The Exchange Rate
On the back of a US recovery and continued weakness in Europe, the Euro is 25% off its recent peak in 2011. While airfares and hotels are at an all-time high on a currency-neutral basis, they’re on sale if you’re traveling from outside the region (The British Pound looks very similar.). The only thing better than going to Paris is to be able to do so on a budget.
Regardless of your interests, there’s going to be something for you in Paris. As a destination for your miles or hotel points, there are few that are better.
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