Last month, my family and I finally realised a long-discussed plan for a weekend in Paris. We had three goals for the trip – to see the sights of the city, spend a day at Disneyland Paris and take the Eurostar (I had never been on it, unbelievably). We ended up booking a three night break in early December (Friday to Monday) – but only really had two and a bit days in the city so we really had to pack it in. In hindsight, an extra day would have made a huge difference, but Paris is only a short trip from London so I know I’ll be back. We booked a standard Eurostar from St Pancras to Gare du Nord for about £150 return each – very straightforward and easy, with only 30 minutes check-in time – a thrilling concept in comparison to airports (which I can’t stand, despite being a travel junkie because let’s face it, it’s a means to an end).
When it came to accommodation, hotels in the centre of Paris can be expensive. However, having recently stayed at an Air BnB property in Los Angeles, I was keen to do the same in Paris. For those who don’t know, Air BnB has a range of rooms, cottages or full apartments rented out directly from the owner via the website. We rented this lovely 1 and 1/2 bedroom apartment (which sleeps five) in a converted 17th century building in the 1st arrondissement – the heart of Paris. It was located by a station just five minutes on the RER from Gare Du Nord and just a few minutes walk from Pont Neuf, the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre. We were also able to get one straight RER A train direct to Disneyland from where we were staying so it was a perfect location. One thing I do recommend is having change for the tickets machines – a majority of the ones we came across on the Metro didn’t take Euro notes, so we often ended up using our credit cards to get tickets.
Our first night in Paris was essentially a write-off as we had arrived quite late from London. On Saturday morning, I was up early, excited to explore the city. Our first stop, of course, was a boulangerie in the 1st arrondissement for some croissants and chocolate twists for breakfast. Although typically cold for a December weekend, it was mostly sunny for our first day so we spent time just walking around soaking up the sights and atmosphere. After a little detour past the lovely 16th century Church of Saint Eustache, we headed for the Louvre Palais complex – stemming back. While the outside of the Louvre was incredibly busy, the long queue into the Louvre museum – accessing via the Pyramid – was moving fast. As we were short on time in Paris, we opted not to go to the museum this visit, although definitely on my list to do next time. The Louvre complex then opens up to the Tuileries gardens. Originally, the Palais des Tuileries stood on this site, but it was destroyed during the Paris Commune in 1871. Today, the early 19th century Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel stands on the same spot. After going through the arch, we passed through the gardens – home to water features, statues, topiary and flowers – although not so much of the latter were visible in December obviously.
We then crossed the River Seine via the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, a footbridge to the south bank. Like other locations in Paris, the bridge was covered in ‘love padlocks’, with even a vendor selling them should you wish to cement your love in brass for all eternity (I jest!). We then followed the south bank of the River all the way to the Eiffel Tower – one of Paris’s biggest draws. Although impressive during the daytime, I really recommend seeing it at night when it looks stunning all lit up. As well as general tickets to go up the Tower, there are also several restaurants and a cocktail bar up there too if you want to feast in the sky.
As much as I adore my beloved London, I’m also a huge travel junkie and aim to see the world as much as possible. After managing to get a week off work on the week of my birthday, I decided to sneak in a three night mini break to the French Riviera. Initially booking a cheap Easyjet flight to Nice, my friend and I only settled on Cannes as our resort of choice about a week before departure.
Surprisingly in August, there was a wealth of choice of hotels, self-catering apartments and B&Bs available. After finding a relatively cheap rate on a holiday search engine, we ended up visiting the actual website for the hotel and managed to get a deal for €105 per night for a double ensuite room with buffet breakfast included at the four-star Best Western Riviera. There are several Best Westerns in Cannes, but this one was near to the train station (good insulation so noise is not a problem) and only a five minute walk to the beach. A 24 hour bar and rooftop pool was part of the appeal I must confess…
Having spent many holidays on the French Riviera and inland Provence as a child, I was looking forward to seeing it as an adult and it would also be my first trip to Cannes. The one thing that appealed to us to choose Cannes over Nice was the fact it is a smaller resort, whereas Nice is a city. Arriving at Nice airport, we got the bus to Cannes which only took about 30 minutes and dropped us off at the Hotel De Ville (City Hall), which was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel. The receptionist Arnaud was very helpful and gave us a map and what to do in Cannes and our room was clean, contemporary with good amenities.
A few hours after being in Cannes, one of the main things which struck me was how compact it was. Every night, we ended up walking along the Croisette (the seaside avenue), taking in the many movie references dotted around, the designer boutiques, palace hotels and the famous Palais Des Festivals, where all the main premieres take place during the Cannes Film Festival every May. Like many others, we waited our turn to have our own red carpet moment, posing on the same stairs where A-listers including Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, etc have worked their magic over the years.
Given the history with the festival and wealth of designer boutiques, unsurprisingly a lot of the restaurants are quite expensive. However, for something with a bit more charm and better value, I would recommend going up to Le Suquet (Cannes’ old town). On Rue Du Suquet, a winding pedestrianised alley, there are lots of charming restaurants and bars. For our first dinner we had a €25 three course menu at L’Enoteca. The service was friendly and efficient and we got to sit outside on a balmy summer evening. I opted for a fish soup to start with, then Moules farcies au beurre persillé (stuffed mussels) and a pannacotta for dessert. All three dishes were delicious and was a perfect start to our mini break. Had I been staying in Cannes a bit longer, I would have certainly gone back. On our second night, we went to Le Marais – a few doors down from L’Enoteca on Rue Du Suquet. Again we were treated to an outside table with equally good service. We opted for the €27 menu with tomato and mozzarella to start (an old favourite of mine), seabass on seabream for main (gorgeous, the fish literally melted in my mouth) and ice cream to finish.
When it comes to beaches, a lot of Cannes’ sands are owned by the palace hotels, with entry restricted to hotel guests or you can pay roughly €20 per person. However, even during busy August, we managed to find places on the free beaches just across the road from the Louis Vuitton store on the Croisette and on the west side of the harbour in front of the Radisson Blu Hotel. Alongside all the seafront are plenty of food and drink stands selling crepes, sandwiches, cold drinks and ice cream should you need some refreshment. For those with children, if the beach isn’t entertaining enough, there’s rides, including several carousels, along the waterfront.
Cannes has a lot to offer for the shopaholic. For those with no credit limits, there’s every big fashion house in existence – Marc Jacobs, Chanel, D&G, etc, but for those with more humble budgets, there are plenty of French high street stores too. I was particularly humoured to see La Boutique Du Chien (dog store!) on the Rue Hoche. Besides the obvious daytime activities of the beach and shopping, there are also a few museums in town. We went to the Picasso exhibition at La Maimaison – what’s left of the Grand Hotel which was demolished in the 1950s.
When it came the nightlife, there’s also plenty of choice. There’s lots of bars dotted around Cannes town centre and in Le Suquet, but for some late night action on a grand scale, head to Le Bâoli and Gotha nightclubs, both situated at the far Eastern end of La Croisette. I would highly recommend getting a taxi there, as turned out to be quite a long walk in high-heels from the centre of Cannes! Both were free to get in, but the drinks are very expensive. In both clubs, the cheapest drink tended to be a glass of champagne at €18 a pop so bring a wad of notes with you! At Le Bâoli, the music was a mix of hip-hop and house, with a large seating area outside. As with Gotha, if you want a booth or table inside, be prepared to pay a lot. Gotha was on a much larger scale and has attracted some big names over the summer, including Chris Brown, Pharrell Williams, Jamie Foxx, Beth Ditto from The Gossip and Ne-Yo. On the night I attended, U.S. rapper Fabolous was playing, attracting a big crowd to the T-shaped dancefloor.
Before we hit Gotha, we popped into the Black Pearl bar – on Rue Mace, just off the Croisette. Although there was a large, sleek, dark bar inside with a DJ playing, I opted for seating outside again and enjoyed a Porn Star Martini – one of their extensive cocktail list. For those who prefer their nightlife more casual, a popular spot is Morrison’s Bar and Lounge on Rue Tesseire, which is more laid back and has a wide selection of beers. As well as clubbing and bars, I also had a flutter on the roulette table at the Casino Barrière Les Princes, one of several casinos in the town. Sadly I didn’t win anything and decided to be sensible and leave before I lost any more money!
When I left Cannes after three nights, I felt like I needed more time there, but have to say I was totally charmed by the town. Everyone I met in hotels and restaurants were so friendly. I attempted to utilise my rusty French GCSE, but was always replied to in English. While I’m definitely not in the same spending leagues as many of the holidaymakers, even those on a budget can’t help but feel glamorous. I can’t wait to come back…
For Metro Girl’s blog review of Paris, read Le week-end à Paris: Disney, landmarks and laughs in the City of Lights.
For Metro Girl’s other travel posts, check out the You Can Take The Girl Out Of London section.