Paris in the spring - one of the jewels of Europe

Paris in Spring. The Eiffel tower
Paris in Spring. The Eiffel tower

PARIS in the sunshine is one of those things that has to be seen to be believed, and it’s much closer than you might think.

If you can manage an early start and plan your trip right you could be in the French capital by lunchtime.

We bypassed breakfast, jumping on board our train from Leeds around 7am. Just over two hours later we pulled into Kings Cross.

With a hop, skip and a jump across the road, we were in the glistening St Pancras station.

Our outbound seats were in Eurostar Plus, which comes complete with a meal, drinks and magazines. By the time I’d tucked into my first pain au chocolat and caught up on my sleep, the stresses of home felt many miles away.

A quick trip on the Metro, we checked in at our residence for the weekend - Hotel Britannique. It lies just yards from the Seine, five minutes from Notre Dame and is tucked away in the corner of a suprisingly quiet street.

It set the tone for our Parisian adventure perfectly. A boutique hotel, where no inch of luxury has been spared, from the fabric lining the walls to the drapes over the beds.

There are just 50 rooms so the staff are understandably attentive and friendly.

With no real plan we set off towards Notre Dame. The cathedral is a massive tourist draw, after seeing the length of the queues, we decided to head back the following morning to beat the rush. Instead we found ourselves making our way round the winding streets of Les Iles. These two islands are said to be the heart of Paris, and that they are, a viciously beating heart.

Paris is one of those cities where you can fritter your days just exploring the tree-lined avenues.

We ended up at Le Louvre where the ornate stonework is juxtaposed with IM Pei’s iconic glass pyramid. We crossed through the Tuilleries, over the Seine, passing Musee D’Orsay, the Assembly Nationale and arriving at Les Invalides just a little too late to look round.

So, with stomaches rumbling, we hopped back on the Metro and went for dinner in the Latin Quarter.

If you like your restaurants bustling and busy, this is the place to go. Most offer a “Menu Express” with a prix fix of somewhere between 15 and 25E for three courses.

It’s a country with a culinary snobbery, and as much as you want to deny them their claim to fame, you can’t. We ticked off most of the staples, before attempting to walk off a few of the calories.

My must-see for any Parisian visitor is Sacre Coeur. The hilltop church not only has the best view across the city but is atmospheric and stunning.

It comes to life at night when the pilgrims are long gone. The steps are littered with a mix of locals and tourists, each armed With bottles of beer or wine, just soaking in the view of the city.

I could have stayed for hours, but having clocked up several miles, our legs were telling us otherwise, and down the steps and hills we went, collapsing in our room.

On day two, we woke up refreshed and almost fully revived, ready to tuck into the hotel’s breakfast. We embraced our inner tourist and jumped aboard one of city’s three hop-on, hop-off tourist buses.

Jumping off our first stop was Les Invalides, the burial place of Napoleon. It has to be seen to be believed with its gilted exterior, and handpainted murals inside. It is a fitting tribute to an iconic leader and one of the must-sees for any city-breakers.

Although museums are not free in Paris, there are usually hefty discounts, if not free entry for those under-26, just remember your passport.

When in Rome we did as the Romans do, so when in Paris, we did as the Parisians hate, and up the Eiffel Tower we went. We got the lift to the top, and soaked in the views across the city from both the second floor and then the top, making our way up the final few stairs just in time to see the sun set.

We followed the sun to bed down for the night, and headed back to the Latin Quarter.

A few too many courses later we woke ready for the day we had designated as a shopping day. Starting at Gallerie Layfette we wiled away the day in and out of the shops.

It’s a city where there is no consistency in prices. Falling into the tourist trap can see you shell out at least 8E for a glass of Beaujolais, or 5E for a cup of tea.

There was just time to stock up on all the essentials for the family. A few bottles of Bordeaux here, a potent piece of cheese there, a selection of macarons and meringues, and we were reluctantly back at Gare Nord.

And that’s where this trip should end, but there was one more treat in store.

As we boarded the East Coast train we were told we would be sampling the new first class service. So our getaway ended sipping complimentary wine all the way home.

Paris has its doubters. The blunt Parisian attitude can be as off-putting as the often over-priced, sometimes below-par food. But thankfully none of that on our visit.

I never expected to fall in love with Paris quite as much as I did. I have no doubt Paris and I will be reacquainted, hopefully very soon indeed.

Ruth and her guest travelled courtesy of East Coast trains and Eurostar. For details of the best travel offers visit www.eastcoast.co.uk and www.eurostar.com.

They the guests of Hotel Brittannique on Avenue Victoria, 75001 Paris. Call on 01 42 33 74 59 or visit http://www.hotel-britannique.fr for reservations.