In this series Andy is going to show us how to get to experience the very finest luxury locations (Diamond Destination) without being a millionaire, and collect points along the way. I hope you’re looking forward to learning a few tips from a frugal guy up at the very front of the plane, in the left seat. Today, Andy takes us to La Ville-Lumière; Paris, France.
Paris is one of the most beautiful cities that exist on our fair planet. It is known as the City of Lights and Love. The romantic aspect is easy to see and the lights moniker is attributed to it being the first city in Europe to adorn the Champs Elysees with gas lamps (1828) and the illumination factor continues today, a prime example being the sparkling Eiffel Tower – It takes 40 km of illuminated garlands made up of 20,000 sparkling light bulbs to light up this famous Paris landmark.
I feel Franco-American relations are back on a less tense note and the mention of Freedom fries to a Parisian waiter might only be met with disdain not a firm boot out the door. Joking aside, while most big European cities are not known for their warmth, I have often found the reputation for surliness a myth in “Gay Paris”. It is a city that you can easily mix with the locals, even without a word of french, believe it or not.
Paris is truly a unique destination, soaked in history, jaw dropping architecture, and a certain “je ne sais quoi” or unexplained feeling of awe that begs you to return.
Getting there … assuming you live in the Northeast or can get easily and cheaply to JFK a true bargain fare is with Finnair in late September for 9 days or so for $380 each way, amazingly the taxes and fees make up more than 50% of this fare. With Finnair as a member of the One World Alliance, this routing will earn 10,600 American miles or 53,00 depending on fare class; just enter in your AA account number when booking. Valuing AAdvantage miles at 2 cents per mile, this effectively brings down the fare to less than $300 each way.
Fall in Paris just happens to be highly recommended. The tourist crowds have eased, the Parisians are freshly returned from their summer “vacances” and are in good cheer. It is cooler to walk around a fabulous walking city and there are some great value attractions for you to explore.
Before I get to that, let’s look at accommodations. A strong contender for best value is the small boutique Hotel Des Arts Paris, Montmartre. Just an incredible location, steps from the Basilica Sacre Coeur, the Moulin Rouge cabaret, 2 Metro stations, and in the center of the Arts district of this wonderful city. Rates in the fall are running at only $149. Hotels.com has the best rates on this hotel and remember their welcome rewards program effectively gives you a further 10% off after you stay 10 nights; being able to mix and match, and pays you back with a free night worth the previous average anywhere in the world. I generally use this technique when saying out of the major chain guest programs. Use your Chase Sapphire Preferred card and earn 2x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar while avoiding foreign transaction fees too.
The Sacre Coeur church anchors the Montmatre district perched at the top of the hill where views of the whole of Paris are rewarded to those who walk up the hill (or even those lazy enough to take the tram).
Of course the largest museum in Europe also known as the Louvre proudly calls Paris it’s home. It is impossible to see in one day unless you cruise around it’s halls on a Vespa (unlikely). It is truly worth the entrance fee of 14 Euros for the whole shebang. Check out their new and evolving audio apps for your iPhone & Android.
Now coinciding with the beginning of October is a wonderful annual event on Oct 6, Nuit Blanche. This festival is when everyone stays up until the small hours to appreciate a bit of culture. A multi-cultural event which takes place across the greater Paris region, the Nuit Blanche happens at museums, libraries, monuments, religious buildings, tourist sites, cinemas, parks and gardens, hospitals, and universities … For the Nuit Blanche, the city as a whole stays up for a massive nocturnal art festival, with crowds strolling the streets and admiring artwork. All for free!
Join the Parisians and discover Paris by night, when the change in light offers even the most famous monuments an air of mystery and fascination …
Installations and special exhibitions by French and international artists will be dotted all around the capital and the surrounding region.
There are many must see attractions with the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Notre Dame Cathedral on the beautiful banks of the River Seine of course at the top of the list.
Transport … although sometimes confusing, the Paris Metro is a cheap, clean, and safe way of getting around the city. Taxis are more expensive than the US but not by much. If you have the energy, walking is great in Paris. For example walk from the Louvre to the Champs Elysees for a coffee and pastry before dinner!
Food … Now we didn’t come to France to go on a diet or eat sandwiches from 7-Eleven. But let’s not go bankrupt in the process of our good living Monsieur. For a guide to the best value Michelin star restaurants where you will only have the very best cooking in the world, I bow to Rosa Jackson of Paris Notes a true expert but here are some of her best recommendations:
L’Ambassade d’Auvergne – Few restaurants in Paris are as proud of their regional origins as L’Ambassade d’Auvergne, which serves the rib-sticking cooking of the volcanic Auvergne region in central France. Whether you order the vinegary lentils in goose fat with bacon, the aligot (cheesy whipped mashed potatoes) or the unapologetically dense chocolate mousse, the serving dish is left on your table and you are jokingly scolded for failing to polish it off. The setting is that of an old country auberge—strike up a conversation with then handlebar-moustached maître d’, who has many a story to tell. •22 Rue du Grenier St-Lazare, 3rd. Tel: (1) 42 72 31 22. Average €35.
Le Pré Verre – Given the caliber of cooking at this lively plum-painted bistro adorned with framed vintage jazz album covers, the prix fixe menu for €28.50 (€13.50 for a no-choice starter, main course, glass of wine and coffee at lunch) is an incredible bargain. Chef Philippe Delacourcelle, who honed his technique in Asia, might rustle up such unusual dishes as crisp-skinned cod with smoked mashed potatoes, suckling pig in a creamy cassia bark sauce, spice-crusted rump steak with a squash-filled spring roll, and tangy rhubarb compote with ginger-spiked white chocolate mousse. Be warned that the dining room can get crowded and noisy, making Le Pré Verre a less-than-ideal choice for a romantic dinner. •8 Rue Thénard, 5th. Tel: (1) 43 54 59 47. Closed Sun and Mon. Average €28.50.
Les Papilles — Wines from small producers, most of them organic or “natural,” line the shelves of this bistro near the Luxembourg gardens. There are no tablecloths and few pretensions, but the food by a former Taillevent cook is always skillfully prepared and delicious, often served straight out of cast-iron pots at the table. The €29 four-course menu (you can order fewer courses at lunch) provides the best demonstration of his skills with dishes such as pumpkin soup with chorizo and chunks of farmers’ chicken in a light curry sauce with colorful spring vegetables. The foie gras, served straight out of its glass jar for €32, is also exceptional – not surprising since the owners are from southwest France. You can pick your wine straight off the shelves for an €8 corkage fee. •30 Rue Gay-Lussac, 5th. Tel: (1) 43 25 20 79). Average €29.
I’m too hungry to write anything more, other than do not be afraid to try cheap but fabulous wines here, trust me they keep the best wines for themselves in La Belle France.