Conservative, radical, traditional and edgy; France’s capital is the city of cosmopolitanism, and in just 48 hours you can have a bite of every culture on offer.
Last February I went with Southampton University Fencing Club to the annual Challenge X-Systra competition held at l’École Polytechique, situated in the southern suburbs of Paris. After two days of solid fencing fuelled by endless amounts of crêpes and wine (so cliché) it was time to leave and spend some time in the heart of the capital.
We stayed in a chic hostel in the Belleville area of the city, an artsy, multi-ethnic, colourful place where every street had its own personality. The traditional French houses, covered in Banksy-esque graffiti, identify an edgy, student vibe. Yet not far from here will you find the stunning Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, an enclosed Roman style sanctuary that attracts the Sunday runners and Valentines weekenders.
From Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, we headed by metro to the Arc de Triomphe, a spectacle not only incredible for its grandness and stretching views, but also for the manic traffic below. The craziness that circles the striking, undisturbed war memorial resembles the harmonious relationship between modernity and Paris’s antiquities.
When in one of fashion’s capitals, it would be rude not to experience a taste of Paris’s sophisticated shopping style. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées provided a long walk of Louis Vuitton, Guerlain, everything a Dubai Prince could afford and plenty of pleasure for the fashion conscious. It was certainly one of the finest window shopping experiences I have ever had.
After a wander along the River Seine, snapping and Instagramming the thousands of padlocks that have become so iconic of Paris, then popping into an empty café for coffees and crêpes, it was time to find a full meal. We ended up in the Notre Dame area in search of the fencers’ favourite restaurant that was situated down endless allies of restaurants of every speciality. Ours was particularly French, with a three course meal of snails, duck and profiteroles finished off with a coffee and digestif. The night ended in the hostel bar with cards, drinks and plans for the final hours in Paris.
To complete the stereotypical ‘tourist’ persona, we chose the Eiffel Tower as our final stop. It’s incredible from below and even more so from the top. As money-scrounging students we chose the stairs option that would take us to the second level for €4; not only does this give you birds-eye views from a daunting height but you also get a body conditioning workout from the 704 steps up. The workout is worth it though, Paris stretches miles and miles before your eyes, every landmark is placed in perspective and you are on top of the world.
This Easter I recommend a spontaneous trip to Paris. It’s an easy and low-cost destination to get to, by plane, train or ferry. If you have the time, adventure into the quirky city areas or empty street allies and find your own secret Parisian sanctuary. If you’re short for time, don’t be afraid to go by the A-Z Guide of the city and explore the famous landmarks in the footsteps of every tourist. Paris is on our doorstep and is a gem of the world.