We’ll always have Paris

NOBODY does romance better than the French. Paris might no longer be the centre of world when it comes to business or culture, but in terms of places to spend Valentine’s Day nothing comes close.

The French capital has a huge spectrum of hotels for every budget and taste, but the knowledgeable people at the Mr and Mrs Smith boutique hotel collection suggested the Hotel Daniel, tucked round the corner from the Champs-Élysées and a great base for exploring the city.
It’s a chocolate box of a hotel – sweet and totally engaging with thoughtful service and details such as miniature boxes of Laduree macaroons left on the pillow. Enter the intimate lounge and the fresh scent of rose hits you like being in a garden. The fragrance comes from bowls of miniature rosebuds specially sourced from Syria. It’s like a cosy tea parlour – feminine, but not off-puttingly so and beautifully decorated with hand-painted wallpaper, crafted glass panels and silk cushions galore.

Venturing out there are – of course – the quintessential romantic landmarks in Paris which make for beautiful afternoon strolls. The glorious Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower, the Tuileries Gardens, all perfect for whiling away time. It’s all very worthy but sometimes wandering is just a bit, well, boring. A far more fun way to spend your afternoon in Paris is shopping.

Paris has become known in recent years for its ultra-cool concept stores: tightly-curated lifestyle boutiques that carry anything from chewing gum to antique books. One called Colette has been reigning ground zero for Parisian hipsters since it launched in 1997, owned by fashion luminary Sarah Lerfel. The store, situated on Rue Saint-Honoré just minutes from Place Vendôme, is merchandised like an art gallery with everything from key rings to Moncler jackets, aftershaves and macaroons, with plenty of nooks to explore. Nearby, the owners of luxury French children’s label Bonpoint have also launched Merci, a split level store and café in an 18th century wallpaper factory, with freshly cut flowers, racks of designer second-hand clothing alongside sleek stationary, fashion magazines and luxury fragrances, all displayed in science lab style jars. It’s very French. All of the profits from the store go to charity. I also swung by Hermes’ flagship (leather goods, stationary, silk scarfs) and Lanvin, the cult Parisian label.

For a reviving afternoon cocktail, the Hotel Costes is a divinely decadent hotel a stone’s throw from Colette and filled with rich swags, red velvet sunken sofas, cushions and fireplaces. It’s a hot spot during Paris fashion week, largely for its central covered courtyard populated by chic revellers smoking, and serves killer cocktails. Johnny Depp is said to have met Vanessa Paradis there, by the way. Nearby is also the famous Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Hotel on Place Vendome. The small panelled bar feels like a gentlemen’s club and the drinks are impeccable, all served with the garnish of a freshly cut flower. My ice cold gin Martini came with a beautiful cream rose.

For dinner there’s tons on offer, obviously. I was in the mood for beef, and headed to Le Castiglione, the landmark restaurant endorsed by celebrities and critics alike as having the best burgers in Paris. Mine, a huge hunk of gorgeous meat with the house garnish, lived up to its reputation, and was pretty reasonable at €17. For quintessential Paris, you can’t beat Le Grand Colbert, all booth seating, high ceilings and wooden panels, and famous for its poulet rôti. And if you want something extravagantly glamorous, there’s always Lapérouse, favoured by the queen of burlesque, Dita von Teese. Book ahead for Valentine’s Day. Groovier types could head to Kong, the sceney modern restaurant in the spectacular domed floor at the top of the Kenzo building; and 114 Faubourg, the newly renovated brasserie at the grand Hôtel Le Bristol, headed by three-Michelin
star chef Eric Fréchon.

You can hardly come to Paris and not take in an art exhibition or two, and we saved Sunday for a bit of cultural exploration. For February the Musée Rodin has launched a rather fabulous exhibition, Matisse & Rodin, exploring the correlation between the two artists’ aesthetic. The garden at the museum alone is worth a stroll filled with Rodin’s incredible statues and its view of Les Invalides.
It’s a calm haven from the crazy Parisian roads, and highly romantic. The Grand Palais is also nearby with its stunning vaulted glass ceilings that make a stunning backdrop for Chanel fashion shows.

My final Parisian indulgence was the Hotel Plaza Athenee, nestled near the Arc de Triomphe. It’s the perfect wind-down before re-boarding the Eurostar, whether you’re sipping a champagne or visiting the Dior Institut, the hotel’s lavish new Dior-themed spa decorated in a plush space-age style, offering pampering treatments for both men and women.

To book a stay at Hotel Daniel, please visit www.mrandmrssmith.com or call their expert Travel Team on 0845 034 0700. Prices start at €420 per room per night.

Eurostar operates up to 18 daily services from London St Pancras International to Paris. Return fares from £69 Tickets are available from www.eurostar.com or call 08432 186 186.

Le Castiglione - burgers, and then some: 235, rue Saint-Honoré - 75001 Paris, France, 01 42 60 68 22.
Le Grand Colbert - Paris personified. The setting for Diane Keaton’s famous Paris restaurant scene in 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give: 2 Rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris, France, 01 42 86 95 30.
Lapérouse - romantic decadence: 51 Quai des Grands Augustins 75006 Paris, France 01 43 26 68 04.
Kong - Luxury Parisian food at its hippest: 1 Rue du Pont Neuf, 75001 Paris, France, 01 40 39 09 00.
114 Faubourg - Go-to brasserie for the fashion crowd: Hôtel Le Bristol: 112, Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré 75008 Paris, France. 01 53 43 43 00.

Mathis Bar - discrete brothel-style boite - celebrities and Paris hipsters galore: 3 Rue de Ponthieu, 75008, Paris, France, 01 53 76 01 62.
The Bar Hemingway - classic cocktails in a legendary setting: The Ritz, 15 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris, France, 01 43 16 30 30.
Hotel Costes - sink in seats and divine drinks: 239, Rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris, France, 01 42 44 50 00
Ladurée - traditional tea salon adored for its lighter-than-air macaroons. 16 Rue Royale; 01 42 60 21 79.

Colette - designer duds and much more: 213 Rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris, France, 01 55 35 33 90.
Merci - shop and hang out, Parisian style: 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris, France, 01 42 77 78 92.
Hermes - Luxury French fashion at its pinnacle: 24 Faubourg St Honoré; 01 40 17 47 17.
Lanvin - Alber Elbaz’s modern take on Parisian dressing: 22 Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré,
01 44 71 31 73.

Hotel Daniel - Cute-as a-button luxury in the heart of Paris: 8 Rue Frédéric Bastiat, 75008 Paris, France, 01 42 56 17 00.
Hotel Peticulier - Luscious boutique hotel in Montmartre: 15 Rue Léopold Bellan, Paris, 01 40 39 90 00.
Hotel George V. (Classic Paris Luxury) - See box to left.
Hotel Petit Paris - Hip, recently opened hotel designed by Sybille de Margerie, who decorated Bernard Arnault’s Hôtel du Cheval Blanc in Courchevel: 214 Rue Saint Jacques, 75005; 01 53 10 29 29.