When in Paris
PUBLISHED: 10:23 07 November 2008 | UPDATED: 17:13 16 August 2010
S CUSE me for name-dropping but Sean Connery and I share a passion – for the same restaurant, writes Melody Foreman. That s Fouquet s
S'CUSE me for name-dropping but Sean Connery and I share a passion - for the same restaurant, writes Melody Foreman.
That's Fouquet's along the Champs-:lysées in Paris. So how did I get to visit a place which could have easily been used as a location for a Bond film? A place oozing romantic red walls, chandeliers and glorious stairways and carpets?
A place which left me like a good spy's cocktail, shaken and stirred with its glorious atmosphere and sensational menu?
Well, I'd been invited there by the good men and women of international travel giant Eurostar, who had included Fouquet's on the itinerary as part of a two-day trip to Paris.
And while Fouquet's, with its red carpet to the door, and its brass roll call of glitterati clientele, was the final attraction on this multi-varied trip I mention it first because I am thinking like many a French film director (Clouzot, for instance, who was a Fouquet diner) and am recounting from the end of my experiences back to the start of them.
At this point though before I go through my busy French 48 hours I will just mention the lunch at this 110-year-old restaurant, which was of course the star event.
There was foie gras to start, roasted monkfish with curry piperade to follow plus a desert of raspberry Napoleon with sorbet. All of this was truly sensational, along with the excellent choice of wines to accompany it - a Chablis Saint-Martin followed by a Chateau de Seguin (Bordeaux).
A good meal which had been preceded by an hour-long trip along the Seine in a large-windowed boat which took us past all the history of this great city. Palaces, halls and monuments earmarked this river trip as one of the best I've ever experienced.
There's so much to take in during that one hour so it's pretty essential to listen to the guide, who throws in all the relevant names I listened out for - Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, General de Gaulle. The architecture along the Seine is stunning and the stonework of some of the 17th century buildings cannot be seen anywhere else in Europe.
And while the second day of this two-day trip was more leisurely it needed to be really as it had started out in the dark of a very early and chilly autumn morning in Kent.
Picked up then by a beautifully quiet black Ecoigo car, we cruised along the A2 to the new Ebbsfleet International Station for the Eurostar train. The car was an exclusively hybrid synergy drive vehicle boasting the cleanest and most sophisticated engine technology available.
Seems the company has a green deal going with Eurostar and is keen to get the message over to journalists in the UK and France as the Ecoigo Prius was there to greet us when we arrived in Paris after zipping through the tunnel from Ebbsfleet to our glorious and capital destination.
Paris, by the way, is two-and-a-half hours away from Ebbsfleet so by the time breakfast has been consumed and conversation enjoyed the Gare du Nord is ready to meet and greet.
Off to the hotel then through the busy, sunny autumn streets of the French capital. "We are staying at the Hotel de Sers," announced our Eurostar companion Tom. "It's a new hotel in the heart of Paris."
Fabulous. Described as being the latest luxury establishment in the Golden Triangle of Paris (Champs Elysees, Concorde, Montaigne) Hotel de Sers, at 41 Avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie, is the creation of Thibault and Thomas Vidalenc.
These two innovators based this hostelry on the original atmosphere of the property which once belonged to the Marquis de Sers in the mid-19th century.
It offers 52 rooms, four suites (two panoramic) and one apartment. From my room on the fifth floor I had an excellent view of the top of the Eiffel Tower, which sets the heart aglow when lit up at night and twinkling beautifully like an ebullient truffle.
What followed in the early afternoon of our arrival was a four-hour walk. Much effort had gone into this event, which was described as The Promenade des Sens tour - a "different and clever way to discover boutiques and Parisian neighbourhoods in a relaxed atmosphere".
Thing is, not many of us on this trip were overflowing with cash. As survivors, albeit struggling ones, of the current recession the promise of le shopping made some of us wince.
What I did love though was the Marais region of the city. It was here in this beautiful and seriously gay part of gay Paris where the writer Victor Hugo lived, worked and of course wrote Les Miserables. There's a wonderful tree-lined square around which to stroll and it is the place where the Parisian intelligentsia still live. It was created by Louis XVI until he decided to move away and live in Versailles instead.
A helpful guide from the professional team of Marie-Benedicte Pollet showed us where various French actors and actresses still reside among the gabled windows of the beautiful 17th century buildings before we were taken to see an array of bijou shops that "were like no other".
The word "unique" was thrown into the tour a lot and so we first stopped to drool at the cakes at Gerard Mulot, considered one of the best bakeries and patisseries in Paris. The edibles on show included rows of rich paint chip coloured macaroons, dainty petit fours and other pastry works of art.
Moving on with hunger pangs we called by the Vents de Terre in the Rue de Jouy. Here we met Anne Garreau, who creates handbags. Every item is hand made in her own workshop from a large selection of quality leather. These beautiful, "unique" bags belonged on the arm of every good BoBo (Bourgeoise Bohemian) but at 600 euros (about £300) a throw I had to continue to make do with my M&S fake leopard skin special.
Next, we turned up at a quirky little shop called Tumbleweed in the Rue de Turenne. Here we met a cute American woman called Lynn who owned this toy and puzzle shop and turned out to be someone who was amazingly happy (if such a condition exists) to while away her time playing with all the stock.
We saw tiny Japanese boxes in which to hide your secrets, plus various small, maddening wooden brainteasers that Brits would label "Christmas stocking fillers".
As we were reminded once again, none of the toys on show could be found anywhere else in the world.
Just like the items at Galerie Alnoor Design, in Village Saint-Paul, Cour Violette. Exotic jewelry and tableware collections can be seen here along with an extraordinary array of perfumes created by Alnoor from the seven deadly sins. Now, if anyone asks me what lust smells like I can give a pretty good answer along with that for greed. So there's seriously musky for the former and sickly sweet for the latter.
For anyone needing a personally designed belt or buckle then visit Losco, in Rue de Sevigne, and at Gerard Darel, Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, there's women's clothing inspired by the actress and singer, Charlotte Gainsbourg.
In the same small street, visit Bensimon for gorgeous accessories, and there's a chance to feel like Oscar Wilde and quaff the green elixir on offer at the Vert Absinthe, in the Place du Marche Sainte-Catherine.
Originally from Switzerland, this highly alcoholic drink was popular in the late 19th century among Parisian artists and writers. Maybe it even inspired Wildean classics like An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest?
During our long walk we were shown some architectural highlights. This part of the trip was welcome relief from some of the shops and diverted minds off the urge to spend on the kind of lovely things only Paris can provide.
Enter then The Hotel de Sully, which was built between 1624 and 1628. It has famous sculptures representing the four seasons and the four elements too. The Duc de Sully was the right-hand man of Henry IV and encouraged agriculture, forestry, roads, bridges, the army. He famously said: "Pasture and ploughing are the two breasts upon which France feeds..."
Moving on, we visited The Hotel de Carnavalet built in 1548 and home to various writers and poets, including a diarist named Marie de Rabutin who recorded her life during the time of Louis XIV.
In 1660 the Hotel de Beauvais was built and was home to "one-eyed Kate" - the first woman of the bedchamber of Anne of Austria who bestowed her favours on the 16-year-old Louis XIII. She bought the mansion in 1654.
Back to October 2008 and our party was ready to flop, so after a light lunch of goats' cheese parcels and red wine most of us ambled back to the hotel to change for an evening rendezvous at Le Sens restaurant at Rue de Ponthieu. A great meal of canapés, duck, shitaki mushrooms, and guave fruit and strawberry desert (as described in my column last week) was served up for us while the conversation simmered about weary legs, designer shops, the American presidential elections and Paris, which we all agreed has so much more if la difference is what's needed to erase the blues of Britain today. Of course, there is apparently a good Bond film around the French capital at the moment which, if I am lucky next time, I may see Monsieur Connery discussing over the foie gras at Fouquet's.
Eurostar operates up to six daily services from Ebbsfleet International to Paris, with return fares from £59. Tickets are available from eurostar.com or 08705 186 186.
Eurostar operates up to 18 daily services from St Pancras International, Ebbsfleet International and Ashford International to Paris with return fares from £59. Tickets are available from eurostar.com or 08705 186 186.