Paris: Capital of romance also ideal for getaway with gal pals

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When it comes to a romantic getaway, no city in the world can rival Paris. But the City of Light is also a great place for what a friend calls a "ro-tic" getaway — as in ro-man-tic, without the man!

Paris has all the key ingredients needed for an extra-long weekend or so with gal pals of any age — cozy cafes for caffeine and catch-up, hip galleries, divine hotels, chic shopping — or window shopping — soothing spas, eye-pleasing architecture, fine dining and oodles of patisseries serving delicate delicious pastries almost too pretty to eat, but you will!

Even if you and your travelling companions have been to Paris a time or two, it’s the type of city one can visit 100 times and always see with fresh eyes.

Here are some suggestions on how to put a little ooh la la into a "rotic" style getaway.


A rendezvous with friends demands a setting equal to the occasion — a retreat with a certain je ne sais quoi — so splurge on the best hotel your pocket-book allows.

Paris is full of storied hotels but some are a little too stiffly formal or frou frou for my taste. And I’ll take a room with a lux modern bathroom over a charming vintage one — with vintage plumbing — every time.

For modern luxury at its finest, it doesn’t get much grander — in terms of comfort, atmosphere, service and location — than the Mandarin Oriental Paris, which was recently granted "palace" status.

A relative newcomer on the Paris scene — it opened in 2011 — this was the Hong Kong based company’s first European hotel and they worked hard to get the fusion of French chic and Asian design just right. The result? Every inch of the hotel exudes the kind of attention to detail France and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group are famous for.

Tucked behind a discreet facade on the uber-fashionable Rue Saint-Honore, guests discover a bastion of calm inside — a leafy light-filled courtyard garden far from the madding crowds of Paris.

Yet all of Paris awaits, just steps from the door — designer boutiques, the Louvre, Tuileries Garden, Place de la Concorde, the Champs Elysees and more — all a short walk away.

Mandarin Oriental Paris began life as government offices. As a listed building, its Art Deco facade was preserved but everything else was newly built to create 99 luxury rooms and 39 suites, some with balconies and views of the Eiffel Tower, L’Opera or Montmartre.

The mainfloor Camelia restaurant has all day French dining, indoors and out. Its sweet little cake shop serves not only the Mandarin’s signature dark chocolate mousse cake but also a pastry created just for this hotel — Le Saint-Honore, an airy tour de force of puff pastry and cream with hints of vanilla and sweet caramel. Staff assure us both are "very light."

The intimate 40-seat fine-dining restaurant — Sur Mesure by Thierry Marx — is named for the celebrity chef and Top Chef judge who serves as its executive chef, and also the hotel’s culinary director.

A vision of white — porcelain, tablecloths, decor — allows both cuisine and patrons to shine. Marx is known for playing with food texture and temperature, and the avant-garde tasting menu served at the two-Michelin star Sur Mesure has proved extremely popular with guests and locals. Advance reservations are a must.

For a pre-dinner or post-dinner drink, Bar 8 is a showstopper. The bar itself is made from a single 9-ton block of rich brown Spanish marble while Lalique crystals add sparkle to dark wood walls.

Of course, there is a spa — a place of hushed words and soothing treatments. Spread across two lower floors, it’s one of the largest spas in Paris with seven treatment rooms, an herbal steam room, a fitness and wellness centre, and a 14-metre-long lap pool (a rarity in European cities).

In addition to the body treatments and Guerlain facials, there are half-day spa programs.

All around the hotel are eye-catching high fashion photographs and other nods to its location at the very heart of the haute couture district.

And if your best pal happens to be a small dog, Mandarin Oriental Paris will welcome her as well.

For hotel information, visit


How much sightseeing you do will likely depend on whether you are first-time or repeat visitors.

First-timers usually want to do it all — and then some. Repeat visitors are more likely to revisit a few favourite spots, suss out a new place or two, and stray a little off the beaten path.

The goal is not how many attractions you tick off your must-see list but how much of the wonderful Paris ambiance you can soak up during your stay!

If you plan to visit many attractions, check out The Paris Pass, which not only provides admission to more than 60 top attractions but also lets you skip long lineups at major museums like the Louvre. You may or may not be up for the hop on, hop off bus tour but if you haven’t done it before, do take the cruise along the Seine.

Other benefits included are shopping and food discounts, a free wine tasting and unlimited transit use on central Paris Metros, RER, buses, trams, SNCF suburban trains.



French women don’t stay svelte by inhaling pastries and riding around in the back of taxis, so plan to work off some of the irresistible baguettes, croissants and macarons before they land permanently on your hips.

Walking — as much as you can — is a good strategy. Fortunately Paris is a walkers’ paradise with so much architectural eye-candy you won’t even notice how many kilometres you are covering.

Here are some walks to send pastry packing:

— The 4-km roundtrip along the Champs-Elysees from Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe.

— A tour of a vast attraction such as the Louvre.

— Cafe-hopping and souvenir shopping in the Latin Quarter, the Marais, the Bastille or hilly Montmartre.

— Take the stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The view is slightly different from each level.


Home of legendary fashion and beauty houses such as Guerlain, Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and many, many, more, Paris is the world’s top shopping destination.

You don’t have to buy a lot — or even anything — during a visit but this is the place to pick up a unique piece you will likely never find at home.

The city’s fashionable shopping streets are packed with everything from designer boutiques (they are all here), luxury French department stores such as Printemps and Galleries Lafayette, and dozens of eclectic to edgy concept stores such as Merci (fashion by emerging designers, vintage furniture, earth-friendly home-goods, etc., with a percentage of profits to charity), Uniqlo (fast Japanese fashion) and Colette (outrageous style, design, food and art).

Other shopping blowouts: A jaunt to La Vallee Village, a designer outlet just outside of Paris, or a visit to Marche aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, the city’s vast and most famous flea market (actually a collection of 14 markets) near the Clignancourt Metro station.


It’s been said before, and it’s true — in Paris, a glass of wine can cost less than a soft drink. But that’s not the best reason to go for the grape while there.

Before Canadian and other New World wines dominated the shelves of our liquor stores, if you wanted a bottle of fine wine, you headed to the France section.

But the variety of French wine imported to Canada is miniscule compared to the number of wineries in France — the world’s second-largest wine- producing country (by volume) and epicentre of fine Old World wine.

So, when dining in Paris, don’t order an Argentinian Malbec — you can get that at home. Instead, take advantage of the bounty of French wines that dominate wine lists, and take turns selecting a different wine with every meal.

When you discover a vintage everyone enjoys, pick up a couple of bottles to take home. Save the wine for a post-trip gathering, when you can crack it open and recall all the good memories you created in Paris.


— For travel information on all aspects of travel to France, contact Atout France at

— Air Transat has direct flights to Paris from several gateways in Canada. The airline allows passengers to fly in and out of different cities without penalty — convenient if you want to check out another part of France before or after your Paris fling. New this year are direct flights to Marseille. See for details.