Paris and Lille – a Tale of Two CitiesAugust 12th, 2011
Just a few short weeks ago myself and a colleague were luckily enough to make our way onto the Eurostar, under the English channel and through that great feat of concrete engineering that allows us so simply to visit our French neighbours.
We travelled standard class for which you get exactly what you would expect, although, due I imagine to our late departure time we did enjoy the space of a four seater table. This is not to say that the two seaters are cramped, just that the extra room to stretch was well appreciated. I must also add that one long tunnel it was not. The time spent under the channel was brief (around 25mins) and only served to bisect the gorgeous English and French countryside, thus a window view is a must, especially when it is a view drenched in the fading light of a picturesque sunset.
Our first stop was Lille in which we arrived late evening, we took the short walk from the Lille Europe station to our hotel, the historic 5* Hermitage Gantois (needless to say I entered with a smile, such luxuries are not often bestowed upon a commoner like myself). It is important to point out that Lille is only a smallish city allowing easy walking access between the sights, notably the attractive Grand Place (known locally as Place du General-de-Gaulle), but also the various bars and restaurants that give the evenings thier buzz. There is a real cultural undertone as well with the city playing host to one of the finest European art museums in France, the Musée de Beaux Arts. Our hotel was set in the building of an old hospice and although many of the original features remained to give it’s tradition a lasting quality, there was also a modern bar and sumptuous breakfast room from which we sampled the equally sumptuous warm breakfast the following morning. The morning itself provided us with a whistle stop tour of Lille, trekking off to see three hotels; the Couvent de Minimes with it’s wonderful glass roofed courtyard, the Lille Novotel with it’s warm family feel and the Crowne Plaza with it’s vast city views, before leaving early afternoon for our next destination.
So, off to “La Ville Luminaire” it was, or to those without the French degree ‘The Illuminated City’, better known to us all as Paris. We arrived mid- afternoon after a short 1 hour train journey and without a pause for breath headed off to see our first hotel. I will warn you now that there were in total 14 hotels that we saw during our brief stay, I will soften the blow by mentioning that I will not be documenting on all of them, just those that have left the most lasting impression in my now heavily French hotel populated cerebrum. Our first afternoon in Paris was more relaxed than I had imagined with just the three hotels on the agenda. The first and most intriguing was La Tour d’Auvergne. Large it was not but that only added to the charm, it could definitely be classed as a boutique hotel and had a very modern, chic feel, one for the younger generation I got the impression. We were made aware by the lovely Isabelle that each room had its own unique style and that, availability permitting, occupants could pick a room to there liking, a nice little touch I felt. I would like to advise though that those of you looking for a warm hearty breakfast would do best to avoid. Cereal and French baked goods are the order of the day.
That evening we booked into our residence for the night, a 4* hotel by the name of the Marceau Bastille. We were welcomed by two charming young receptionists who offered us a complementary glass of champagne (something all guests can expect to receive) which we then rather unsophisticatedly downgraded to 2 beers. You can take the man out of England but you can’t take……….well you know the rest. After finding themselves somewhat comical for booking us into a double room we settled into our twin, splashed on the Brut and headed out for dinner. For our twilight taste of France we made our way to the Bofinger, part of the famous FLO Brasseries chain for which Railbookers kindly provided us with vouchers. All railbookers customers travelling to Paris can include gourmet vouchers for a range of FLO Brasseries in their package, and after my experience I would make a strong recommendation for doing so, especially at a cost of just £45 per head, a price that for those of you who have eaten in Paris before will know, would be hard to beat. The service was impeccable, the waiters were attentive and the food was delicious (as well as timed to perfection) especially the strawberry vanilla sorbet which in truth I may not have needed but just felt the impulse to indulge in.
We were welcomed the following morning by some wonderful weather and took a morning stroll across the Seine to set the scene for the rest of the day, its sea blue waters really do put the Thames to shame. Our travels continued as we weaved through various market stalls making our way to the left bank of the river and into the Latin Quarter, toward the hotels Saint Paul and Le Jardin de Cluny. Much akin to La Tour d’Auvergne both were lined with stylish rooms and very much had the personal touch, where they excelled though was their breakfast rooms, especially Le Jardin de Cluny’s, with its designed in amongst a craftily converted cellar. As afternoon approached we ventured over to the 8th arrondissement, perhaps the most elegant of Paris’ administrative districts. Within this small area you will find L’arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysées and the Place du Concorde to namedrop a few streets and sights, but also, two gorgeous if completely contrasting hotels. On one side you have the Hotel de Vigny, quiet, quintessentially Parisian and draped in antique furniture that wouldn’t look out of place on auction at Sotheby’s and on the other Le Burgundy, luxurious but not expansive, cognac bar in hand and complete with free spa, swimming facilities and nearly as many attendants as there are guests to help cater for your every need. Indeed both are superb hotels and although the Burgundy may just edge it on style to choose between the two would be more a matter of taste.
Our final fling was with a hotel that allowed us the perfect reflection on the city we had so feverishly explored over the past 36 hours, aptly named as you shall soon see, Le Terrass. A large hotel with uniquely styled rooms, it definitely had class, but the piece de resistance was the 7th floor ‘terrace’ which provided guests with the luxury of relaxing with a cocktail whilst sampling one of the most gorgeous open air views of the city. The Eiffel Tower could be marvelled at in all its glory and the steamier side of Paris was also on show, offering a pertinently tantalising glimpse of the Moulin Rouge. And so that was that, after 2 days, 19 hotels and only a few less beers, with heavy hearts and swollen soles we said goodbye to this beautiful city and headed, via standard premier class I might add, back to slightly less seductive shores. I had a dream on the way back that I awoke in Cannes but when reality hit I was back in St. Pancras, oh well, c’est la vie.