Written by Rhonda Carrier Photography by Vichie8
Rhonda Carrier, author of In Love in France: A Travelers Guide, discovers that the City of Light still shines in February, and guides us through a wintry visit.
I love Paris when it drizzles goes the great Cole Porter song written in homage to the city, and indeed, theres a wealth of reasons to visit the French capital even when the weather isn’t being kind.
After the sparkle and elation of Christmas, Parisians hunker down to get through the remainder of winter. February brings some relief, however – the weather may still be very chilly, but there are colourful events on the agenda, not least Valentines Day and Chinese New Year. Flights and hotels are cheaper, too, museums and sights less crowded, and the first half of the month sees the culmination of the five-week sales that began in the second week of January.
Paris has three Chinatowns and hence three spectacular New Year dragon parades: dates at the time of writing were not yet fixed but are either February 1 or 2 (over the weekend) in the 3rd and 4th districts (starting from the Hôtel de Ville and forming part of a week of Chinese cultural events in the area), while the biggest parade will be on February 8 or 9 in Belleville and the Marais (10/11/19/20th districts) and in the 13th district. For updates, see chine-informations.com (in French) or contact the tourist office.
Valentines Day, on February 14, is more than anything else an extra reason to sample some of Paris’s world-renowned cuisine. Everyone has their favourite restaurants, but my top recommendation for a truly atmospheric dinner you’ll never forget is Le Jules Verne within the glittering Eiffel Tower. A private lift whisks to you to an altitude of 125m for heart-stopping views over the city accompanied by classic French cuisine given a modern twist by superstar chef Alain Ducasse. Think the likes of creamy broth and gold caviar, and platters of plump langoustines. For information, bookings, and details of new menus launching in February 2014, lejulesverne-paris.com.
Valentines Day is also an excuse for buying and eating chocolate, and Paris is said to have more chocolate shops than any other city in the world (more than 300!). One of the best is Michel Cluizel, one of very few chocolate-makers in the world with his own ateliers to process the cacao beans. Cluizels speciality is his 1er Crus de Plantation (single-origin) chocolates, but the windows of his shop near the Tuileries are chock-full of treats including truffles, chocolate-covered orange slices, ganaches, and pralines. For more information, see cluizel.com.
It wouldn't be Valentines Day without an armful of blooms, and among Pariss celebrated markets is the daily open-air and covered Marché aux Fleurs on the quaint le de la Cité in the middle of the Seine; on Sundays youll also find stalls with caged birds. For further quintessentially Parisian shopping, some of the best places to experience Les soldes (sales) – which end on February 11 in 2014 – are the city’s classic department stores. Galeries Lafayette and Le Bon Marché, for instance, both offer an everything-under-one-roof experience including designer clothing and accessories.
While the shops will be manic, the citys cultural attractions will be blissfully uncrowded, giving you the space and time to soak up your favourite artworks and monuments. If you want to continue the Valentines theme, head to the Louvre and pick up one of its Love in the Louvre self-guided trails, discovering how artists from antiquity to the 18th century represented amorous relationships. Among the works and objects on the 90-minute trail is the 6th-century BC Sarcophagus of the Spouses, depicting an Etruscan couple facing eternity together. Few people know that you can tour the Louvre until 9:45pm on Wednesdays and Fridays, then freely wander through the museums beautifully illuminated courtyards and past its glowing steel-and-glass Pyramide. For details, see louvre.fr.
February might not be the best time of year for outdoor strolling another favourite pastime among Parisians but wrap up warm and you can enjoy some of the world's loveliest walks without having to share them with hordes of other people. One locals favourite – especially for walking off an indulgent Sunday lunch – is the Tuileries at the western end of the Louvre. Paris’s most central park, this was laid out for Catherine de Médici in the 16th century and has fountains, formal gardens, a boating lake, carousel, and 18 female figures sculpted by Aristide Maillol and bequeathed to the Tuileries by his muse and model Dina Vierny. A Tuileries walk might culminate in a look around the sumptuous Musée de l’Orangerie within the gardens, once used to cultivate oranges and lemons. Arranged by Impressionist Claude Monet to display most of his famous water-lily paintings, it also hosts temporary exhibitions. See musee-orangerie.fr.
Alternatively, Père Lachaise cemetery may not sound like the most romantic rendez-vous point, but Pariss biggest burial ground is a wonderful place for a stroll through French culture and history – among the many artistically rendered tombs are those of singer Edith Piaf, doomed medieval lovers Abélard and Héloïse, and composer Frédéric Chopin.
And a bracing winter walk in Paris gives you the perfect excuse to indulge in another much-loved local pastime idling a morning or afternoon away in a classic café. Again, there are countless wonderful incarnations vying for your custom: among the best are the Café Marly at the Louvre, with interior glass walls onto some of the galleries and a terrace facing the glass Pyramide, and Les Deux Magots, world-famous rendez-vous of the 20th-century French Existentialists, including intellectual super-couple Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The Deux Magots hot chocolate – served in a dainty porcelain jug accompanied by a little bowl of whipped cream – is the city’s very best and the perfect thing to warm you up on a February day.
Oryx pick – ice skating
Outdoor ice-skating is hugely popular throughout the winter, and nowhere more so than on the expansive square in front of glorious 19th-century Paris City Hall (La Patinoire de l’Hôtel de Ville).
While the temporary rinks by the Eiffel Tower and under the magnificent dome of the Grand Palais close in January, Patinoire de lHôtel de Ville ice rink stays open until March 6. Come for the sunset, when Patinoire de l’Hôtel de Ville lights up against the chilly night sky. 12 noon to 10pm (Monday and Friday), 9am to 10pm (weekend and public holidays). Entry is free, skate hire €5.
How Paris has reclaimed the banks of the Seine
Les nouvelles berges or ’new quays’ are the latest in Paris’s efforts to improve its public spaces for the benefit of inhabitants and visitors alike. Over a mile-and-a-half stretch of riverfront on the Left Bank – accessed from a staircase by the Assemblée Nationale (parliament) building – cars have been banned and the area transformed into an urban playground for adults and kids alike.
On this promenade, strollers, joggers, and cyclists predominate there are even special running tracks. But theres plenty to detain you, from bars and restaurants to concert spaces, floating gardens, an acoustic installation, a vast blackboard for kids to scribble on, and cabins to rent, called Zzz, for everything from lazy picnics with friends to business meetings. You can fish, take a dance class on a boat, and participate in future developments in the city in the Perspex dome of Le City Lab. For more, see lesberges.paris.fr/.
Paris Boutique Shopping
This urban streetwear emporium on rue Saint-Honoré is a must for stylish fashion, cool Japanese gadgets, and a compelling selection of books. As well as shopping, theres an exhibition space (with limited-edition prints), and the famed Water Bar, which serves more than 100 types of water. Stacked with limited editions and Colette collaborations, this is fashion-forward urban meets boutique over three floors. colette.fr
Printemps and Printemps louvre
The classic French grand magasin (big store) was founded in 1865, and the boulevard Haussmann store (near the other grand magasin – Galeries Lafayette) is worthy of a visit for the art nouveau architecture and grand cupola above the tea rooms alone. For a completely new experience, Printemps has just opened Printemps Louvre – a new concept store at the entrance to the great museum. In line with the luxury goods on sale (many of which are exclusives) Printemps Louvre is staging an exhibition, Pop the bag, deconstructing the handbag, in which six artists interpret their vision of the handbag.
This ready-to-wear lifestyle brand on rue Madame, with understated looks and clean lines, is a firm favourite, especially with denim affectionados, with A.P.C. unwashed denim jeans available in half a dozen cuts for a perfect fit. Also check out the A.P.C. Kanye collaboration.
Louis Vuitton Resort 2014
This carefree collection for Spring/Summer 2014 – with accessories quite devoid of the eye-catching logo – has a mix of frayed denim A-line skirts, indigo clogs, oversized tees, and floor-length chambray dresses for a feeling of luxury leisure at an easy pace. The perfect pieces to wear while travelling to the Louis Vuitton Cheval Blanc Randheli, which has just opened on the Maldivian Noonu atoll – home to just 45 villas.
Duvelleroy Gustave Eiffel fan
Art directed by Romain Louis Leroux, printed aluminium leaf on silk. Guards and sticks in ebony. Delivery in six weeks.
The famed Parisian macaron maker is said to sell more than 15,000 delicious pretty pastel macarons every day. Drop by their Champs-Élysées patisserie and sample a few. We recommend the smooth strawberry, which is complemented by a subtle burst of mint. Selection of eight – US$27 laduree.com
S. T. Dupont Karl Lagerfeld
After a first collaboration in 2011, Karl Lagerfeld continues the adventure with the celebrated house of S. T. Dupont with the White & Matte-Black Collection. Presented in optic-white or matt-black Dupont lacquer.
Fountain pen – US$5,666
Roller – US$427
Digital set (matt-black pen and 8GB USB stick) – US$503
Distance: 4,980 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 15 minutes
Frequency: 3 flights a day