It’s never been easier to hop across the Channel and sample France in a day. BEN LERWILL visits Honfleur, while SYLVIE WHEATLEY heads for Cherbourg, CAROLYN BOYD squeezes in the best of Paris and KATE CHAPPELL enjoys Lille
There’s something rather satisfying about stepping off the train at Gare du Nord with just a handbag – there’s no need to haul a suitcase on to the M�tro, nor need you trek across town to an hotel. The fun starts immediately. But where do you start? With so much to see and do, it might seem impossible to get around in a day. The trick is to choose a few sights and activities that aren’t too exhausting and to pace yourself – the last thing you want is to be flagging by 3pm, when you won’t get home until late.
Culture is a great way to start, so my husband and I headed down to the Left Bank. Having bought our tickets online in advance to avoid the queues, we wandered into the Mus�e d’Orsay. FRANCE readers voted it their favourite museum in our autumn 2007 survey, and although it is big, it is possible to get around it in a morning, unlike the Louvre. The main attractions are right at the top of the museum (level 5); head there first to get up-close and personal with the works of Monet, C�zanne and Van Gogh before the hordes arrive. No matter how many times you’ve seen posters, postcards and prints of these world-famous paintings, nothing compares to seeing the real thing. As you face them, you can study the textures and colours and imagine what these artists were thinking and feeling as they put brush to canvas.
After seeing the big attractions, take an hour or two to wander into the temporary exhibitions. When we visited there was a fascinating collection of masks from all over the world, which dated back centuries. This month’s main attraction is Leaving Rodin behind? Sculpture in Paris, an exhibition of anti- Rodin sculpture by several European artists (see www.musee-orsay.fr).
Having satisfied our cultural appetite, it was time to satisfy our stomachs and, a few streets behind the museum, we installed ourselves in the cosy yet stylish Caf� des Lettres (53 Rue De Verneuil, 75007, tel: (Fr) 1 42 22 52 17. Meal for two costs around €60). Surrounded by large leather sofas, candelabras and a wonderful bar, we tucked into a hearty lunch that would set us up for the rest of the day. I enjoyed a warming and delicious duck gratin�e. A glass of Cabernet Sauvignon was a great accompaniment.
With so many attractions on the Left Bank, it would have been easy to spend the whole day on this side of town, but we wanted to see and do as much as possible. With time at a premium, there was no better way to see this spectacular part of the city than by bike. Everywhere you turn in Paris the wish to cycle is granted in the form of the fantastic V�lib scheme. We hopped on, with the handbag fitting snugly in the front basket, and off we went. The design of the bikes is perfect for the tourist; you sit up high on them and can take in all the views. We cruised alongside the mighty Seine, the wind in our hair, past the Jardins des Tuileries, the Pont de la Concorde and the Grand Palais all to our right, and Esplanade des Invalides, Quai Branly and Champs de Mars on our left – a clearly marked cycle path taking us all the way. As we stared up at the Eiffel Tower against the bright blue sky, with the crowds waiting to ascend, we decided against joining them before smugly pedalling away towards the Trocad�ro and then on to Avenue George V. Another V�lib station was waiting for us to deposit our bikes, and it was time to hit the shops. H�diard provided the treats to take home; this sumptuous deli offers all manner of wonderful food, so we snapped up a few marrons glac�s and other goodies before making our way towards the Champs Elys�es. Though there are far better places to shop than this, the view up and down the street – with the Arc de Triomphe in one direction and Place de la Concorde in the other – makes it worth a visit. It is the place where one can get a buzz from being in Paris especially if you’re only there for a day. See the Guerlain store (68 Avenue Champs Elys�e) for a true taste of Paris ancien, while the equally grand La Dur�e, is one of Paris’ famous tea salons and the perfect place to take an afternoon break (and pick up some tasty snacks for later). After a restorative caf� cr�me, we went off to meet Greg our driver/guide for the rest of the afternoon. Having a private car tour around Paris may sound a little indulgent, but when you only have a day to do it and are saving on hotel bills it can be worth the splurge. With a 4 Roues Sous 1 Parapluie’ tour (www.4roues-sous-1parapluie.com) the car in question is an open-top 2CV (not exactly a limo, then) and the guide is a beret-clad student making some extra cash in his spare time, so it’s not too extravagant anyway. The company has 20 cars, most of which are around 30 years old (the drivers carry enough money for a taxi fare should you break down!) and offer a range of tours that each show a different aspect of the city. With a blanket across our knees to keep warm, we took off around the sights we hadn’t yet seen on one of their bespoke tours. Greg, a French journalism student fluent in English and German, explained the history of the sites as we zipped around the Arc de Triomphe before heading down through the Place de la Concorde and towards the �le de la Cit�. As we peered through the arched windows of the deudeuche’ we glimpsed the warm afternoon sun on Notre Dame. Next, it was over the river and into Saint- Germain to see the sights of Saint-Sulpice and the Jardins du Luxembourg. As time ticked on, there was just an hour to go until check-in back at Gare du Nord, so Greg headed north past the splendid Palais Garnier Op�ra de Paris, its light twinkling in the early evening light. A quick circuit of Montmartre gave us a photo opportunity before we made the dash back to the Eurostar. And, as we reclined on the train and nodded off in our big comfy seats, we couldn’t help thinking: Who needs a hotel?’
GETTING THERE: The 6.55am Eurostar from St Pancras International (or 7.25am from Ashford), gets into Gare du Nord at 10.43am, while the 8.13pm service gets back to London at 10.07pm (or Ashford at 9.30pm).Tel: 0844 848 4064 or see www.raileurope.co.uk
Tourist information www.parisinfo.com