by Camilla Ridley
Why a city break is the perfect Valentine’s gift
Camilla pictured here in Paris earlier this week Wearing our new Glastonbury printed floral silk satin Milly shirt dress and navy needlecord Liz blazer
The last few years have put an enormous strain on everyone, with a common complaint that the blurring of boundaries between home and working life has lead to additional stress, anxiety and relationship issues. With everything opening back up again, now’s the perfect time to press reset and reconnect. Often a change of scene can really help as a recent survey of 2000 UK married couples conducted by OnePoll for Warner Leisure hotels highlights “taking short breaks is one of the secret ingredients to a happy marriage.” So with this in mind, I booked two Eurostar tickets and headed off to Paris with my husband and business partner at Ridley London.This was in part justified by visiting Première Vision, the World’s biggest fabric show, and to briefly immerse ourselves in the city’s vibrant fashion scene. But also because we saw this as a chance to off-load children, animals and the daily grind, in favour of spending some much needed quality time together in a city we both absolutely love. I can whole heartedly say, that if you’re thinking about a fantastic surprise valentines gift for two of you to enjoy, you couldn’t do much better than a quick city break, something that seemed almost inconceivable with the spread of Omicron before Christmas.
It’s a cliche, but there’s good reason that Paris is known internationally as the World’s most romantic city and the city of love, and being back there after three years and seeing it through fresh eyes it’s easy to see why. Thee’s a magical combination of elegant Belle Époque architecture in warm stone hues, grand boulevards and pretty cobbled streets and courtyards. Everywhere you turn is a beautiful vista and photo opportunity, and virtually every corner seems to have an elegant cafe, a smart independent chocolatier, a florist, or a chic lingerie store. I’m sure many of you have been to Paris before, and know the city, and there are of course plenty of guidebooks and resources for those who don’t and are planning a trip. Instead I’m going to focus this post on our experiences this time around, how I noticed the city is changing post lockdown and some of the great new places we visited. Although this was a bit of a whistle stop tour, we managed to squeeze in some of our favourite haunts and some of the most celebrated areas. And because the centre is relatively small, compared to London, it’s very quick and easy to get about on foot and using the metro.
(Top) The Place de Voges in the Marais, (bottom left) Camilla pictured here by the Palais Royal in our Ridley London Cara shirt dress in the green festival flower floral printed silk satin, (bottom right) breakfast at a cafe in Montmatre
Paris has definitely changed
My first impressions of being back in Paris, was it appears to have significantly cleaned up its act during lockdown. There’s clearly been some investment and it was noticeable how clean many of the buildings and streets were looking. There seems to be less traffic and litter, some of the metro stations appear to have had recent face lifts, even the Gare du Nord was sparkling. Paris is currently in the process of transforming itself into a forward looking green city, including installing 180km of dedicated cycle lanes and upgrading its infrastructure. The plans for renovating the Champs Elysee look particularly interesting. Electric scooters and bicycles (both available to rent) appear to be the way that many of the cities chic inhabitants now choose to get about, especially when it’s sunny.
Travelling with current restrictions is actually fairly easy
From a Covid point of view, the trip was actually relatively straightforward and hassle free. Much more so in fact than our trip to Greece in the summer. Yes there is some form filling which took roughly 30 minutes for both of us. You’ll need proof of an antigen or PCR test up to 48 hours before departure, and being fully vaccinated saves a lot of bother as all the cafes, bars, hotels, restaurants, museums etc. are still asking for proof of vaccine on entering. Up until the 11th of this month you’ll also need a day 2 release test, but this can be sent to and completed at home when you return. Finally facemarks are mandatory throughout Eurostar, in taxis, on public transport and walking around public areas of hotels and restaurants but it’s no great hassle. Eurostar have a very helpful section on their website which explains everything in more detail. And their new trains are so much more comfortable, quicker and less crowded than we had experienced on previous trips. And importantly even more environmentally friendly, according to Eurostar, their carbon emissions per passenger are now more than 13 times less compared to flying.
Where to stay...
(Top left to right) Details of the entrance and reception of the Hotel Grand Pigalle and (bottom) an image of a corner bedroom
We stayed in the charming boutique hotel Grand Pigalle (listed in Mr & Mrs Smith) and located just off Place de Pigalle, in the heart of one of Paris’s liveliest and most vibrant areas. Over the years, Pigalle area has transformed from seedy red light district to home to some of the cities trendiest bars, clubs and restaurants. It’s walking distance from Montmartre and only a 15 minute metro ride to Place de la Concorde. Although it was relatively quiet as it was a Monday, I suspect weekends are probably a different vibe. The Hotel’s interiors are designed by Parisienne designer of the moment Dorothee Meilichzon, and although the rooms are somewhat cosy, they're stylish, comfortable and the service is efficient and friendly. For around £250 a night it’s really excellent value. I’d ask for a corner room with a bath as they’re slightly bigger and the panoramic views from the upper floors are fantastic.
Having arrived at Gare du Nord at lunchtime we checked into our hotel and headed straight out with a quick metro ride and an enjoyable stroll through St Germain, the Latin Quarter and along the Seine. We ate lunch in the sunshine on the terrace at Brasserie Le Flore en l’Île on the Ile Saint Louis. This is a lovely corner of Paris right by Pont Saint Louis with great views of the Seine and Notre Dame. The food is a reliably good selection of simple classics well executed. The creme brûlée and babba au Ruhm were especially tasty. We then strolled across to the North Bank of the Seine and up through the Marais, a particular favourite area of ours and home to hip independent boutiques, creative agencies, galleries and bars. There’s definitely an abundance of youthful creative energy on display, and despite it being a Monday many of the cafes, bars and boutiques were buzzing. We stopped in at the Pavillion de La Reine for an aperitif. This is a charming and exclusive boutique hotel in a beautiful courtyard tucked just off the North side of the stunning Place des Vosges. Definitely somewhere I would consider staying although not cheap. We had a fantastic dinner at Grand Coeur restaurant, located on Rue du Temple also in the Marais, and I’d definitely recommend it. Fabulous contemporary design, buzzing atmosphere, brilliant service, great wine list and the food, an innovative take on classic French cuisine, is exceptional. We grabbed a cab back to our hotel with the most charming and friendly taxi driver who spoke immaculate English but encouragingly allowed us to practice our very rusty French.
(Top left to right) the characterful contemporary interior of the Grand Coeur restaurant on Rue de Temple matches their stylish cuisine. (Bottom left) Camilla is pictured in a printed floral silk satin Milly shirt dress in the ..........print and (bottom right) enjoying lunch at Brasserie Flore en Ile on Ile Saint Louis.
After a quick Metro ride to Place de Madeleine and breakfast at La Durée, we spent several hours on Rue Saint Honoré researching the windows and benchmarking against the spring collections of some of the world’s most innovative and well known luxury brands. And I’m pleased to say, our collection is bang on trend for this spring. We also popped in to see our friends at Astier de Villatte, who hand make the most beautiful and cool crockery right in the heart of Paris. We then headed to Parc des Expositions for Première Vision, and I will summarise my findings in another post. After a day on one’s feet we headed out to dinner to another new and innovative restaurant recommendation Pamela Popo, also in the Marais and named after the song by the great Serge Gainsbourg. Again this is lively neighbourhood restaurant with funky decor serving delicious French food.
We grabbed a quick breakfast in Montmartre before I headed to Gare de Lyon and onto Switzerland. Mark headed back to Gare du Nord for lunch with friends at Terminus Nord, another favourite of ours and a classic institutional French brasserie. It’s conveniently located just across the street from the main entrance to Gare du Nord and a great place for a final farewell Parisienne lunch. the ambience, design and service is absolutely brilliant and he said the French onion soup, Choucroute, and Ile Flottante was up to the usual excellent standards.
Although we were only in Paris for 48 hours we managed to cram quite a lot in and discover some great new eateries. Above all our trip was creatively inspiring, energising and pleasantly surprising. For some time I’d felt that perhaps Paris was guilty of resting on it’s laurels somewhat, but this trip truly changed that perception. The famously rude and snobby locals seem to be a thing of the past, replaced by a new positive energy and helpful, welcoming attitude. In a post Brexit world, Paris is clearly working hard to re-position itself as Europe's leading city and on the evidence of this trip, they’re definitely moving in the right direction. If you’re thinking about an inspiring or romantic city break, you could do a lot worse than the 'city of Love'. As Ella Fitzgerald famously sang "I love Paris in the Spring time” and right now, I couldn’t agree with her more!
Ridley London's new spring collection of dresses, skirts, tops and blazers is available to purchase on-line and in Ridley's Barnes store. Celebrate your individuality this season with a unique piece that's individually crafted to flatter from your choice of any of our stunning new printed floral or solid silks or cottons. Or call us to arrange a virtual fitting:
Ridley London, 82 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 0DQ T: 01730 823097