Destinations

Paris, Je T’aime

Louise Richardson shares her passion for the busy streets, gourmet food and elegant shopping of Paris in the spring

It doesn’t surprise me at all to discover that Paris is the most visited city in the world. It’s certainly filled with all my favourite things – great wine, gorgeous food, art and cultural treasures, and best of all, shopping to die for. It’s been a while between visits but it’s spring and I’m back with a vengeance, determined to soak up the atmosphere – along with the brilliant rays of an unusually hot season.

To my delight, our travel menu includes a delightful walking tour of food shops and bakeries, where I’m introduced to a new passion – le macaron – the macaroon, which comes in a range of exotic colours and flavours. oonsieur Pierre Herme of Rue Bonaparte is the current darling of le macaron set and I quickly conclude that his pistachio macaroons with strawberry cream and pink macaroons with rose ganache filling are amongst the best things I’ve ever eaten.

At the little artisan bakeries dotted along our route, we learn that Paris is regarded as the “bread basket” of France and that bread-making is far from a simple art. It matters enormously that bakers use the right kind of flour and bake their bread for exactly the right duration. The length and weight of the loaf are crucial to its acceptability, and the French Government even has a division devoted to maintaining bread standards!

There’s not much time allocated for clothes shopping on the narrow streets of Paris this sunny day, so I content myself with a longing gaze in the direction of Yves Saint Laurent’s ultra-elegant white store with its signature black logo, then proceed to my next “onerous task” – sampling the wares of France’s top chocolate makers.

Locals come regularly to these glorious mid-city stores to choose weekend and evening treats, but I do note they buy sparingly in order to preserve their figures. At La oaison du Chocolat, a little old French-man with a wispy beard gazes for ages at the delicious display and discusses his modest choices in detail with a chic assistant in a smart black uniform, who packs his half dozen chocolates in a cute little box. I’m not sure what he chose but I swear the taste of my Jolika – a dark chocolate case filled with pistachio infused almond paste, will stay with me for the rest of my life.

At Galeries Lafayette, arguably the world’s most elegant department store, our host, a dapper little Frenchman named Francois-Xavier unlocks a discreet door on the ground floor and ushers us into a small, but perfectly formed room. The walls are black, and the lighting is funky and cutting edge. on the huge glass coffee table sits a pile of glossies and the small fridge is bursting with chilled pink ooet – my all-time favourite tipple!

“Please, sit down,” he instructs in lovely, heavily accented English, and sinking into the deep white leather couch I know without doubt that much more famous bottoms have occupied this exclusive space. Presidential wife Carla Bruni seems a dead cert and Kylie Minogue spends a lot of time in Paris these days. Catherine Deneuve and Isabella Rossellini must certainly have popped in here and I can even imagine David Beckham taking refuge in this cool, tranquil space while his profligate wife shops up a storm in-store during Fashion Week.

At the mention of some of these names, Francois-Xavier just smiles. I’m sure there’s a hint of a wink but he says nothing. Rich and famous people expect the utmost discretion and clearly he intends to honour their wishes at any cost!

our group then enjoyed a lovely lunch together at the new oediterranean-style restaurant Laurier on the first floor. Now, fortified by tender, succulent octopus and a glass of fresh strawberry juice, I’m ready to look at homeware – something this store does rather well.

Last time I was in Paris there was a big Marks & Spencer store over the road, but clearly the French no longer require egg-and-prawn sandwiches or sensible business shirts, and it’s now a standalone homeware store for Galeries Lafayette. With five floors, each devoted to a section of the home, there’s a huge amount to take in and I find myself torn between candlesticks and placemats, towels and the nicest toilet seats I’ve ever seen, in black, red or silver! Sadly those seats are too heavy and awkward for the overhead locker in my plane back to New Zealand, so I settle for a set of placemats in my favourite red and green, and four vibrant pink and orange towels.

Later, back in the main store, I look at gorgeous dresses for my daughter Issey. She’d love this riotously colourful girls-wear department and I miss her terribly, so I indulge, all the while imagining the moment of my homecoming, laden with treats.

It’s hard to think of a more fitting end to a wonderful day in Paris than a city tour in a Citroen 2CV car, followed by a champagne cruise on the beautiful River Seine. Along its banks, eager sun-lovers have set up camp under jaunty blue umbrellas in an attempt to catch some post-work rays. It feels like heaven, sipping one vintage after another as our boat purrs along past the handsome historic monuments which forever inhabit the memories of everyone who has ever been to this glorious city.

**Factfile

**Cathay Pacific flies from Auckland to Paris (via Hong Kong) 10 times a week, fares start from $2939 (all inclusive), www.cathaypacific.co.nz. We stayed at Hotel Saint Augustin, www.astotel.com. Champagne cruise, www.o-chateau.com. Paris Authentic 2CV Citroen tours, www.parisauthentic.com. Galeries Lafayette, www.galerieslafayette.com. Gourmet walking tours, www.parissweetparis.com

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