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Saturday, September 20, 2014

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The magic and beauty of Paris

Tags: Travel
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Jewish bakery in Paris [Masada Siegel photos]

PARIS — A smartly dressed woman at the Four Seasons Hotel in Paris asked if I needed help finding my room. I shook my head, and found my own way to my room. When I opened the door, I saw it was filled with lavender roses and had a balcony with a view of the skyline.

Starving, I made my way down to Le Cinq, the hotel’s Michelin-rated restaurant. It is dreamy both in décor and in the delicious factor. I indulged in flaky croissants, cappuccino and a plethora of mouth-watering breakfast foods.

I pinched myself. It was November, the sun was shining and I was walking down the Champs Élysées heading toward the Louvre.

One of the charms of Paris is the fabulous art: from the grand structures such as the Eiffel Tower to the tiny pieces of chocolate in the candy stores. Details are not overlooked, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons Paris is so magical.

Yellow and orange leaves lined the grounds of the Tuilleries Gardens. Partway through the park, on rue de Rivolli, is the Le Meurice hotel, a perfect place for a coffee or a drink, as the bartender has concocted thousands for his customers.

View from the top of the Eiffel Tower at Night

He reads people well; my special drink was a non-alcoholic tropical fruit. It was so delicious that I indulged in two!

After mixing with the glamorous people, I put on my walking shoes, as inside the Tuilleries Gardens is the Orangerie Museum. It is small but boasts two rooms filled with Monet’s paintings of water lilies.

I spent the day wandering, and eventually found my way to the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Behind it is the Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation, a place of remembrance of those deported to concentration camps during World War II. It is across rue de l’Archevêché, near square de l’Île de France. A small gate leads to a memorial to an unknown World War II deportee. Inside are names of the German death camps, where 200,000 French men, women and children, Jews and Christians, were murdered.

My feet led me to the city’s most famous Jewish neighbourhood, the Marais; it is known as the Pletzl – Yiddish for “little place.” This district has been home to Jewish people on and off since the 13th century. Today, it is one of the city’s most fashionable quarters. There is a large Jewish population and there has been one for nearly 100 years now.

I couldn’t help but stop for a falafel on rue des Rosiers. The line was down the block on both sides, and needless to say, it was one of the best falafels I have eaten outside of Israel.

The bakeries also demand attention, and one that found my favour was Korcarz, opened by Polish Holocaust survivors in 1948. The variety of pastries there was endless, from the mouth-watering Hungarian dessert dobosh (cream-filled cake) and baklava to cheesecake and apple strudel.

Time well spent was at the Shoah Memorial, which is free. Much of the tour I took was in French, but the pictures and videos make the obvious clear.

 On a happier note, the Museum of Jewish Art and History was filled with interesting Judaica. It was fascinating to read about French Jewish history, especially the Dreyfus Affair (1894-1900), and its impact on the creation of the State of Israel. Exhibits also include works by Paris-based Jewish artists Chagall, Modigliani and Soutine. Even the building where the museum is housed, in the 17th-century Hôtel De St-Aignan, has its own Jewish history and connections.

 A few days into my adventure, I switched hotels from the elegant Four Seasons to the Hotel Fouquet’s Barrière, located on the Champs Élysées, It has a modern décor, but with old-school sensibilities, as now I had my own private butler, so that almost every wish I had could be granted.

The Hotel Fouquet’s dedication to detail was fabulously outrageous. Before my arrival, I filled out a questionnaire that asked me the types of flowers I liked, chocolate, drinks, and even the type of bed and pillows I preferred.

One of Paris’s best-kept secrets for fine dining is a restaurant inside Fouquet’s, Le Diane. It’s elegant, discreet, and it’s like being in a James Bond movie – use your passkey to unlock doors inside the hotel that will lead you to a culinary delight.

The service is superior and the food spectacular, from the mouth-watering entrees to the desserts, the presentation, design and, most importantly, the taste. Chef Jean-Yves Leuranguer’s restaurant is not yet Michelin rated, so it’s best to go now, before it’s impossible to book a table.

Paris by day is filled with aromas of crepes and cupcake shops.

The city is home to dazzling works of art, especially at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, which is housed in the eastern wing of the Palais de Tokyo.

For hours, I marvelled at the beauty and got lost in the phenomenal art of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Chaïm Soutine and Mark Chagall.

A painting by Raoul Dufy, called The Fairy Electricity, is one of the biggest in the world at 600 square metres. It fills an enormous room and is about the story of electricity over time. The painting was created to decorate the interior of the Palace of Light and Electricity at the 1937 International Exposition. It’s truly a masterpiece and also happens to be fun to see.

The museum houses thousands of works of art and is free, although there is an entrance fee for special exhibits.

Paris by night is very romantic, and one of the best ways to experience it is by a BATEAUX evening boat cruise. Gliding down the Seine, you will see the Eiffel Tower, the French Statue of Liberty, Notre Dame and many other major sights visible from the river.

During the three-hour adventure, sexy singers will croon to you at your table, you can enjoy delightful food, and a fantastic photographer will record the magic of the night at your table, and even outside with Parisian icons, if you ask.

The boat cruise is a definite must, and while it’s always nice to have great weather, strangely the light rain we experienced on the cruise only made it more enchanting.

 Paris is a city for lovers, food lovers that is, and the choices are endless.

For traditional French food, try Astier, a bistro. It’s a place to rub shoulders with the locals, and it’s known for its love of tradition and over-the-top cheese plates. Chez Paul, on rue de Lappe in the Bastille area, is also an excellent choice.

But if glamour is more your style and you are looking to see and be seen, I suggest the Le Relais, a chic restaurant with an elegant but relaxed atmosphere.

A brasserie inside the luxurious Plaza Athénée hotel, Le Relais features mouth-watering entrees and has excellent service. The hotel is opulent but modern. Be sure to check out the bar. It’s a cosy place for an after dinner drink.

French food is fabulous, but if you are looking for a flavour of the East, try the Shang Palace, which opened in September in the Shangri-La Hotel. The chef, Frank Xu, provides spectacular Cantonese food, which is not so typical for Paris. Everything on the menu is scrumptious, especially the eggplant.

In my quest to experience the many areas of Paris, I switched hotels again, to the Radisson Blu. I found the manager of the eight-floor business lounge charming. He showed me the city from the windows of the hotel’s halls, everything from the local synagogue to the Eiffel tower.

The hotel, located on boulevard Haussmann, is near premium shopping, which makes it a great location. There are a few special museums that are about a half-hour walk away.

One that touched me was the Nissim de Camondo Museum (photo above). The museum was once home to a Jewish family known as the “Rothschilds of the East,” whose members died in Auschwitz.

Paris is filled with so many dreamy locations, outstanding art and over-the-top restaurants. The people are charming, especially if you break out a few simple words in French. Most everyone I encountered was welcoming and helpful.

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