London And Paris
Where To Go This Summer '14: Via the Eurostar high-speed rail.
The vine-covered Le Pavillon de la Reine in the Marais Quarter in Paris
Ablaze in your periphery, the hourly sparkle may catch you by surprise. More likely, though, it will appear on schedule, your eyes fixed westward from the Pont des Arts toward its trademark golden effervescence. Or, if your night goes like mine did one evening in early April, you’ll be riding a Parisian Vélib’ bike along the Seine, pedaling at midnight to the tower itself, its 20,000-bulb twinkle erupting unexpectedly. Your leg shoots down to stop and gawk as a new friend hurries you along—you forgot it did that.
The Eiffel Tower—or Westminster Abbey, for that matter—is not the only thing emblematic of a Paris and London two-fer getaway. For 20 years this November, the Eurostar has been whisking passengers between London and Paris in a breezy two hours and 15 minutes (at a very breezy 186 mph). It makes a four- or five-night Anglo-Franco getaway easy: In the time it would take you to lap the Tate Modern on foot, you can depart central London from St. Pancras International in Business Premiere class (which requires a scant 10-minute check-in), dine from the Raymond Blanc-designed menu on board, and coast into Paris Gare du Nord. The only inconvenience is the hour you lose changing time zones.
By the time I was unfolding my tray table in coach 12, though, I had adjusted to this sort of luxury and convenience. I was fresh off a two-night stay at One Aldwych in London, a five-star member of The Leading Hotels of the World, where personalized notecards with tomorrow’s weather are laid bedside during turndown service and fresh fruit appears daily in your room. A short walk or tube ride to the city’s leading museums and attractions, you’re well-positioned to take advantage of the two-for-one museum entry that comes with your Eurostar ticket. Fifteen museums participate, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, the Tate Britain, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Gallery.
The Eurostar departs from London St. Pancras Station up to 18 times daily
I spent a requisite cultural afternoon at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but, having been to London before, my focus was food. If the weather holds and you’re looking for a trendy spot that’s more popular among Londoners than tourists, head to The Waterway. It’s situated in quiet Maida Vale alongside the Grand Union Canal, and has 120 outdoor seats more than likely filled with 120 chatty guests (I had to wait), sipping Bellinis and snacking on small plates from the “terrace” menu. For dinner, if you’re looking for a spot more central, try Sketch on Conduit Street. A salad with Parisian mushrooms, chestnut crumbs, and radicchio purée will delight (the fish and chips were great, too), but I was equally wowed by the eccentric, mismatched décor scattered throughout the four dimly lit rooms: no two cups, chairs, or plates are alike.
Once you’ve conquered the English Channel by rail, Le Pavillon de la Reine in the Marais district is a 20-minute cab ride from Gare du Nord. The hotel is a four-star exercise in 17th-century Parisian elegance. A five-story, vine-covered exterior of white stucco contrasts a muted, velvet-laden interior of warm neutrals. Built by King Henry IV, the building is set on a stone courtyard, the southern wall of which is the north face of Place de Vosges, one of Paris’—many say the world’s—most beautiful squares.
Le Pavillon de la Reine will have you searching Paris for equally breathtaking sights (not that they’re hard to come by). A two-hour Gardens of Paris tour from Context Travel covers the history and design of the Tuileries Garden and the Palais Royal. Our guide, Marie Dessaillen, educated us thanks to her three—yes, three—master’s degrees in French history. Later, when you visit the Musée d’Orsay (itself an architectural attraction, housed in a colossal former train station), stick around for dinner at the museum’s restaurant. Today an ornate, fresco- and gold leaf-adorned landmark of turn-of-the-century grandeur, in 1900 it opened as the Hotel d’Orsay’s flagship eatery. Finally—and this is my favorite activity, as you need no tour guide or museum to experience Paris’ aesthetic—rent a Vélib’ bike (the equivalent of Manhattan’s Citi Bikes) for 24 hours for just $2.30, and pedal your heart out. You’ve seen the Louvre, but have you pedaled past it at sunset?
One Aldwych in Central London
Details: One-way Eurostar tickets start at $68, standard premiere at $187, and business premiere at $483; two bags per person maximum, no weight restriction (reserve online at www.raileurope.com). Context Travel (www.contexttravel.com) tours, $80 per person for a group or $350 per private party. One Aldwych (www.onealdwych.com) rooms from $460; La Pavillon de la Reine (www.pavillon-de-la-reine.com) rooms from $530. Musée d’Orsay (www.musee-orsay.fr) prix-fixe three-course menu for $80; The Waterway, www.thewaterway.co.uk; Sketch, www.sketch.co.uk; Vélib’ bikes, www.en.velib.paris.fr.