A luxury winter break in Paris

Who would have thought that 2 cheap nights in Leeds and Harrogate would lead to a luxury weekend break in Paris? Whilst this trip wasn’t exactly cheap, it’s nice to splurge every now and then and we definitely got excellent value for money.

As you might remember, I’m an IHG Rewards Club member and every quarter they set targets for earning mega bonus points which can then be used to pay for hotel stays. You can read about how I planned to pay for this trip in this post from last year. The difference between then and now is that we only stayed 2 nights in Paris rather than 3, as the Jet2 flight back to Leeds was at 9pm. So in the end, I didn’t use the points I earned in the promotion but decided to save them to use on a future trip (San Francisco, anyone?).

We had a reasonable time flight out of Leeds Bradford Airport on the Friday morning. The security staff at the airport were refreshingly pleasant, who knew that was a possibility? Heathrow and Manchester staff could certainly learn some lessons here!

Leeds Bradford has 3 paid lounges ranging from £25pp to £35pp. We went with the img_3187cheapest of the 3, The Yorkshire Lounge which I booked through Topcashback. We were in the lounge for just before 9am and it’s a pleasant enough space. The lounge didn’t get busy at all whilst we were there but there was only a scrap of fruit in the buffet when we arrived. Bacon rolls did come out but only 4 at a time so service was slow, and the rolls weren’t very warm. Having said that, the bacon was tasty, if fatty. During our short visit, we packed away 2 bacon rolls, 2 teas, 2 pastries and a glass of juice! Easy worth £25pp considering the amount me & mum paid for 2 bacon rolls and 2 teas when we went to Sorrento.

img_3192I really do love flying in Europe! Most of the flight I take are long haul so it’s great to get on a plane and get off somewhere new in less than a few hours! Jet2 are a perfectly fine airline and I was actually impressed by the legroom. I’m not exactly tall but I had loads of space and the seat was fairly comfortable.

Taxis from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the centre of Paris are quite expensive and I’m nervous of them having seen the Liam Neeson film Taken, so we hopped on the Roissybus which handily drops a few hundred meters from the hotel we’re staying at. The bus ride is slow though, picking up at every terminal before heading in to Paris. The bus only makes 1 stop in Paris, right outside the Opera so if you’re staying in that area of the city, it makes a lot of sense to take the bus.

After the longest bus ride in the world (well, about 90 minutes) we arrived at the img_3196InterContinental Le Grand Hotel at about 3.30pm. Our room still wasn’t ready, but we had Club Lounge access so chilled in the lounge whilst we waited for the room. The lounge was fabulous with free-flowing champagne, wine of all colours, soft drinks as well as a coffee machine with multiple options and hot chocolate. As we arrived at the end of the afternoon tea service, there were finger sandwiches and little cakes on the buffet. The sandwiches were tasty but some of the cakes a bit strange, although they looked amazing. The lounge has a nice view of the Opera, although there’s currently scaffolding in the way whilst they do some refurbishments.

 

As this stay was booked as part of my IHG Ambassador membership, I’d booked the Club Room knowing that I’d get a guaranteed upgrade to the next available room category. Sure enough, about 6 days before arrival, the booking was upgraded to an Executive Room. I noticed at reception that the hotel charges €150 per day for Club Lounge access so straightaway I was on to a winner. When we arrived at the hotel though, we’d been upgraded again to a massive Junior Suite! Double upgrade!

ambassador value

The room was fantastic! We only had a view of the winter garden, not the Opera, but it was a lovely, big room with an excellent bathroom, separate bath and shower and a huge walk-in wardrobe. The super king size bed was very comfy, and we had a separate sofa area. The hotel is refurbishing their rooms at the moment and I don’t think ours was one of the new rooms, but it was in excellent condition. I was a bit nervous of the hotel’s traditional style before I arrived, but it actually works very well in reality.

The Club Lounge at the hotel is the best I’ve been in and will definitely be hard to beat! The staff were always attentive, alcoholic drinks including beer, wine, champagne and snacks are available all day. There’s a breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and evening buffet service so you can easily eat in the lounge all day and get the most out of the €150 supplement! The quality of the food was excellent and the addition of premium spirits on an evening was appreciated.

As this is Paris, we thought we’d indulge in some retail therapy and walked the short distance from the hotel to the Galeries Lafayette department store. Not that we bought anything from Galeries Lafayette, that’s all far too expensive. No, we hit the sales in Zara and H&M! After shopping, we scoped the area around the hotel for restaurants and I loved looking in the bistros and pavement cafes. It’s nearly 15 years since I worked in France, but it felt strangely familiar and it was great to dust off my language skills!

Before heading back out for dinner, we popped our head in to see what was on offer in the Club Lounge and have a few drinks. The evening buffet was very fishy which the other half didn’t enjoy but I tucked in to poached salmon, tempura prawns, salmon soufflé and crudités with tapenade. Whilst it was all delicious, it was a very limited choice; not everyone likes fish and seafood. We both enjoyed the high-end spirits like Grey Goose vodka and Bombay Sapphire gin, but no slim line tonic though!

Breakfast in the hotel’s main restaurant is €45pp. So we skipped that and had it in the Club Lounge instead! The breakfast buffet equalled that of any other hotel I’ve ever stayed in, so we certainly didn’t feel hard done by! There was lots of fruit, pastries, yoghurt, smoothies, scrambled eggs and eggs to order. Other hot items included streaky bacon, 3 types of sausage, mushrooms with potatoes and cooked tomatoes. There was also the usual selection of meats and cheeses that you would expect on any continental breakfast. We were quite happy with the coffees from the machine but there were also various teas available to order such as breakfast, Earl Grey and green teas.

After a hearty breakfast, we set ff for the underground to Notre Dame Cathedral. Foolishly, we paid for a full day pass for the underground and then only ended up taking this one journey so that was a bit of a waste of €10!

There was only a 10-minute wait for access to the towers, so we thought we’d give it a go and burn off some of the breakfast and last night’s booze. We ascended the 387 steps fairly easily and the climb was worth it for the fantastic views over the city, even on such a dull and grey day. It was great to see the old bells in the tower and art work depicting the cathedral’s most famous resident – Quasimodo.

After soaking up the view and being blown around by the wind, we set off back down the 387 steps to enter the main cathedral where atmospheric morning prayers were taking place. I’m not religious but I love churches and old buildings and there was something special about the incense filled air with light spilling through the stained-glass windows. The building is awe inspiring in size, an absolute marvel for something built in the 1100’s! One of the highlights was seeing the Crown of Thorns, supposedly worn by Jesus as he was being prepared for crucifixion.

After leaving Notre Dame and using the world’s most expensive public toilet (€2!), we set off on foot to Place de la Concorde, the largest public square in Paris, but after passing The Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens were closed at one end due to yellow vest protests. We managed to worm our way towards the Champs-Elysees but could hear the protesters getting louder, the occasional cheer punctuated with loud bangs which we later learned were riot grenades used by police to disburse crowds. Getting more nervous, our every route closed off with metal fences and barricades, we passed the Petite Palace with riot vans and tanks parked outside.

We managed to find our way to the Alexander III bridge where police in riot gear told us and families with kids to get out of the way and helped us jump over a wall to escape. We quickly walked over the bridge as the yellow vest procession followed a few hundred meters behind us. Police swarming from every direction, closing roads and stopping traffic, we had to guess which way the protesters were heading and go the opposite. Looks like we’re not going to the Arc di Triompe!

Not being 100% sure about what just happened, we worked our way to the Eiffel Tower, stopping for a lunch of croque monsieur and madam in Gustav’s bistro. We didn’t go in the tower itself; the top was closed for refurbishment so I thought I’d save going inside until I could experience the whole building. Instead, we walked around the gardens and across the road to Trocadero for the best view and photo ops. Despite the dull sky, the building still looked magnificent and much bigger than I expected. Paris isn’t a very high-rise city and the tower is visible from lots of areas, but it was still bigger than I imagined.

As a few hours had passed since our great escape from the protesters, we decided to venture to the Arc di Triompe where only a few stragglers in yellow vests remained, blowing their whistles and waving a French flag. The protest was entirely peaceful and so small that it didn’t feel at all threatening.

img_3328

We crossed to the Arc di Triompe and climbed another 289 steps to the top. I was impressed by the inside of the building, the ceiling looked icing smooth and it was bigger than I thought it would be. The view was spectacular if not a bit foreboding with the grey sky. Much like the best view in New York is from Top of the Rock because you can see the Empire State Building, the best view in Paris is surely from the Arc di Triompe because you can see the Eiffel Tower.

After leaving the Arc di Triompe, we made an obligatory visit to the Apple store on the Champs-Elysees as we walked back towards the Opera and our hotel, more road closures sending us down side streets. After a rest and a shower, we venture back to the Club Lounge to see what the evening buffet was like. Slightly better than the night before, the same cold options but served with beef and mixed vegetables as well. After a couple of gins and a few glasses of wine each (the Chablis went down very well!), we set out to find somewhere for dinner.

Not far from the hotel, near to Galeries Lafayette, we stopped by a little bistro that looked busy. I wasn’t very hungry so went with escargot starter, salmon and vegetables for main and a creme caramel for dessert. The other half had French onion soup, a cheeseburger and tarte au pomme piled high with cream. The food was excellent, and our waiter had a great French campness. The meal was from a fix priced menu, 3 courses for €24 each which was great value.

For our last morning in Paris and after a hearty breakfast in the Club Lounge, we set off for the 10-minute walk to The Louvre for a morning guided tour of its famous exhibits. If you haven’t been, the place is massive! I had no idea how large the building was – it’s the biggest art museum in the world – and having a guide really helped point out some of the most incredible masterpieces.

In 90 minutes, we covered the building’s original purpose as a fortress, exploring its hidden foundations and moat, beautifully preserved, they almost look new, before flashing by a pink granite Sphinx, one of only a few in the world.

I must admit, I’m not much of an art buff, but our guide gave just the right amount of information about each of the pieces we walked past and some of the works were incredible. The level of detail is fantastic and to think how many hundreds and even thousands of years old they are, it’s like looking back in time. One of my favourite pieces was of the goddess Diana, wrestling a stag. The marble was sparkling white and the features of her face and dress brought her to life.

The main drawers to The Louvre are obviously the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. I found both a bit underwhelming compared to some of the other work, but their fame still made them alluring. Some of the painted art works are very impressive, especially The Wedding at Cana which shows the story of Jesus turning water in to wine. The sheer size of the painting is hard to take in.

There was a subdued feeling around the city, and it wasn’t crowded anywhere. I wasn’t sure if that was normal for a weekend in January or whether tourists had been put off by the global coverage of the yellow vest movement. I’d also heard that Parisians are rude, but we experienced the exact opposite; everyone was really nice and welcoming. Maybe it was my feeble attempts at speaking French that made them feel sorry for us! Or maybe they were grateful that some tourists were still happy to travel to Paris despite the protests.

As an IHG Ambassador member, I got 4pm check out of the hotel which was handy as

our flight wasn’t until 9pm. We took the opportunity have a hot chocolate and some delicious cakes in the Club Lounge before a quick nap and vacating our room at dead on 4pm. Although we were only in Paris a short time, we got a great little taste of the city and will definitely return when the weather is warmer to enjoy some of the great gardens and open spaces around the city. But after Venice last winter and now Paris, I’m thinking of Rome next year, what do you think?

 

Date of trip: January 2019

Price paid: £25.00pp for lounge access and fast track security at Leeds Bradford Airport. £105.00pp for the flights booked through Jet2 with a 10% discount code. £210.00pp for the first night at the InterContinental Le Grand including Club Lounge access, with the second night costing £80.00pp, booked direct. Entry to the towers at Notre Dame was €10.00pp but entry to the main building is free. Entry to the Arc di Triomphe was €12.00pp. Entry to The Louvre was €15.00pp plus €12.00pp for the guided tour.

Points earned: 1269 Virgin Flying Club points for paying for everything on my Virgin Atlantic credit card. Approx. 6000 IHG Reward points for the hotel plus contribution to last year’s Accelerate target. The hotel stay will also credit to this quarter’s Accelerate target. 

 

You can learn more about IHG Ambassador membership here.

One thought on “A luxury winter break in Paris

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s