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City of light and love

Although there is never a bad time to visit Paris, Valentine’s Day is a better time than any. Maria Pierides helps you pick out the best places to go on your visit

As January kicks in and you’re faced with the harsh bubble-bursting post-Christmas reality, you’re bound to need something to look forward to. Valentine’s Day is looming, and at the risk of sounding clichéd, it’s about time the key message of the day is once again embraced – a feeling that is slowly being drowned in a sea of Hallmark. So when one thinks of love, the word Paris will almost definitely make a top-five appearance, making it the go-to destination of the month. You don’t even have to be a loved-up couple to visit, because even if you’re not in love when you go, you’re certain to feel some sort of warm spark inside you when you leave.

Regarding where to stay, there aren’t many places where you can go wrong in a city full of excellent hotels. For a familiar surrounding, the Hilton Arc de Triomphe is right in the heart of Paris with some of the city’s finest landmarks around it, including the Arc de Triomphe – hence the name. For a more relaxed and independent experience, the Adagio City Aparthotel has apartments that let you live by your own schedule – it’s great if you want to cook a romantic meal yourself or plan on venturing out to eat every night, although the option to have breakfast is there as the hotel offers a continental breakfast buffet.

The sights and attractions to visit all depend on your individual idea of a good time, as there are simply far too many to see in one visit. The Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) is a magnificent building and well worth a visit, especially at night when it is beautifully illuminated. The most obvious crowd puller though has to be the Eiffel Tower, but it’s so much more than just a stunning piece of architecture. It’s also the perfect setting for – dare we say it – a proposal. But for the less ambitious folk, it’s also a great place for a classic photo opportunity – standing at the top with the city behind you is one of those never-forget moments of a visit to Paris.

It would also be a shame to go to Paris without spending at least half a day in Disneyland. It’s come a long way in the 18 years it’s been open, and if you have an ounce of childlike wonder in your heart, you should pay it a visit. It’s obvious why it is the No 1 tourist attraction in Europe; the New Generation Festival is great for parading all the newer Disney creations around, although classic Disney lovers should fear not, as the timeless characters are still there to help spread the fun.

Although the idea of taking a romantic walk in the city and seeing what luxury restaurant or bar you’re drawn into is one you and many movie plots may be keen on, it may not be the best idea on this particular day of the year. A useful piece of advice is to forward plan – as restaurants are subject to long queues and hefty pre-booking – the more ‘romantic’ it promises to be, the busier you should expect it to be as the day approaches.

Au Bon Accueil is a former bistro with a great view of the Eiffel Tower, and has reasonably priced set lunches, which makes it a good pit-stop for refuelling in the middle of the day. For the multi-taskers among us, combining sightseeing with fine dining is a very attractive Valentine’s activity. Surprising a loved one with a romantic cruise of the Seine while absorbing the sights and sounds of Paris is a prime example of how to do it right. Bateaux Mouches have very large boats which depart roughly every half an hour, and enable you to see all the famous landmarks in one sitting, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Grand Palais.

If you have ever imagined sitting in a French café, getting lost in a good book or, in more modern fantasies, writing a future novel on a laptop, with the world passing you by and absorbing the atmosphere, there are many cafes around the city which offer the perfect setting for such a wonderfully idle pastime. Whether you want a café that looks like it’s straight out of an arthouse film set, or a more clichéd French café, Paris has a wide selection to choose from.

The nightlife in Paris is well worth experiencing, and it’s obvious that quaint bars where people can have intimate gatherings are favoured much more than the over-the-top, heaving nightclubs that Londoners may be used to. If you have sangria on the brain, how about going to a bar where sangria is the only thing on the menu? Le Dix (also known as Bar 10) is a hidden underground gem that promises a barrel of laughs and entertainment as sangria is served to you by the ladle in a cavern-like setting.

Parisians seem to have fashion down to a fine art, with each person a walking mannequin and advertisement for Paris couture. Sharing the shopping atmosphere with them may therefore influence your own fashion choices and cause some Parisian style to rub off on you – a great souvenir to come back to England with, better than any Eiffel Tower keychain. If you want to do all your shopping under one roof, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are two of the biggest department stores where you can get lost for hours in the different sections.

Whether you decide to go to Paris for a weekend or a mini-holiday, you will never run out of new and exciting things to do. It is the perfect atmosphere for all things romantic and is guaranteed to provide the setting for an unforgettable Valentine’s Day.

Where The Action Is

Gambling is legalised in around 175 cities, with Paris boasting more casinos than any other in France, with eight in total. For an archaic twist on gambling and a change from modern day casino life, the Aviation Club de France in the centre of the city is a sophisticated place to make the hours fly by. Some might be opposed to paying the €100 compulsory membership fee for initial entry, but at the same time, others can argue that it’s just a small price to pay for the evenings of fun ahead, especially if you’re planning more than one visit.

As there isn’t a roulette wheel or slot machine in sight at the Aviation Club, Paris still offers a host of other great casinos for fans of other games to enjoy. Of all the casinos in the city, the Cercle Hausmann has the largest selection of games, including slots, which appear to be something of a rarity in Paris. But, like most UK casinos, the atmosphere is great and you can unwind with some great food and relax with a few drinks. If you want to take full advantage of the Parisian landmarks and atmosphere, perhaps the Cercle Gaillon is the best place to be, as it’s mere inches away from the Champs-Elysées, one of the city’s greatest attractions.

One can’t help but notice that poker (and casino-style variants of poker) seems to be a hot favourite in Paris, massively favoured over any of the other games. It’s always been known that France has a penchant for poker, but testing out the Parisian casinos here has only reinforced how dominant poker is in France.
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