48 Perfectly Romantic Hours in Paris
Leave it to the City of Light to deliver a dreamlike romantic getaway in two days flat.
I grabbed my fiancé’s hand outside the ivy-draped, trellised garden walls of brasserie La Closerie des Lilas, at the tip of a razor-sharp corner in Montparnasse, and half-led/half-tugged him inside, through a gauntlet of friendly “Bonjour!”s from waiters, alongside tables of alfresco diners, over the restaurant’s tiled mosaic floors, past the grand piano, and, finally, to the low-lit cocktail bar tucked in the back.
Save for a few French women quietly sipping white wine and barkeeps in vests and ties hustling to fill drink orders, the glowing red space was blissfully empty—as was the spot at the bar I desperately wanted. It was early, around 4 p.m. That was deliberate. I stepped as swiftly as I could to the curved bar and placed my hands on either side of a small brass plaque nailed to the varnished wood. “Here it is!” I announced, as much to myself as to Neil. He moved in closer to read the engraved script: “E. Hemingway.”
La Closerie des Lilas was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite cafés to write in. He called it his “home café” and argues with a nosy acquaintance there in a particularly amusing story in A Moveable Feast. Neil and I had both read it prior to the trip.
I hopped up into the red leather seat facing the plaque, and overflowing bowls of complimentary green olives and potato crisps soon appeared in front of us. I ordered a Hemingway Daiquiri, made from pineapple juice, citron vert, and Havana rum; Neil asked for an Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, and seltzer). Before the drinks arrived, Neil snapped a picture of me at Hemingway’s perch.
“You look so happy,” he said.
Being in Paris, at your favorite place, with your favorite person, following in the literal footsteps of a writer you admire, will do that.
I had only 48 hours to spend in the City of Light, but a single special moment in Paris is enough to justify an entire trip. For me, it was that one.
Last month, my fiancé was called away on a last-minute business trip to Paris. “Do you want to meet me there for the weekend?” he asked. Before he uttered the “d” in “weekend,” I was researching flights online. Problem was, I had only one summer Friday to burn, meaning I’d arrive at our hotel around 4 p.m. on Friday and leave for the airport at the same time on Sunday. Two days. That’s it.
I still said yes. You always say yes to Paris.
True, Paris has plenty of elegant ways to take your budget, strap dynamite to it, toss it into the air, and shoot it like it’s skeet, but that does not have to be the case. Here’s how we made our trip work on a conservative, hey-we’re-still-saving-money-for-a-wedding budget. You can too, the next time you say yes to Paris.
Schlepping from outer neighborhoods to save cash wastes valuable minutes, and I wanted Neil to experience one of my favorite Parisian neighborhoods, centrally located Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The area can be pricey, but we found a deal on TabletHotels.com for boutique Hôtel Le Sénat, less than a block from the lovely, historic Jardin du Luxembourg (from about $171 per night; see below for more hotel recommendations).
The moment I walked in, I knew we lucked out: Our quirky duplex room—the WC downstairs, a shower with a steeply slanted skylight upstairs—had air conditioning (not a guarantee in Parisian hotels), first-floor windows that swung open to reveal a sprawling array of warm yellow atelier windows, and a private upstairs balcony where we sipped café au laits in the morning and drank affordable Bordeaux late at night, a view of Sacré-Coeur basilica on the horizon, the needle of the Eiffel Tower poking up in the west.
Tear up your itinerary.
Following your heart, not your head, is essential to immersing yourself in Paris. The minute you start adhering to a strict schedule, you’re doing it wrong. When I first visited Paris, on a solo trip in 2011, I created an airtight itinerary of pastry-making classes, day trips, museum visits, and restaurant reservations. Ironically, the activities I enjoyed most—like seeing Marie Antoinette’s cell at the Conciergerie (about $9) and scoring a cashmere sweater on super-sale at Eric Bompard—weren’t on my docket.
This trip, I swore I wouldn’t make the same mistake; instead, the first thing I wanted to do was take my sweet time in a café, not writing postcards or scrolling through emails on my phone, but sitting back with Neil, eating ham sandwiches on perfectly baked baguettes, ordering more cheese than necessary, and practicing our French. Le Rostand, a classic café around the corner from our hotel, quickly became our home base (33/1-43-54-61-58).