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Travel & Holidays in later life


Christmas lights on the BHV department storeAny time of the year is fine in Paris, even if the weather is dreadful. During winter, hotel prices drop, leaving you more spending money for all the fantastic choice of shopping, nightlife and sightseeing.

An especially good time to visit Paris is between mid-November and mid-January, when the city is all dressed up for Christmas shopping, post-Christmas sales and general festive season events.

There's delight in strolling along  the Champs Elysées after dusk, when every tree is lit up and decorated..

Likewise, all the main shopping streets are lively with imaginative window displays that compete for attention. Big department stores like Galeries Lafayette and its neighbour, Printemps, go overboard with dazzling window dressing. 

Travel Facts


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Dozens of tour operators produce specialized programmes, including local coach companies. Ask your travel agent for brochures.

Transport: by air from numerous airports; Eurostar from London St Pancras; coach tour with local pick-up; self-drive Dover- Calais or by Chunnel from Folkestone. 

Best buys besides the fashion items: drink, coffee, cheese, olive oil. The euro is currently worth about 70p.

More information: French Government Tourist Office, Lincoln House, 300 High Holborn, London WC1V 7JH. Tel: 0906-8244-123 (60p a minute). Website:

Photos supplied by Catherine Balet  of  Paris Tourist Office.

Travelsphere escorted holidays


For the Christmas season, the Galeries Lafayette dedicate windows to puppet shows based on children's favourite story books. It's a delight for kids and adults alike, all free. 

Families who are then lured into the Toys & Games department will find it hard to resist buying a woolly toy after seeing dozens of them in action! 
Sacre-Coeur, seen from the roof terrace of Galeries Lafayette
For those who suddenly think about sightseeing, the rooftop offers one of the best views of Sacré Coeur, perched on the peak of Montmartre. But then shopping temptation returns, as you pass down through six floors of fashionable merchandise. 

If you find trendy Lafayette is too pricey, try the lit-up Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville (BHV), with eight floors of merchandise. It's located right in the heart of historical Paris.

For another superb view of the city, go to the neighbouring rooftop terrace of the Samaritaine family-style department store on Rue de Rivoli. It overlooks Pont-Neuf, the city's oldest bridge. 

If you can spare time off from shop-gazing, you're then only a minute or two from the Louvre, which is easily the top tourist attraction in Paris. 

The Louvre Museum is 200 years old and still growing, having doubled its exhibition space during the past decade. Like a city within a city, using the controversial glass pyramid as a main entrance, the Louvre absorbed the former Ministry of Finance into a Richelieu wing, one-third of a mile long.

The conversion cost of the extension was enormous. It was all part of President Mitterand's 'Grand Design' that made the Louvre into the world's largest museum, overtaking the Metropolitan in New York, and the Hermitage in St Petersburg. 

The Pyramid entrance to the LouvreDigging had already opened up the foundations of the original fortified citadel that housed the French court until the building of Versailles. At a lower level, you can walk round the medieval moat and the keep, which was used as a prison and royal treasury.

These medieval excavations, superbly reconstructed, form yet another part of the Museum. The Louvre is certainly much more than antiquities, sculptures and paintings! 

Another great attraction is the Pompidou Centre, which leaves the Eiffel Tower cold. When built 30 years ago, the Centre rated high among the world's most audacious buildings, arousing extreme outrage or admiration. 

You can ride to the top floor in a transparent caterpillar tube for some more high-level views of Paris. You're right there amid the great monuments, close to Notre Dame. Opening times are 11 a.m. till 10 p.m. Closed on Tuesdays.

Within the building itself is the National Museum of Modern Art, ranking as the largest and finest collection in Europe. Every important painter of the 20th century is represented.

At least half a dozen temporary exhibitions are open simultaneously on other floors.

Also known as the Beaubourg, the Centre is located on the site of the old food market, Les Halles. A large open space beside the Centre is the setting for non-stop street entertainment. 

The entire area has been reborn with an underground shopping complex, while the pedestrianised streets around are lively with bars, restaurants, trendy clothing stores and late-night jazz bars. 

For those who prefer Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting, the highlight is the Musée d'Orsay. It's a fantastic riverside conversion of a 19th-century railway terminus and station hotel. The museum is stocked with the cream from other Paris museums (including the Louvre) to cover the period mainly from 1848 to 1914.

If you miss seeing Paris during the pre-Christmas period, all the sightseeing is still in place year-round. But the great shopping bonus is that all the glittering goodies suddenly become much cheaper from December 26, when the Sales begin with a big bang. For the next four weeks, Paris is a bargain- hunter's paradise, hell for husbands. 

Buskers at the Pont-Neuf, with the Samarataine department store in the backgroundMeanwhile you can always take refuge in the nightlife scene, where Paris keeps its traditional reputation. Everything is there from the Moulin Rouge, Lido, Paradis Latin  and the Crazy Horse Saloon at the more tasteful cabaret end of the strip market, through to the wildest of hard core. 

If you haven't been to Paris for several years, there are many more reasons for a return visit. If you're looking for Christmas gift ideas, how about a Paris weekend for yourself and partner? 


Where else to go in France

ANNECY - French coach touring by TGV train

BRITTANY COAST - St Malo and the Emerald Coast

BURGUNDY - Go cruising by luxury barge

CHAMPAGNE TRAIL starting at Troyes

LOIRE VALLEY - The Garden of France

MENTON - where lemon trees bloom year-round

NICE - exploring the Riviera

PARIS - Open season for loving

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

"Lonely Planet: Paris" by Steve Fallon - Packed with good advice on getting the maximum interest and enjoyment from the experience of Paris, and including notes on day trips. 

"Paris: Spiral Guide" by Mario Wyn-Jones and Teresa Fisher - Published by the AA, this handy pocket guide includes with good street plans. 

"The Impressionists' Paris" by Ellen Williams - For art-lovers who specially admire the Impressionists, here are guided walks that feature where the artists lived, and the sites they painted. Also includes period cafe and restaurant recommendations, 20 full-colour reproductions, and vintage photos.

"Down and Out in Paris and London" by George Orwell - A reminder that prewar Paris was not roses all the way. Here's a new edition of Orwell's classic description of life among the underdogs - an antidote to the romantic view of Paris. Not to be read before dining.

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