Think of Paris and Neuilly-sur-Seine likely probably doesn’t spring to mind. Part of the 16th arrondissement, it’s a largely residential suburb, home to many of Paris’s wealthiest citizens. But its inconnu status could all be about to change, thanks to the recently refurbished four-star Mövenpick Hotel Paris Neuilly. The towering concrete 281-room capacity isn’t exactly the romantic idea of boutique Parisian accommodation, the neutral but high-end décor no bastion of quirky character (rather, it epitomises understated French elegance), and its ‘off-season-high-season’ breed of clientele more commonly suited and booted for weekday conferences; but there’s more to the Mövenpick – and Neuilly-sur-Seine – than meets the eye.
The hotel’s 58 Bar and Lounge is reputable citywide for its extensive line in Champagne, much of which is sourced from small, family run vineyards. In-house Champagne sommelier, the highly affable and passionate Christophe, holds frequent tasting sessions for anyone wishing to book in, or is casually on hand to walk visitors – non-resident or otherwise – to the bar through the extensive Champagne menu. Enough bubbles? The bar’s selection of inventive cocktails and comfortable outdoor terrace makes for a chic alternative evening in a super quiet environment.
Next door, at Brasserie Victor Hugo, there’s more understated French fare, only it’s so good, on Sundays, you’ll find people traveling from all over to take advantage of the weekly brunch. Don’t expect strawberries in October, the menus are all seasonal, ingredients organic where possible, and there’s even a custom created ‘Go Healthy’ section for health-conscious diners.
But enough about the hotel. Lovely though it is, Neuilly-sur-Seine is the real diamond in the rough. Outside the hotel, there’s a wealth of traditional bars and brasseries nearby, flanking the sophisticated Boulevard Victor Hugo as well as a bevvy of independent shops. Despite its relatively peripheral location, the Mövenpick Neuilly is a mere 40-minute walk from the Arc de Triomphe (guests staying on the top floors of the hotel can benefit from a respectable view of both the Arc and the Eiffel Tower), and just a 10-minute walk to the nearest Metro station, Anatole France, where you can pick up line three.
Lovely though the Eiffel Tower is, Neuilly is a great jump-off point for seeing Paris from a different angle. While a riverboat ride down the Seine and back at dusk, with supper included in the ticket, was as dramatic and recommendable as you’d imagine (if you’ve never done this, do), so too was our late afternoon chauffeur-driven tour around Paris in a Citroen 2CV. With the roof rolled down, it was an utterly brilliant – and oh so French – way to see the city.
More interesting still was a tour of the Latin Quarter which took me to a Roman amphitheatre that I never knew existed, across the old citadel border to Ernest Hemingway’s and Descartes’s houses, over to the Panthéon, a quick photo opportunity for Woody Allen fans at the steps made famous by Owen Wilson and ending with coffee on the rooftop of the almighty Arabic Centre on the Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard. Varied? You bet. Unusual? And some.
A bus over to the Musée d’Orsay deposited me at my lunch spot in a traditional Parisian apartment. Van Gogh and Cezanne would have to wait; our chef – and apartment owner – for the afternoon, Danielle, had lunch waiting for us on our arrival at her house. Foie gras, salmon tartare and traditional tarte tatin were rounded off by a cheeseboard. It was all delicious and all unexpected. Lunch served up in the home of a Parisienne is not, after all, something you get to do every day.
Back on the road, we headed to Montmartre, where we lapped up the skinny on the bygone bohemian movement – a lot more readily than we did the resident vineyard’s wine. Yes, there’s a tiny little vineyard right bang smack in the middle of all the cabaret action of yore, which visitors to the area can book a look-see of in advance. However, the wine had much to be desired, although its heritage and story made guzzling down a glass or two more than worth it.
Montmartre, wine notwithstanding, is wonderful and so is the Latin Quarter but it was Neuilly that proved the real find. Packed with little bars and quaint independent boutiques, it’s Paris for the Parisiennes – now made accessible to all thanks to one Swiss hotel.
NEED TO KNOW…
Rooms at the Mövenpick Paris Neuilly starts from £135 and can be booked at www.moevenpick-hotels.com. Eurostar operates up to 18 daily services from London St Pancras International to Paris with return fares from £69. Tickets are available from eurostar.com or 08432 186 186.