Six Nations City Breaks: Paris

10th March 2014
Pól Ó Conghaile

France play Ireland in the final game of the 2014 RBS Six Nations this Saturday.

Presuming he stays injury-free, this is the last time Brian O’Driscoll lines out in a green jersey. Can Ireland give him a send-off to remember, and win the Championship to boot? Can BOD produce a performance to match his hat-trick of tries against Les Bleus in 2000?

Whatever happens, it’s win-win for fans travelling. They’ll always have Paris.

1) Where to eat and drink…

Follow the Herd:

The area around Stade de France (Saint Denis) isn’t exactly postcard-pretty, so it’s better to do your eating and drinking in the city centre before taking the metro to the game.

French fans traditionally fortify themselves with a beer at Gare de Nord, and Kitty O’Shea’s (1 rue des Capucines) is one of the best-known Irish pubs in the city. It’s guaranteed to be packed for Six Nations matches, so if your plan is to watch on screen rather than in person, be sure to get in early.

If the idea of flying to France to visit an Irish pub appalls you, perhaps you’d prefer brunch at one of the great Parisian brasseries. Bofinger (7 rue de la Bastille) has been serving seafood and sauerkrauts to a mix of locals and tourists since 1864. It was the first brasserie in the city to offer beer on draught.

Dodge the Crowds:

It’s no secret that the Parisian food has lost some of its mojo. Ironically, however, an influx of foreign chefs like Daniel Rose (Spring) and Braden Perkins (Verjus) has helped to re-inject some imagination and enthusiasm into the scene.

Jody Williams is another. The Californian’s Buvette (28 rue Henri Monnier) is a laid-back take on a local bistro, with cracked tiles, pressed-tin ceilings, cute chalkboards and a menu of French comfort food slotting nicely into the heart of the ninth arrondisement. It’s tiny and pricey (welcome to Paris, baby), but any place serving cocktails, cakes and cassoulet has my vote.

2) Where to shop…

shopping, boutique, left bank, paris
Follow the Herd:

“An obvious choice are the ‘Grands Magasins’, or big department stores,” says Yvette Dolan, an Irishwoman and very savvy traveller living in Paris. “Less obvious is the fact that foreign visitors can enjoy a 10% discount on almost all merchandise.”

Both BHV and Galléries Lafayette offer discount cards to visitors presenting a European passport at the Info Desk (‘Point d’Accueil’), Dolan says, and discounts are available at Printemps with the branded maps from your hotel room.

Dodge the Crowds:

Haut Marais in The Third arrondisement has been hailed as Paris’s “next great neighbourhood” by Travel + Leisure magazine, and given its collection of chic restaurants, boutiques and food stalls, it’s hard to argue. Certainly, it’s a world away from the ribald rugby buzz of Saint Denis and Stade de France.

Hot tops here include a store by the princess of Parisian chic, Isabel Marant’s (47 rue de Saintonge); Merci (111 Blvd. Beaumarchais), a concept shop whose proceeds go to charity; and Eleven Paris, a bijou boutique with a rock & roll vibe, popular with aspiring hipsters for its jeans (every pair comes with a plectrum in its fifth pocket).

Trendy moms will love ‘Finger in the Nose‘, diagonally opposite, (60 rue de Saintonge).

3) What to see…

visit paris, musee d'orsay, art

Follow the Herd:

Looking for an art fix? The Musée d’Orsay (5 Quai Anatole Franc; €11/8.50) is smaller and less crowded than the Louvre, yet still home to a beautiful explosion of art: from Van Gogh’s hayfields to Degas’s ballet dancers. The fifth floor Impressionist Gallery is a big hit – as are the huge clocks framing the cityscape on your way in (pictured above). The queues can be frustrating, but you can beat them by booking in advance online or arriving early – ideally around 9.30am.

Dodge the Crowds:

The Jardin des Tuileries blossoms with as many visitors as it does flowers in the springtime, so why not skip the tourist grid with a stroll through the gardens of Les Archives Nationales?

This 8,000m2 green space is one of Paris’s most magnificent hidden gems, accessible from either rue de Perle, rue des Archives, or rue des Francs Bourgeois between 8am and 5pm. It’s like strolling through French history.

For more on Paris, visit uk.rendezvousenfrance.com

4) Extra Time…

The 2015 Rugby World Cup may seem a long way off, but you’ll be surprised how quickly the best packages sell out. Club Travel is the official overseas travel agent in Ireland for the competition, and you can find out more about RWC 2015 at visitengland.org/rugbyworldcup.

Paris Six Nations originally appeared in The Irish Independent.