I have so much to write about my recent France adventure, to start here’s an overview of the whole trip. I’ll be posting separately about the specifics and mechanics of the entire adventure for those who care about the details or want to replicate them. I’ll also be writing more about each hotel, meal and adventure, here and on Business Traveler USA and on Go World Travel. You can see videos from the trip here on a France 2016 playlist on my YouTube channel.
The adventure started with a flight on Norwegian in their Premium cabin. Somewhere between Premium Economy and Business Class, it provides a lot of comfort and amenities at the price most airlines charge for Economy Class. They offer two direct flights per week from LAX to CDG. We had an ontime departure and even had favorable winds for the flight, resulting in a travel time of only 9.5 hours.
The Shangri-La Hotel, Paris
The first stop on my luxury adventure was a stay at the beautiful Shangri-La Hotel, Paris in one of their iconic Eiffel Tower View Rooms. I had visited the hotel before and dined at Shang Palace (France’s only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant), but this was my first time staying there as a guest. It was truly amazing to have Paris’ greatest landmark looming right outside our window. The hotel was created within the former palace of Roland Bonaparte, grand-nephew of Napoleon. It retains classic features and elegance, yet offers luxuriously stylish rooms and suites, most with amazing views of the Eiffel Tower.
For our first dinner in Paris, we dined at the fabulous La Bauhinia restaurant at the Shangri-La. The restaurant blends Asian and French cuisines and offered a wonderful array of Thai dishes I was familiar with, living in Los Angeles. The meal was a spectacular experience, highlighted by truly professional service and guidance by the staff.
A Night at the Opera (Garnier)
For my very first visit to one of the world’s greatest buildings, I chose an after-hours tour of the Opera Garnier from Cultival Paris. After meeting our small group in the lobby at 5 pm, we proceeded on a two-hour, top-to-bottom (well, not to the lake underneath) tour of the landmark. It was truly spectacular to see everything up-close and to be able to sit in the theater and even explore some of the boxes.
Lunch with Ducasse
We ventured out on a daytrip (via Uber) to the Chateau de Versailles for a very special lunch at ore, the new restaurant from Master Chef Alain Ducasse. The contemporary cafe, as they call it, caters to palace visitors and its opening times coincide with those of the chateau (breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea). The menu is fresh, seasonal and highlights Chef Ducasse’s use of only the best ingredients and products. I had a chance to interview Stephane Duchiron, the restaurant’s executive chef and you can see the interview on my YouTube channel.
After the lunch at ore, it was time to continue the Ducasse theme with a stay at Le Meurice. The palace hotel, my favorite place to stay in the whole world, has all its food overseen by the great chef. We checked into our fabulous suite, overlooking the Tuileries, Louvre and Eiffel Tower and I just felt at home. The spacious suite (Suite 301) represents the epitome of classic, stylish elegance, complete with an over-the-top, spa-like marble bathroom. My second time staying at Le Meurice, I am constantly impressed and amazed by the level of service and luxury they achieve, it truly sets the standard by which other hotels are measured.
I’ll be writing more about this, but yes, I got engaged in Paris at Le Meurice. The hotel was kind enough to lend us the terrace of their spectacular Belle Etoile penthouse suite. The terrace, a popular place for exclusive parties and events, presents what may be the best view in Paris, about 320 degrees all around the city. This is something they frequently do for any guest, regardless of what kind of accommodation the guest has (or whether they’re a travel writer). It’s a great example of what luxury service is and how Le Meurice (and other Dorchester Collection properties) separate themselves from other chain luxury hotels.
We took a stroll across the Tuileries to my favorite compact museum in Paris, the Musee de l’Orangerie. Home to Monet’s room-sized masterpiece the Water Lillies, it’s also home to range of other amazing Impressionist paintings.
Off to Provence
After the excitement of the proposal (and the acceptance thereof) it was time to head to Provence to visit a friend of mine who lives there. Using our Rail Europe passes and tickets we took the TGV train to Avignon. The ride was smooth, the train left on time and about three hours later we walked off the train in Avignon. My friend picked us up at the TGV station and we headed into Avignon to walk around the Palais du Papes. Then it was a 45 minute drive to his farmhouse in Flassan, right under Mont Ventoux (of Tour de France fame).
We spent a few amazing days in Provence, just enjoying the slow pace. It’s a magical place in the winter, when the tourists are few and far between. We had some delicious, home-cooked dinners and drank some amazing local wine. We also did a lot of walking in the vineyards, even eating some of the leftover sweet muscat table grapes still on the vines.
And Finally, Marseille
We left Flassan in the late afternoon and made a stop at the beautiful Senanque Abbey in Gordes. You’ve probably seen photos of this incredible place, with its fields of purple lavender. Although the colors are a bit muted in the winter, it was still beautiful and a place I’ve always wanted to visit.
After running into a rainstorm, we finally arrived in Marseille at our final stop, the InterContinental Marseille Hotel Dieu. It was my second trip to Marseille and my second time staying at the InterContinental. It’s a very special luxury hotel in what I think is France’s coolest city. A few friends joined us for an amazing tasting dinner at Les Fenetres, the hotel’s stylish brasserie. All the food at that hotel is overseen by Chef Lionel Levy. He left his own successful restaurant Un Table Au Sud to run the restaurants and all the food at the InterContinental. Aside from the brasserie, they also have Alcyone, considered one of the best restaurants in France.
The next day we explored the city, first visiting the Marseille History Museum, and then strolling through the city’s Christmas market. For the second night, we returned to Les Fenetres for another great dinner.
The next day it was time to return home. We had booked the TGV train direct from Marseille to CDG on the Rail Europe website and it was a smooth ride. The flight home on Norwegian, again in their Premium cabin, was another smooth experience, although longer at 12.5 hours.