Why Paris shines on as the City of Light

For centuries Paris has been known as the La Ville Lumière – the City of Light – but on November 13, 2015 more than 120 flames of its greater luminescence were cruelly snuffed out, writes Scott Armstrong.

As shocking and tragic as those events were (we purposefully won’t recount in detail) Paris, and its people, were determined that their great city should shine on.

Their way of honouring those whose light had been taken from them? Refusing to alter their lifestyle, continuing to go about their lives with the same joy for life that has attracted millions of visitors to their city.

And so today, despite the world and its woes, Paris remains a beacon for tourists, a place where life is venerated and celebrated.

In fact, perhaps because of all the horrors unfolding around the globe, maybe there has never been a better time, a more important time, for us as travellers to visit this city of wonders to be reminded that light can prevail even in the darkest of hours.

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Somehow fittingly, defiantly, my hotel in Paris was just a minute’s walk from the Arc De Triomphe, that epic and iconic monument to sacrifice, bravery and the French way of life.

From the moment one arrives at the five-star Sofitel Arc De Triomphe the property neatly over-delivers on that French sense of style and sophistication expected of Paris.

It’s location, in 14 Rue Beaujon (important to ask taxi drivers for the street), is almost directly off the Champs Elysées and its exterior, which dates back to the 1800s (designed by Georges-Eugène Haussmann for architecture buffs), grounds you immediately in the historic beauty that defines and dominates the wider city.

It seems almost trivial to wax lyrical about the street in which it sits, but being tucked away in a snug little side street yet moments away from such a major tourist attraction gives the visitor the perfect ‘pied-à-terre’ in Paris.

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For all its historic beauty from outside, the Sofitel Arc De Triomphe is a picture of modern Parisian chic on the inside.

The undoubted jewel in the hotel’s crown is its rooms.

Wherever you travel in the world the common elements which make up the classic five-star hotel room are often not very different.  You’ve often got strong use of deep quality wood (to reinforce the feeling of luxury), some muted tones contrasted by equally deep furnishings, rich fabrics to again hammer home the ‘this is five-star’ message.

However this is Paris, and Sofitel go in a much more memorable and unique direction. Here clean white lines dominate the rooms fixtures and fittings, crisp white linen, a huge white sofa, the white pendant lamp, all offset with a sort of subdued-neon blue.

Totally unexpected perhaps, but this modernity perfectly offsets the medieval architecture outside.

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It’s just oh so cool, and again is a reflection of that joy of life that the French possess, embracing the unexpected.

To complete the juxtaposition the hotel is staffed by a traditional liveried team possessing the calm air of competence and hospitality which five-star properties aim to achieve worldwide.

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Every time you step out you are reminded that hotel location can mean everything in Paris, and here within minutes you are on the Champs Elysées, to your right staring at the Arc, to your left the achingly-long promenade down into the city beckons, while ahead one can plough into the back streets to emerge 30 minutes later, crossing the Seine to reach the inspiring Eiffel Tower.

While I’m not a huge fan of organised city bus tours, one of the first things that will greet you when you emerge from your hotel’s side street is a number of official stops for such services.

Here in Paris this is actually not such as bad idea, so large and so grand is the city, a two-hour hop-on hop-off circular run through the main sights helps give you a sense of how to prioritise what you want to see and explore in however much time you have, and how ‘touristy’ you want to be.

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If you do choose the bus tour you will inevitably end where you started by the Arc De Triomphe. In peak season trying to visit this landmark will be a crowded, queuing nightmare, however at this time of year you’ll find fewer people and a hike up its ancient winding stairs to the summit is rewarded by some fine views (cue the classic ‘I’m holding the Eiffel Tower in my hand’ picture).

A walk along the Champs Elysées whatever the weather or the season remains one of the simple joys of Paris no matter however times you have visited.

The tree-lined promenade, populated by boutiques and outrageously-priced restaurants, sweeps down from the Arc’s hill and provides a stroll of epic proportions if you have your walking shoes on.

Sticking pretty much to a straight line your feet can find the stunning Le Palais de L’Élysée, the Place de la Concorde with its statues and Egyptian obelisk, the picturesque 17th century Jardin des Tuileries which leads through to the obigatory Louvre Museum (if only from the outside to take a photo of the infamous glass pyramid).

If you’ve the energy, keep going and to your left you can find the Le Centre Pompido, to your right the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.

Rather continue to list attractions as this city possesses too many to name in one article, this writer will return to where he started, and that is on the importance of choosing to visit this astonishing city.

There have always been reasons not to explore our world, sometimes it is too far, sometimes it is too expensive, but fear, or indeed the fear of fear, should not stop you from travelling.

The spirit that imbues this city will reinvigorate you and choosing to visit Paris is choosing life, it’s as simple as that.

*Visit sofitel.com for more information about the Sofitel Arc De Triomphe

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