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Paris: the perfect base for European weekend getaways

One of the best things about having Paris as your “home base” is its excellent air and rail connections. If you are looking for a little adventure, you can take an easy weekend trip to see some of the classical sites of Southern Europe, or even venture as far as North Africa.

 

We asked Mary Clare Bland of Moving2Madrid to give us some of her favorite weekend getaways.

 

Rome, Italy

 

It’s called the Eternal City for a reason- it will always be one of the most beautiful places in the world to visit. It’s less than a two hour flight from Paris and will enchant you whether it’s your first or your fiftieth visit. Our recommendation: don’t try and do too much in a weekend. Find a hotel you like and spend the days strolling, drinking coffee and getting a bit lost in its ancient side streets. Whilst the sun sets, have a Campari and soda then let the evening take you where it desires.

 

The best walk: Start at the Quirinale. From there, take a long walk to see Rome’s most beautiful sites: The Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Campo di Fiori and the unforgettable Pantheon. Oddly enough, the Pantheon is at its most memorable in the rain.

 

Slightly off the beaten path: The crowds at the Colosseum and the Vatican can be overwhelming. We recommend strolling through the Forum or visiting the Baths of Caracalla for a cultural experience that is at least as interesting, but much more civilized. And if you must see the Colosseum, buy your ticket at the Forum. It will cut down your waiting time exponentially. A Saturday afternoon trip to the ancient port of Ostia Antica is something you will always remember.

 

Local tip: Whatever you do, don’t order a cappuccino after breakfast. Or wear ugly shoes. Although generally a forgiving people, these two things can cause a silent shaming you won’t soon forget! If you end up having to do a little emergency shopping, the boutiques around Campo dei Fiori are where the local fashionistas find secret treasures.

Ostia Antica is a wonderfully preserved, “working class” version of Pompeii.

 

Ibiza, Balearic Islands

 

Ibiza is not just about house music and stag parties. In fact, that’s only a small facet of this lovely island, located only a two hour flight from Paris. You can stay in Eivissa Town and enjoy the boho boutiques, take a boat ride to Formentera where the super yachts are moored and swim in the turquoise clear sea, or sit at a tranquil seaside cafe in elegant Santa Eularia and listen to beautiful lounge music spill through the sunset.

 

The best beach: Es Pujols on Formentera is a slice of heaven. The island is more Caribbean than Mediterranean, with its white sand and shallow aquamarine water. Es Pujols is one of the most accessible beaches on Formentera. It is quiet but still boasts ample places for lunch, a coffee or glass of Cava. If you take the bus from the port, you’ll drive past the ancient salt pans, which are both beautiful and fascinating.

 

Slightly off the beaten path: Atzaro, located a bit outside of Santa Eularia, is a wonderful retreat. Even if you don’t stay for the weekend, rent a daybed, book a spa treatment and spend the afternoon lounging by the pool and enjoying the holistic beauty products. If you have a silk caftan, this is the place to wear it.

 

Local tip: Ibiza (Eivissa in Catalan) is located in Catalonia. Thus you’ll have better luck speaking English, as opposed to Spanish. Skip the Hippy Markets- they’re filled with tourists and cheap souvenirs, usually made in China, no self-respecting hippy would ever allow in their home.

The best part about Ibiza isn’t the super clubs, but the relaxed boho vibe most easily experienced outside Eivissa Town.

 

Marrakech, Morocco

 

Looking for something insanely exotic, but want a place that speaks French and is only a three and a half hour flight from Paris? Spend a weekend in Marrakech. You can go shopping in the souks (the argan oil and hammam towels are always great finds), relax in a luxurious hammam or even enjoy a round of golf in the Palmeraie.

 

The most glamorous bar: If you want some old world atmosphere, have a drink at the bar in the legendary La Mamounia Palace. Its cool darkness and excellently crafted cocktails are so inviting on a hot summer afternoon (particularly during Ramadan when everyone else on the street at that time is hot, thirsty and very cranky). The odds are you will drink with a celebrity incognito. During cooler months sit outside, order lunch and have a stroll around the estate’s lush private gardens.

 

Slightly off the beaten path: It’s not typically North African, but it is very Marrakech. The YSL Foundation recently opened the first Musée Yves Saint Laurent outside Paris. It is a couple hundred meters from the enchanting Jardin Majorelle but lacks the garden’s heavy the crowds. Anyone that likes fashion will love this place, men and women alike. Bonus in the summer heat: the air conditioning is fantastic!

 

Local tip: Staying at a riad in the medina sounds entertaining, and the upscale ones appear very alluring. But the Medina can be hot, stifling in the summer months, stressful all year round and usually irritating after a few hours. Not to mention the fact that much of it is dry (as in no alcohol is served), including most of the poshest riads. Our advice? Stay in the Palmeraie. It’s peaceful, luxurious and almost every hotel has a free shuttle service into the Medina. It’s where all the people from the Gulf States stay, and Parisians in the know. The Palmeraie Palace has a world class spa and the best private hammam outside of Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace.

Lamps for sale in the Marrakech at Jemaa el-Fnaa’s exotic night market

 

Lisbon, Portugal

 

Want to go to the beach, but also experience a unique culture? Lisbon is less than a two and a half hour flight from Paris. In many ways the city is a Portuguese San Francisco, complete with its very own “Golden Gate” bridge (el Ponte 25 de Abril), vintage streetcars and deep fogs. Like Rome, it was built on Seven Hills and has some glorious surrounding beaches.

 

The most unique palace: Visit the town of Sintra to see what are arguably the most beautiful, unique palaces and castles ever built. Pastel colored with twisting medieval turrets and ramparts, Moorish arches and enchanting gardens, it was once the playground of the Portuguese aristocracy and millionaires. In the late 1800s, early 1900s it attracted a bohemian community of painters, poets and musicians. Now it is a UNESCO world heritage site and well worth a visit.

 

Slightly off the beaten path: Pastéis de nata (custard tarts) are a delicacy unique to Portugal. Since they’ve become increasingly popular around the world, most pastry shops in Lisbon turn out a decent one. However, the locals always know the best. Manteigaria, located in Largo de Camoes, is their favorite. There is no seating, but you are guaranteed to get one hot out of the oven.

 

Local tip: Take a ride on tram number 28 to view the entire city. It’s a fun, historic, economic alternative to city bus tours. Make sure to ride the tram its entire route so you can see the most popular historic sites. Our tip: get on at the beginning of the route to ensure you get a seat. And be patient- the street car is often held up by cars parked on the tracks or other delays you wouldn’t expect in other European cities.

 

A small embellishment on the ramparts of the extravagant, romantic Palace of Pena in Sintra

 

Florence, Italy

Timelessly beautiful and historically a stop on any Grand Tour, Florence has recently upped its game to cater to a contemporary fashion conscious crowd. If you haven’t visited the city since college, it’s time to go back. Since it’s a direct, hour and forty minute flight from Paris, it doesn’t take much prior planning and can be just the break you need to rejuvenate and remind yourself why you love living in Europe.

 

The best retail experience ever: The House of Gucci has recently launched its new retail/design concept in the Palazzo della Mercanzania. The Palazzo, built in 1359, once housed the court that resolved disputes between merchants and members of various Florentine art guilds. Today it houses the Gucci Museum, a temporary exhibition space called the Gucci Gardens, a three starred Michelin restaurant and a store where you can purchase one of a kind items.

 

Slightly off the beaten path<. The Florence Experiment in the Palazzo Strozzi (scheduled to run through August 26, 2018) features two story slides that corkscrew their way through the Palazzo’s interior courtyard. The slides “investigate the symbiotic emotional relationship that exists between biological life and humans.” Thus you hold a plant in your lap whilst sliding, then go to the “laboratory” in the basement where they examine the plant to see how it was affected by your emotions. There are also cinemas in the basement which play snippets from famous films. A bit out there but shockingly fun for the entire family.

 

Local tip: In our experience, there aren’t many true Florentines that actually live in Florence. However, the ones that do all recommend the same thing: go for a shop at the original Santa Maria Novella Profumo. A small selection of their cosmetics are sold in premier department stores around the world. Our favorite room is the Sacristy- used until the XVII as the “Room of the Waters”- the place where the distilled water was stored. The other rooms are equally fascinating, and the herbal tea room is the perfect place for a quick pick-me-up.

To see its full range of perfumes, potions and liquors you must visit the original shop, located in a stunning 14th century convent on the atmospheric Via della Scala.

 

Madrid, Spain

 

Madrid is only a two hour plane ride from Paris, but in many respects it is a completely different world. Most businesses still close two hours a day for lunch, few women wear “fashion editor black” and the brilliant, effervescent sun is likely to give your average Parisian a religious experience.

 

The best museum for people that don’t want to spend all day in The Prado: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, housed in the 18th century Villahermosa Palace, has the most diverse, arguably well curated collection in Spain. It is manageable in size. The entire permanent collection can be seen in under two hours. Thyssen’s has excellent special exhibitions, often featuring the works of notable fashion designers- the recent Bulgari exhibit was dazzling. It also has a lovely outdoor, terraced cafe and excellent wifi (in case you’re traveling with family members with short attention spans where art is concerned).

 

Off the beaten path: Madrid, like NYC, has some very interesting, unique neighborhoods. Instead of spending all your time in tourist infested Sol, take some time to explore the individual neighborhoods. Elegant Almargo has excellent new restaurants and charming boutiques, while the secret parts of La Latina feature beautiful old courtyards where you can enjoy a quiet drink at an outdoor table surrounded by Madrid’s evocative night air. For a full list of Madrid’s neighborhoods, consult this Madrid neighborhood interactive map.

 

Local tip: Unless you want to eat ham sandwiches and tortilla all weekend (including breakfast), you have to adapt to local meal times. Lunch is served from 14.30-16.30 (although you can often find places that open as early as 14.00h) and dinner starts at 21.30h. Can’t wait until 14.00h? Follow the ancient Madrileño tradition of having a vermouth and a light tapa (olives or potato chips) at 13.00h. The best places serve the vermouth on tap and have pipes that are hundreds of years old, imparting a special flavor. One of our favorites is Bodega de la Ardosa, in Malasaña. The good news is it opens at 8.00h (not a typo: 8am), if you’re so inclined! Order a “vermut del grifo.”

 

A very Spanish aperitivo- Cava and a vermut del grifo (yes the little goldfish crackers are pretty typical too!)

 

Article and photos:  Mary Clare Bland, of  Moving2Madrid

 

 

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