Paris: Romance without the masses
Valentine's Day may be gone for another year, but Paris is always a good place for romance. The city is filled with the sort of places that make hearts pound and hands hold. A few spots, however, are so over-the-top romantic that they draw millions of couples from all over. Unless overcrowding really turns you on, it’s best to approach these famous sites with a few BT tricks up your sleeve.
The Eiffel Tower The "Old Lady" has been putting people in the mood for more than 120 years. But because of the number of visitors at her base (some 6.5 million per year) she is arguably best seen from afar. My favorite vantage spot is way back on the Champ de Mars, where it's all twinkle and no tour buses. The grassy lawn and wooden benches invite you to spread out with your picnic basket and crack open a bottle of wine. At night, the grande dame goes glittery at the top of every hour, sparkling brightly for the first ten minutes. The Café Constant (139 rue St. Dominique, 7th arrondissement, 01-33/9-75-82-08-07) is a sweet and traditional place to share a drink or a meal nearby.
Sacre Coeur The panoramic view over the city has inspired many a movie scene and many a marriage proposal. Skip the lines to enter the church and instead hop the knee-high fence that protects the front lawn. You’ll see plenty of other couples doing what you'll be doing—cozying up just out of earshot from the crowds to watch the sun set over the city. Café Burq is a nearby dinner destination (6 rue Burq, 18th arrondissement, 01-33/1-42-52-81-27). This neighborhood bistro has sexy low lighting and a menu that oozes amour—and that goes double for the roasted Camembert with honey. Prices are similarly seductive: it’s €23 ($30) for two courses, and the wines are well-priced.
The Seine The fly boats (bateaux mouches) are a great way to see Paris, but the number of videocam-toting tourists also make them less than romantic. For a more intimate appreciation of the river's charms, follow the amorous locals strolling along the north bank of the Seine. A long walking path runs between the Pont de la Concorde (near the Louvre) to the Pont Notre Dame. The latter bridge connects to the Ile Saint-Louis, which offers a heart-pounding view of the backside of Notre Dame. For a truly melting experience, you can pick up one of the city’s best ice cream cones at Berthillon (31 rue St.-Louis-en-l'Ile, 4th arrondissement), then dangle your feet over the island’s western edge while watching the sun set over Notre Dame.
Living vicariously: Oscar-inspired travel deals
Round these parts, we love movies, especially travel-inspiring ones, and I know where I'll be Feb. 22: watching the Oscars. It's overblown, self-congratulatory, but just so fun—the dresses! The speeches! The awkward reaction shots from the losers! If the nominees for this year's Best Picture have got you thinking about visiting their locations, Expedia Deals Watch is here to help. The Reader, also known as "that Kate Winslet Holocaust movie," is earning more buzz than industry insiders expected. Modern-day Berlin, where parts of the movie were filmed, is also earning attention—we recently named it one of our 10 Destinations to Watch in '09. Expedia suggests the Melia Berlin hotel, starting at $127 per room per night; that's about 35 percent off the price I got when booking through the hotel's website. (For a DIY bus tour through Berlin's coolest neighborhoods, check out our story). For the biopic Milk, filmmakers had to convert modern-day San Francisco into a replica of its polyester-and-mustaches '70s self. If you're looking for a place to stay for your own visit, Expedia suggests a stay in the Hilton San Francisco, off of Union Square. You can book a room starting at $99 per night with Expedia; when I tried booking through the hotel's site, the lowest I could get was $129. One of our 2008 Movie Quest picks, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, grabbed a nomination for Penelope Cruz's performance. I'm planning a trip to Barcelona myself, so I've been checking out two of my favorite sites: hotels.com and EuroCheapo. The latter has a few properties with rates starting at €55 ($71) per night. (By the way, we've blogged before about hotel.com's decent rewards program.)
Paris: Eating haute for not a lot
Bistro cooking—simple, homey, and affordable—is one of my favorite things in Paris. However, it's not really the type of cooking for which the city is renowned. Haute cuisine, the kind that's prepared by an army of toque-wearing chefs, is what many imagine French food to be. In reality, it's something that very few tourists (and even fewer locals) can afford. If you've been dreaming about this sort of experience but can't imagine spending €500 on a meal, there's a solution—go for lunch. Some of the best restaurants in the city serve daytime menus for less than €100. That's still expensive, but it does put it more in line with a Broadway show than a transatlantic flight. For savvy gastronomes, going for lunch is a no-brainer. In addition to the cheaper menus, one usually spends a lot less on wine. Penny watchers can order a single glass or simply a bottle of sparkling water, and dessert seems less of an obligation. If you're curious and ready to take the plunge, consider these options, and be sure to reserve in advance. Guy Savoy One of the tasting menus at this incredible three-star restaurant is priced at €480 ($618).That's way out of reach for, well, almost everyone, but the little-known lunch special here is more accessible. Available only to those who book online, it allows you to choose a half appetizer, one main dish, and a half-dessert for €100 ($128). Wines by the glass start at €10. Although it's certainly at the high end of the price range, Guy Savoy is a good address for special occasions. 18 rue Troyon, 17th arrondissement, 011-33/8-26-10-13-07 L'Atelier and La Table de Joël Robuchon One of the country's most famous chefs came out of retirement a few years ago to open the left-bank L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (5 rue de Montalembert, 7th arrondissement, 011-33/8-26-10-12-19) and the right-bank La Table de Joël Robuchon (16 avenue Bugeaud, 16th arrondissement, 011-33/1-56-28-16-16). Neither is strictly haute, but both are undoubtedly hot. L'Atelier draws most of the attention, thanks to edgy design and open kitchen theatrics. La Table, however, boasts one of the best deals in town. You'll find many of the same dishes as at l'Atelier but for half the price at lunch. The €55 ($70) menu includes a glass of wine, hors d'œuvres and a main dish, plus cheese, dessert, coffee, and mignardises. As an added (and rare) bonus, both places are open every day of the year. Les Magnolias My best-ever Paris meal wasn't exactly in Paris, it was in a quiet suburb just outside of town. Locals all know that crossing the périphérique (freeways) will cut any dining bill in half, but travel guides rarely print recommendations for anything outside of central Paris. There's a reason for this: We don't want you getting lost. However, if you can handle taking a 20-minute train (RER-C) from Gare du Nord and then walking for 5 minutes, you'll be richly rewarded at les Magnolias. Chef Jean Chauvel offers a lunch menu for &eucro;58 ($75) that's composed of three playful, poetic, and extremely yummy courses. Two courses are even cheaper at €41 ($53). Choose only an appetizer and main dish, and you'll still be rewarded with plenty of sweet mignardises during coffee. It's a delightful experience and a great value for those who can negotiate a little public transport. 48 avenue de Bry, le Perreux-Sur-Marne, 011-33/1-48-72-47-43
This weekend: Toast your sweetheart in Oregon
Impress your sweetheart this Valentine's Day with new talk about "earthy legs" and "a fruity finish." The Willamette Valley Wineries is promoting itself this weekend with an I Love Oregon Wines event. Almost 40 wineries will be hosting tastings and open houses in the region, which is well known for its pinor noirs. Amity Vineyards, for example, has an event about pairing chocolate and pinot noir from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. At the Montinore Estate, you can take a free tango lesson before tasting a few wines. By the way, Oregon has plenty to toast in 2009—the state turns 150 on Valentine's Day, and there will be events going on all year. Tastings are usually around $5; that's often waived with a wine purchase. Get full location and event details here.
A few good links: The craziest street views on Google Maps
Packing the Right Credit Card…and also getting the right travel medical insurance. [New York Times] Top 10 Moments Caught on Google Maps Street View A shooting, a flashing, a house on fire. Tips on Santiago A "down and dirty guide to Chile's capital city." Travel agents lend a pro's perspective 10 questions to ask before deciding on a travel agent. [L.A. Times Travel] Tourists getting steep discounts at attractions Saving $$$ at the Georgia Aquarium, Walt Disney World, and Hersheypark. [AP via Yahoo News] 7 Awesome Solar Boats You Must See Slow but quiet. [treehugger.com] Why…are there ants on the ceiling of the Atlanta airport? [Design Public] Women-Only Hotels Heat Up One in NYC caters comes with extra-large bathtubs, a vanity kit, and yoga mats. [Forbes.com]