As the time on the corner of my screen clicks onto 6pm, I close the spreadsheet I’m updating, send one final email and snap my laptop lid shut. TGIF, I think.
I lean back in my seat as a shaft of sunlight turns the petite marble table in front of me amber-gold, and a waiter pops into view.
“Voulez-vous autre chose?”
My desk this crisp, sunny Friday is a brasserie table facing Paris’s Place Victor Hugo – the brasserie also bears the author’s name, in fact. It’s a dream remote-working base, complete with canopied patio, zippy wifi, rocket-fuel espressos and a prime view of stylish Parisians sashaying past.
Opposite me, my friend returns her own laptop to her bag, and we order two glasses of rosé. It’s the easiest desk-to-bar transition of our lives.
We had whooshed out on the Eurostar from London the previous evening for a long weekend in the city, choosing the breezy option of a city-centre-to city-centre-train for our first trip there this side of the pandemic.
Worrying that a post-Covid, post-Brexit Eurostar would be a messy, convoluted affair, I’d arrived the recommended two hours early for the train. But the queues were still slim and swift, and staff at St Pancras hyper organised – and no one so much as glanced at my hastily scribbled ‘declaration of honour’ form (currently a must for anyone visiting France).
Masks aside, the Eurostar still felt like the same miracle of international travel – board, chat to your pal, neck a glass of Merlot et voila! You’re on holiday – with an added layer of novelty courtesy of having been exactly nowhere for the last few months.
Back at the Brasserie Victor Hugo, we sipped our wine in the warm glow of golden hour, as dressed-up professionals strolled past with tiny dogs, and immaculately blow-dried older women filled the terrace tables around us. My ex-smoker friend, who’d spent several months living in Paris as a student, luxuriated in the cloud of Marlboro fumes drifting over from a nearby table, but stopped short of indulging.
While she basked in the memory of more rock’n’roll years, I was remembering the joy of simply being in another city. No racing around, no checklist. Just doing Friday after-work drinks, but better.
Once you’ve seen the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, the Pompidou and Montmartre, this is the way to enjoy Paris. Terrace hopping, sipping, cheese nibbling, people watching – and repeat.
While mask-wearing was required indoors everywhere we went, the alfresco cafe culture made it easy to avoid the tiresome mask-on, mask-off dance – even as autumn descended, we found it easy to stick with the locals draped outside the front of cafes and wine bars.
We checked into the new Canopy by Hilton, a hip, affordable little base in Trocadero with a tangerine and jet-black lobby and killer views of the Eiffel Tower. Step out of the door and boom, there it is, in high-definition. We contemplated its nighttime twinkle from the hotel’s rooftop bar, champagne in hand, then spent the next day “working from cafe” in the nearest pretty square, surrounded by florists, delis and CBD dispensaries.
Seeing as we’d only be in town for three full days, we sorted our pre-departure Covid test on day one – nipping into the nearest pharmacy where we paid €25 for a lateral flow, gave our full names and were swabbed within 15 minutes, the negative result printed off for us while we waited. It wasn’t just the café culture that felt like an improvement on London.
Eurostar back booked for Sunday night, we still had the entire weekend to wander. Feeling we should do something cultural, I looked up the latest artsy opening – the Bourse de Commerce, a spectacular reimagining of the old stock exchange in the first arrondissement, now lined with striking contemporary painting and sculpture.
We strolled into its impressive, high-domed atrium to find an arresting marble statue on a plinth, and spent some time circling it before realising it was in fact a giant, lit candle in the process of melting, slim stalactites of wax dripping towards the floor. (A playful installation from Swiss artist Urs Fischer.)
Minds blown, we moseyed up a convivial Rue Montorgueil, a foodie hub lined with patisseries, fromageries and canopied restaurants full of day drinkers. Stopping for a glass of red at the mellow La Grappe d’Or, a local friend of my friend stopped by to join us and give us her tips for the area. It felt like being at home on a carefree weekend where plans could go anywhere. But fancier. And Frencher.
We spent late afternoon shopping our way around another delightful new addition to the city – La Samaritaine, a 1910s department store by the Seine that’s been polished up and packed with hot French and international designer labels.
We easily lost several hours to its space-age beauty hall and a cutting-edge concept store full of Polaroid cameras and scented candles, all enveloped in wedding-cake tiers of lacy powder-blue balcony. Giddy tourists rushed around us, desperate to purchase a piece of that inimitable Parisian style.
Though we’d barely stopped eating since we arrived, we made reservations at scarlet and gold bistro Restaurant Rochechouart in Pigalle, a fantasy 1920s-styled, artfully vintage restaurant with mosaic-tiled floors and curvaceous velvet booths.
Here we loaded up on everything that makes French food divine: crusty bread, creamy unsalted butter, jus-drizzled beef, skinny salty fries – and of course champagne, served in delicate patterned coupes.
The alfresco cafe culture made it easy to avoid the tiresome mask-on, mask-off dance
The restaurant’s neighbourhood looked so appealing by night that the next day we returned to potter around its chic florists, patisseries and restaurants, pausing for zingy Mexican tacos and salted caramel drizzled crepes, and watching small children ride the carousel in Place Lino Ventura.
When the train back beckoned, the five-minute cab to Gare du Nord and hour-long check-in process seemed impossibly low maintenance in exchange for 72 hours of gastronomic indulgence and laid-back street life.
As we settled into our seats and the Merlot trolley rolled into view, my friend leaned over with a conspiratorial air.
“Same time next week?”
Eurostar has trains from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord from £78 return.
The Canopy by Hilton Paris Trocadero hotel has rooms from £216, room only.