The first time I saw Paris in the winter was in 2000, right
after the big Millennium celebration. The huge Ferris wheel was
still up in the Place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower was a light
show late at night and the city was empty of tourists. Or so it
I walked from my hotel on the Rue de Rivoli down through the
Tuileries and then up along the Right Bank where the sunlight was
fading and a cold wind whipped tiny wavelets on the Seine. I ended
up in front of Notre Dame.
Normally, I would avoid Notre Dame, especially in the summer
because of the hordes of tourists, but this was different. It was
winter, it was cold and there was something that drew me to it.
I arrived just as the afternoon Mass was beginning. I took a
seat in the back, still bundled in my overcoat and scarf, and sat
through the entire service. There was something magical about that
day about being inside perhaps the most famous church in the world
on a cold night. I felt as if it was all mine the church, the
experience and all of Paris.
I’ve been back to Paris several times since then, mostly in the
winter, and when I tell friends I’m going, they invariably ask the
same question: “Isn’t it horribly expensive?” Even though it’s the
off season, and prices for everything hotels, airfare and even some
restaurants are lower, it’s still not an inexpensive city. This is
especially true for visitors that expect to stay at the most
expensive hotels, eat at the most expensive restaurants and be
chauffeured around by limo.
I’m willing to bet, however, that most of your clients are not
princes or pashas, so there are some things they can do to enjoy a
winter’s week in the City of Lights experiencing more without the
crowds and without spending every last cent of their budget.
Low Airfares, Great Tours and the GDR
As always, airfares drop a bit in the winter. It’s especially
true this year, when summer airfares to Paris often topped $1,000,
due in part to a surge in travel to Europe that rivaled pre-Sept.
While fares drop in the off season, quoted prices do not
included taxes and fuel costs, which can add as much as $200. One
solution: airline packages. Air France Holidays, for example,
offers a three-night all-inclusive package from $599-$729, and
six-day packages for $699-$799.
British Airways, as part of its Sale of Two Cities, has reduced
fares to Paris from the western U.S. gateways to as low as $671
(Dallas/Fort Worth), excluding taxes and fees. (Note: The airline
has also revamped part of its compensation structure for travel
agents in North America, with a 10 percent commission now paid for
booking any of British Air’s holiday packages.)
Deals on packaged tours are also plentiful this time of year.
For example, tour operator France Vacations offers a rate of $699
for six nights, including roundtrip airfare, six nights in a hotel,
daily breakfast and city tax. Pricing is per person based on double
occupancy. Agents earn 8 percent commission on the lead price, 10
percent on all other pricing. Gateways include Denver, San
Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento and
“We have some good pricing,” said advertising and sales
promotion manager Cheryl Grant. “And all the hotels we use have
in-suite bathrooms with a bathtub or shower.”
The dollar has taken a pounding recently from the euro, so to
attract American tourists, several hotel groups have come up with
“dollar for euro” or “Guaranteed Dollar Rate” (GDR) plans.
“We usually see it happen when the euro goes above $1.25,” said
one hotel operator.
Small Luxury Hotels, which has several properties in Paris, was
one of the first to come up with the GDR.
“Since 60 percent of our clients are from the United States,”
said company spokesman Lanny Grossman, “we didn’t want to keep away
our core customer. For example, if you book in advance at the Hotel
Vendome, you can get a $950 suite for about $400.”
The best part of Paris is experiencing the pulse of the city
alongside those who live there. As Karon Cullen, a good friend of
mine and a frequent traveler to Paris, put it: “There’s a way to
experience the most beautiful city in the world without mortgaging
your house. Live in Paris like a Parisian, not like an
Cullen’s solution, like most people I talked to, is to eat
cheap, at least most of the day.
“You eat one fabulous meal a day,” she said. “For example, you
splurge at lunch, and then eat dinner at a less expensive bistro.
Affordable meals in Paris rival the best restaurants in the U.S. I
think you can fine dine in Paris without whining about it when you
Eating, of course, is the national pastime in France, and
visitors really can’t avoid it in Paris, what with all the
restaurants, brasseries, bistros, bakeries and sweets shops lining
the streets. Hemingway once said that hunger sharpened his senses
when he was poor and starting out in Paris, and that he sometimes
avoided streets with lots of restaurants because the wonderful
aromas made him think of nothing but food.
Clients don’t have to go to that extreme to have a good meal in
Paris, according to Beverly Biggerstaff at France Vacations in
“There are ‘fixed price’ menus on blackboards in front of every
restaurant,” Biggerstaff said. “The food on those menus is fresh
and bought that day. Go out around 8 or 9 o’clock at night and look
at the restaurants in the neighborhood and see which ones are
packed. If they’re packed, go back the next night because you know
the food there is good.”
Karen Gaines, an American ex-pat from Boulder, Colo., who has
lived in Paris for four years with her husband and three young
“Americans think they are being cheated when they see ‘fixed
price,’” she said. “But it’s always very good and about half of
what you’d pay otherwise.
“All the big, famous chefs in Paris have their big, grand
restaurants where you can easily pay $250 for a meal. But they
often have ‘baby bistros’ right next door where you pay less,
sometimes half as much,” Gaines said. “It’s not unusual to see some
famous chef wandering back and forth between the big restaurant and
the little one.”
Her favorite “baby bistro”?
“Try Bistro de Cote, 10 rue Gustave Flaubert in the 17th
arrondissement,” she suggested. “It’s right next to Michel Rostang,
the name of the bigger restaurant and also the name of the
Cullen said that if visitors want to experience one of Paris’
many ultra-luxury hotels (Four Seasons, Hotel Meurice, The Ritz,
etc.), they should do it in a way that doesn’t bust their budget.
The secret? Afternoon tea.
“The Crillon offers wonderful tea,” she said, “and then go
somewhere else and have a light lunch.”
Another tip: If clients want to duck into a warm cafe and get a
quick cup of coffee, suggest they stand at the bar instead of
taking a table it’s a lot cheaper. This makes sense if they are not
going to have a 2½-hour lunch or spend the entire afternoon in a
cafe. But then, it’s always nice to sit in a Paris cafe for an
afternoon and watch the foot traffic go by.
Fashion Finds During ‘The Sales’
Clients that find themselves in Paris from Jan. 12-Feb. 12, will
be going at just the right time if they like to shop. The Winter
Sales go on for a month (more are held in the summer), and they are
a bargain-hunter’s paradise. The dates are fixed legally, and
there’s a huge run on the main department stores and luxury
boutiques on the first days.
“A lot of Parisians take the day off when the sales start,” said
Claudia Schall, public relations director at the Hotel Meurice.
“They want to be the first to hit the shops. The prices are
supposedly fixed, but I’ve heard of people who go to the stores the
day before and try to negotiate a sale price then.”
Even on non-sale days, however, the big department stores in
Paris make a special effort to cater to tourists. By presenting a
passport at the “hospitality desk,” visitors can get an additional
10 percent off all purchases in addition to the VAT tax rebate.
When all is said and done, my favorite thing to do on a winter
day in Paris is settle into a corner table at a neighborhood cafe
and drink coffee and read. I like to soak up the atmosphere, the
voices, the noises of the kitchen and the constant coming and going
of busy waiters with plates of food.
I have always thought of Paris at its most romantic when there
is a thin dusting of snow, especially in the Tuileries, where the
white contrasts so sharply with the black, leafless trees.
On my way home from a recent trip there, it began snowing hard,
and by the time I got to the airport, it had all but shut down. I
got the last flight out. It was a perfect ending to yet another
perfect trip. The magic of Paris never ceases.
|Ask the Experts|
We asked Parisian travel insiders for tips for agents and this
is what they told us.
What are some benefits to Paris in the off
“Paris is an amazing city that transcends season. Just think of
cobblestone streets, warm baguettes and romantic walks on the
Seine. Those that want to avoid the crowds, pay a bit less and
truly feel the magic of Paris should go during the off season.
Although in Paris there really never is an off season.”
Lanny Grossman, Director of Communications, Small Luxury Hotels
of the World
What types of travelers go to Paris in the off
“Paris can be incredibly romantic in winter! It is the
time of the St Valentine’s Day holiday. Paris is less full, making
it a good time for couples who want a truly intimate and relaxing
trip to France. You can spend a day walking all bundled up through
streets of Paris, stopping in cafes for a cafe creme to warm up, or
make a visit to Angelina for their famous hot chocolate. Paris is
stunning at night, with the boats lighting up the Seine and the
Eiffel Tower sparkling every hour on the hour. Couples can also
enjoy one of the many lovely Parisian restaurants for a warming and
filling meal; or take in a performance at one of Paris’ many
theaters or a concert at a church or cathedral.”
Katherine Johnstone, Media Relations, Maison de la France
Do you have any selling tips for agents?
“The best way to sell it is to know it. Read, visit, research. Read
up on cultural differences Parisians are no more rude than any
other harried city dwellers. Polly Platt’s books, “French or Foe?”
and “Savoir Flair,” shed light on aspects of the overall culture
that shape people’s behavior. A little understanding goes a long
way toward smoothing the way for a great trip.”
Karen L. Preston, Public Relations Manager, Leading Hotels of
Do you have any tips for finding reasonably priced,
“Always check with the big hotel groups, like Concorde and Accor,
they often have special off-season rates, packages, guaranteed
U.S.-dollar rates or other discounted rates. Paris has over 1,400
hotels, many of them two- and three-star, which are always more
affordable than the higher priced hotels but still offer expected
amenities and frequently can offer a unique charm or intimate
For more information, agents can call the France On Call number
for travel agents: 514-288-6989.”
Katherine Johnstone, Media Relations, Maison de la France
|Tips for Travelers|
If they don’t have much luggage, clients should consider taking
the RER train from either DeGaulle or Orly airports to downtown
Paris. It’s only about $7. They can also take Air France buses from
the airports to Paris for about $12 even if they didn’t fly on the
airline. Taxis are about $47 to $60 (extra for luggage).
If clients are using the Metro for more than a few days, it is
economical to have a Carte Orange (subway pass) with a weekly
coupon, or hebdomadaire. You will need a passport-size photo.
Otherwise, buy a 10-ticket carnet.
The Paris Visite Pass is a good way to buy entrance to museums
and the metro before ever leaving the U.S., which also means
travelers can purchase it in U.S. dollars.
Another idea is the Paris City Passport. It has 100 sights
selected by the Paris Tourist Office that offer special discounts
The majority of national museums and monuments in Paris are free
all the time for anyone under 18, and free for everyone on the
first Sunday of each month. Also, the Carte Musee pass gives free
admission and you can go to the head of the line.
Sold at major metro stations.
The Paris Tourist Office allows you to search for restaurants
based on their price, which is very handy when on a budget.
The best single source for information on traveling to Paris or all
of France, for that matter is the French Government Tourist Office
(FGTO). Their integrated Web site provides up-to-the-minute
information on airlines, hotels and special events in Paris and
elsewhere in France, with links to a large number of money-saving
Hyatt Regency Paris Madeleine
For travelers who require the comfort of home yet
still desire a true Parisian experience, the Hyatt Regency Paris
Madeleine offers a reliable American brand with a French twist.
Located near its namesake the neoclassical Madeleine Church, this
boutique-size hotel of 86 rooms (including seven Executive rooms,
three Regency suites and one Presidential suite) has the charm of a
small French inn, but is actually part of the Hyatt family. The
hotel is also located within walking distance of many tourist sites
such as the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre.
Amenities consist of complimentary parking, 24-hour
room service and a multilingual staff. The hotel is also pet
friendly. The Hyatt Madeleine has two restaurants, Cafe M and La
Chinoiserie, as well as a fitness center that offers massage and
Specials available online until Dec. 31 include
Luxury Weekend Break priced from $345 per night; Leisure and Beauty
Break from $444 per night; and Culture and Shopping Break,
consisting of VIP treatment at Printemps department store and a
museum and monument pass, priced from $468 per night. The Hyatt
Madeleine is also a member of Hyatt’s “Gold Passport” program for