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Paris - France

“I love Paris in The Springtime…” , “April in Paris”, “The Judgement of Paris” – everyone has heard of the romance and glamour of Paris and of course it fully lives up to its reputation at any time of the year.

First a quick rundown of the main sights and some lesser know things to do. The Eiffel Tower, although comparatively new (it was built in 1889 for a World Fair), has undoubtedly become the symbol of the City but before it was built, who knows? The Arc de Triomphe? The Louvre? Anyway one little tip – the view from the very top isn’t much different from that from the second storey – so avoid the queues to take the lifts by not going up to the top!

The Louvre is certainly one of the finest museums in the world although the glass pyramid by Chinese architect I. M. Pei in the courtyard in front of the main entrance is controversial, being a modern glass structure in the courtyard of a renaissance masterpiece, however it does serve the purpose of allowing daylight into the reception area beneath it. Other museums to see are the Musee d’Orsay in the converted 19th century railway station and the National Picasso in the Marais district set in an entire 18th century mansion with only a few of its vast collection on show consisting not only of works from all of the great man’s periods and styles but his own collection of other artists’ work.

Victor Hugo’s house in the Marais district is worth a visit, see his Japanese dining room and the desk upon which he created his masterpieces; there are also museums for Rodin, Edith Piaf, Gustave Moreau, and Maillol. Another must-see is the cemetery Pere Lachaise where the tombs of Proust, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Sarah Bernhard and Oscar Wilde may be visited.

Of course when you are not traipsing around a museum or an art gallery the greatest pleasure to be found in Paris is to traipse around the city itself. On a bright spring day walking through the Tuileriers Gardens towards the Louvre with the Eiffel Tower away to your right across the broad Seine and Notre Dame floating in front of you on its island you might think you are in some sort of arcadia. Continuing in the same direction over the river you find the old “Latin Quarter” to the south, a higgledy-piggledy mesh of tiny streets crammed between the Seine and the grand Boulevard St Germain. Here there are hundreds of bars, cafes and bookshops with the area thronged with students and tourists. Or try the Mayfair of Paris, Avenue Foche, north of the Arc de Triomphe, with its grand houses and apartments, once the address of Maria Callas. Walking through Paris is a delight with cafes and brasseries for a pit-stop or lunch. The Café de Flore on Boulevard St Germain was the haunt of the existentialists and the Picasso circle but it is overpriced.

Gay life in Paris is relaxed and there is something for everyone. The nearest thing to a “gay village” is in the Marais, the district around the Pompidou Centre, Paris’ most visited attraction, its network of streets is dotted with gay bookshops, clubs, cafes, bars and restaurants. For lunch at around 15 euros try Le Diable des Lombards, with simple brasserie-style food and hunky waiters then later in the evening, just around the corner, the famous gay restaurant L’Amazonian is a popular place to eat where you might spot just about anyone from any of the clubs and bars you may have visited. Being at the heart of The Marais and The Marais being at the heart of Parisian gay life, a meal here is a must.

To the east of the Marais district there are a smattering of gay spots (just by the Cimetiere Pere Lachaise). Basically apart from the odd outlying place these areas constitute the gay life of Paris. If you are staying in Paris for a week or so then try to get out of town to visit the Chateau de Fontainbleau formerly a run-down hunting lodge transformed by Francois I in 1528 into an elaborate Italianate Chateau with bits and pieces added by later monarchs giving it a mish-mash of styles. 50 minutes by train and bus.

A final tip, since there is only one exclusively gay hotel in the city (Hotel Central Marais), why not look out for those special deals advertised in the press for a round-trip EuroStar ticket plus two nights in an hotel (usually two stars but sometimes three) for £99 with the option of an extra night for about £25. This is a great value way to spend a weekend in Paris.

Further Reading: Thomas Cook Publishing has issued “Out Around Paris” by Tim Mowbray at £7.99– this 160 page guide book to gay Paris is packed with useful and clear maps, plenty of luscious pics and sections devoted to each area as well as the author’s own selection of the best bars, clubs restaurants and so on. Light and of a convenient size Out Around Paris can be carried without strain. Highly recommended. www.Outabout.com

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