Visiting Paris: Crème Brûlée on a Shoestring

by Trish Clark /
Trish Clark's picture
Oct 23, 2011 / 0 comments

PARIS -the city of lights, love and romance, and one of the most expensive cities in the world. So when my husband suggested we spend an important wedding anniversary in Paris telling me to book a ‘good’ hotel in the centre of the city, I enthusiastically set about the task. Having both put up with the same husband and wife for many decades I thought we deserved a special treat.


I hit the internet and excitedly worked my way down the five star listings. First I checked out the Coco Chanel suite at The Ritz, but at a little over €4000.00,  a night here would leave us either dying of hunger, dining in a Parisian soup kitchen, or possibly eating in the restaurant located under l’Eglise de la Madeleine, the cheapest restaurant in Paris. Our entertainment would have to be the free concerts in the Notre Dame Cathedral.


Eglise de la Madeleine

Eglise de la Madeleine



The Hôtel George V looked good, but one night in a deluxe room of indefinable charm, crystal chandeliers and antique furniture was almost the price of the airfare over.  And it was the same story at de Crillion with its 18th century architecture, ceiling frescoes, gilded furniture, and genuine Aubusson carpets, which all sounded just perfect. The more I looked the more despondent I became.



The elegantly sophisticated rooms in Le Meurice were not any cheaper, but when exploring the hotel on the web I fondly recalled having walked into the lobby many years ago and sinking into a comfortable armchair to people watch for a while. I began a conversation with an elderly lady nearby who was trying to keep a small child entertained. I had no idea who she was. When they both retired upstairs a receptionist told me she was Yassar Arafat’s wife’s mother, babysitting her granddaughter. Apparently the Arafat family stayed at The Meurice whenever they were in Paris and booked a complete floor for themselves and their party. However, not having the funds or the contacts of a President I realised that I was going to have to lower my standards.



An hour later and I had dropped down to 3 star class accommodation and at last found a hotel which sounded hopeful. Well, the rooms looked Lilliputian and I had to sacrifice the ‘centre of Paris’ but it was near the Pantheon and the Luxembourg Gardens, in an 18th century building, with 21st century comfort... history…… vibrant area….on the Left Bank. It read well but it was still more than I wanted to pay at €430.00 for a night. However, on the same web page I noticed an advertisement for apartments in Paris. Curious, I explored further.



Almost immediately I came across an apartment which presented beautifully. It was a ‘luxurious’ 2 bedroomed apartment (which meant our London based daughter could visit) with reception area, dining room, living room, 2 marble bathrooms and located near the Paris Opera House, the Louvre and the major department stores. I read on.


apartment of 26 rue de Gramont

apartment at 26 rue de Gramont



The apartment was in an historic building in the 2nd Arrondissement, on the 2nd floor with elevator, high ceilings, newly renovated, antique furniture, central heating, modern appliances including washing machine/dryer and a huge flat screen TV with numerous channels including English news channels. By the time I read that there was unlimited wifi access to the Internet and free telephone calls to landlines in most countries I was hooked. A luxurious 915 sq. ft apartment with all the above and in a stunning location for less than the cost of one room in a 3 star hotel on the Left Bank was too good to refuse. I booked immediately.



And we were not disappointed. The apartment lived up to all our expectations and more. We were not bothered by noise as it was in a quiet street with restaurants and cafes only steps away. Indeed we were in the centre of Paris and it was just a couple of minutes stroll to the Opera House (Garnier). We were met on arrival and shown how to work the TV and appliances, including the stove which was left in exactly the same condition as we found it–well, it was my wedding anniversary! We made a quick visit to the Monoprix supermarket nearby and after we safely packed away the Perrier, the camembert, the framboises, the Moët and a big bag of croissants, we were starting to feel like locals.



One morning we decided to walk down to the elegant, upmarket Fauchon delicatessen/grocer to splash out on some very special honey. Called Miel de l'Opéra, the honey is from apiaries kept on the roof of the Paris Opera House. The bees zip across to the Tuilleries Gardens where they have thousands of fragrant blossoms to feast on, ensuring that the honey is scented and delicious.



In the same prestigious square as Fauchon stands the landmark Eglise de la Madeleine, built by Napoleon in the early 19th century as a temple honouring the Little General’s army.  In 1842 the temple was consecrated as a Benedictine church and dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. Since then the church has become something of a status symbol in the city. Parisian high society marry here, Christen their children here and are buried from here. The church has hosted the Christening of French artist Paul Cézanne and the funeral Masses of actor Marlene Dietrich and composer Frédéric Chopin. During the week the church is often the venue for free concerts of classical music, most of which include the church’s celebrated pipe organ, classified as an historic monument. The organ was built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1845.


Eglise de la Madeleine

Eglise de la Madeleine



However, despite its status and majesty, one of the cheapest restaurants in the city is located in a vast, vaulted cloister under the church. Run by volunteers, this friendly restaurant attracts tourists in the know, local shopkeepers, society matrons looking for a cheap meal and a few guests who look a little worse for wear.  And while the cuisine is basic and choice limited the food is of good quality and carefully prepared and people watching is sure to be entertaining. Guests tuck into a two course meal for around €7.00, before retiring to a communal lounge for coffee. A small bottle of wine is a euro or two extra. The restaurant is open Monday to Friday between 1130 and 1400. Closed in August. Bon Appétit!


entrance to Foyer de la Madeleine

entrance to Foyer de la Madeleine


Foyer de la Madeleine

Foyer de la Madeleine (above and below)


Foyer de la Madeleine



The apartment is at 26 rue de Gramont near the Boulevarde des Italiens.

Special Apartments:

Fauchon, 26 Place Madeleine, Paris.

Foyer de la Madeleine
, Place de la Madeleine, Paris.


Trish Clark is author of Good Night and God Bless: A Guide to Convent and Monastery Accommodation in Europe, Vols I and II, both published by Hidden Spring, an imprint of Paulist Press NJ. We've interviewed Trish about Good Night and God Bless.  She writes a monthly column for Wandering Educators as the Travel with a Spiritual Twist Editor.


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