I’ve said it before: my favorite time to visit Paris is in the winter. Perhaps it’s because there is something gloomy about it, and Paris is the kind of place that seems like it should be a little bleak. That it, is a place that is beautiful enough to endure a little dusky desolateness, and perhaps is even a little more beautiful because of it.
Anyone can love Paris in the springtime; Paris in the summer is a dream and there is a crisp chicness to the city in the autumn. But I think that the City of Light is at its most glorious when people are huddled into their fancy peacoats and the occasional ill-advised puffer, probably worn by a foreigner who doesn’t realize that this kind of outerwear is simply not de rigeur. There are fewer people sitting outside the bistros and cafes – either the very brave or those who are very desperate for a cigarette.
Winter in Paris is the perfect time to sit indoors and enjoy a richly decadent, chocolat chaud topped with whipped cream. The chocolate is so thick it is almost solid, and so luscious that it can be difficult to finish the pot, even for those of us with the sweetest of teeth. The voices in the cafes are more likely to be speaking French; the foreigners are waiting for warmer weather to visit. Red wine pours out of carafes liberally and quiet conversations buzz all about. These are not people who are staring at their screens – no – if they are out, then they are engaging the person with whom they are sharing a table.
Winter is also the perfect time for visiting the Paris museums. The Louvre is much more manageable, the Musee d’ Orsay is more inviting and the Petit Palais is just as lovely as it is in the other seasons, but so much more easily accessible. In fact, the cold weather almost hurries you into these warm spots of respite. One is in no hurry to wander back outside, and so instead feels less guilt lingering around the galleries and admiring the wonders of art.
The Eiffel Tower itself seems to sparkle more brightly in the wintertime. Perhaps because almost without exception, the Parisian sky is gray. Overcast, somber, dreary. So, when darkness falls and the lights on the Tower begin to dance for the first time each night, the whole of Paris seems to glitter with their fluorescence.
But by far, my favorite thing to do in a Paris winter is to visit Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Perhaps that seems morbid, or perhaps overly somber; but there is something enchanting about such a beautiful final resting place in the coldest and most lifeless season of the year. The monuments to soldiers fallen in war, the ossuary filled with the bones of French citizens from all over the city that are unknown. Famous writers, composers, singers, poets, actors, scientists, heroes and heroines – the cemetery is filled with the luminaries of many generations. There is something humbling in visiting the cemetery, and at the same time very grand. It is the opportunity to walk among the greats, even if it is only around the place where they were laid to rest for eternity.
Rome may be the Eternal City, but Paris has an enduring resonance, as well. Something that sticks with you and has stuck with anyone who has had the good fortune to visit. And to be in Paris in the winter is a special kind of treat – a chilly, dreary city that pulls you closer to the heart of its warmth … if only you have the right coat and a keen eye for finding it.