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Travel to Paris

 
 

David Ginola, Our man in Paris

1 June 2014

Former footballer/model/TV pundit, 47


Former English Premier League star David Ginola started his career in his native France, and although he now calls London home, Paris still holds a special place in his heart

I first discovered Paris at just 20 years old, in 1988, when I had signed for Racing Paris from Toulon. But after growing up in the south of France, I have to admit, I didn’t know much about our capital city. So you can imagine how amazing I felt when I arrived. 

I was young, I was driving my first car and I had been handed an opportunity that allowed me the chance to explore one of the most exciting cities in the world. I was just a kid, and this new city that I learned to call home felt huge in comparison to the south of France where I had grown up. 

Being a sportsman in a city like Paris can be difficult, because it’s full of temptations. I was lucky to have the right people around me, who made sure I stayed on track. As a footballer, when you get to know people and people get to you know, you have access to do so many great things, and my career opened so many doors for me. 

By January 1992, after a spell at Brest, I joined Paris Saint Germain. On a match day there would be something like 50,000 supporters coming to Le Parc des Princes. The atmosphere was amazing, because we were in such great form. We won two French Cups, one League Cup, one Championship and played in three semi-finals of three different European Cups. We were definitely one of the best clubs in Europe at that time. 

While I was playing for PSG, I was living right in the suburbs of Paris near Neuilly sur Seine. When you’re under pressure from both football and the press, you need to get away from your daily life. [My home] was only about five miles away from the city, in a beautiful little village called Saint-Nom-la-Breteche. It was both a pretty and safe location, so it was a great place for my children to grow up.

After moving to Paris I think it took me almost two years to visit the Eiffel Tower properly. However, I do remember taking my girlfriend to the Le Jules Verne Restaurant on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, because I wanted to impress her. I was just 21. Football and money can bring you opportunities that often people don’t get to experience until they’re much older. It’s experiences like that that make you realise just how lucky you are. 

Nowadays when I visit Paris I spend time at luxury hotels like the Mandarin Oriental or Shangri-La. They’re great places to have dinner, relax and enjoy a cocktail at the bar. I’m not into clubbing anymore or spending time in a place where the music is so loud you can’t hear people speak. 

Remember, I was playing football for 20 years and I met lots of people along the way. When I have an opportunity to spend a little time in Paris I like to say hello to my friends and we often reminisce about the past over a plate of pasta. 

I love to enjoy long strolls through the city to places like Saint Germain de Pres and Monmarte. I’m a big fan of the small villages within the city – and every city has them. You can’t beat a sunny Sunday morning in spring when you’re in Monmarte looking out over the city. 

If you park your car at the bottom of Monmarte, or jump out of the taxi and climb the steps to the top towards the Sacre Coure, you see the quaint little shops, cafés and the painters in the square, it’s like being in a different place. You can’t hear the traffic at all. It’s like you’re miles away from Paris, somewhere in the countryside.

Every corner of Paris offers charm and fascinating history. You can go to Champ de Mars and look at the Eiffel Tower, one of the most magnificent monuments you will ever see. Or you can go to the Musée du Louvre and see the mix of modern contemporary architecture in the glass pyramid surrounded by a building hundreds of years old. Whether you’re at Bastille, Invalides or Concorde, all of these monuments represent the history, culture and style of the French people. 

In Paris these days there are very few Parisian people who have been born and raised in the city. You find people have come from all of the different regions in France and, like many capital cities, it has become more cosmopolitan over the years. 

One the best typical Parisian restaurants for me is called L’Ami Louis on Rue du Vertbois. It’s very famous and has been there for more than 40 or 50 years. It’s popular with celebrities and even American presidents. 

It’s a tiny but traditional French brasserie and everything on the menu is homemade. It’s not flashy or expensive, but it’s great traditional dishes like your mum or your grandma made for you when you were a child. You can close you eyes and it takes you back. 

You need to phone up weeks in advance to reserve a table, but somehow when I phone them and say, ‘Hello, it’s David Ginola’, they say, ‘David, how are you? Are you coming tonight?’ I ask, ‘May I?’ And they usually reply, ‘Of course, there’s always a table for you here.’ 

I love the traditional Parisian service in brasseries around the city. The waiters have been there for many years, they’re so passionate about what they are serving you, they know the menu inside out and they make great recommendations. There’s also a fantastic Chinese restaurant called Chez Dave on Rue de Richelieu. They close the curtains, because all of the stars go there, too. They serve the most beautiful dim sum.

I wish I could visit Paris more often. It’s so easy to go between London and Paris, because the Eurostar takes you from St Pancras International in Central London to Gare du Nord in just over two hours. Paris is just a beautiful city, magical almost.

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