Photo: B. Stormshak
You don't hear many odes to Paris in the fall, but you should.

Lines are shorter, prices are lower and the thousands of trees that grace this most graceful of cities are a riot of color.

And most importantly, the locals are back from their long summer vacations, so shops, restaurants and all the must-see spots are open.

To start your journey, stop at one of the thousands of cafes that adorn the city, order a petit dejeuner francais (coffee, croissant, baguette, jam and butter) and be prepared for good service.

That's right. Good service.

When the summer rush is over, the infamous French waiter forgets that stereotypical attitude.

Where to Stay

Once you're rejuvenated, head to your hotel.

You'll still need advance reservations, of course, but you'll find more choices and significantly lower prices throughout the city in this season.

I chose the Port Royal Hotel (8 boulevard Port Royal), a cozy establishment near the open-air markets of the rue Mouffetard for just 78 euros a night, or about $100.

What a bargain, or as the French would say, quel marche!

The rooms here are pleasant, but petite, and be warned that the only television is in one of the hotel's two lounges.

The staff speaks English, however, and all are friendly and helpful.

But if euros are no object and you're looking for a luxurious and romantic place to stay, then the Four Seasons George V (31 avenue George V) is for you.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, is a regular visitor to Paris and claims that this is not only the best hotel in Paris, but "perhaps the best city hotel in the world."

This hotel "not only has world-class rooms, food and service, but one of the nicest spas fitness centers and indoor pools you will find anywhere," Benioff continues.

A standard room here costs around 710 euros a night, or about $900.

The hotel also offers special packages for romantic getaways and pampering, daily spa treatments.

What to See

One of the big advantages of off-season travel, certainly, is the relative dearth of crowds.

Consider one of the most famous destinations in Paris, the Louvre.

The Four Seasons George V

As beautiful as the IM Pei-designed glass pyramid that now crowns the entrance is, staring at it for two or more hours as you wait in line on a sweltering August afternoon can dampen the ardor of even the most dedicated art lover.

But in the fall and early winter, visitors can often step right through the switch-backed waiting area and head inside in minutes.

The museum houses a gargantuan 35,000 works of art.

The collection spans art of the ancient world, including Egypt, and extends through the mid-19th century. And don't miss some of the most famous residents -- Mona Lisa and the Venus di Milo.

The Musee d'Orsay is another essential stop.

The airy building, a former train station, is filled with light and easy to navigate -- a refreshing break from the at-times labyrinthine Louvre. The museum's collection of Impressionist and other modern paintings and sculpture is stunning.

And be sure to keep in mind, the d'Orsay and other museums have instituted relatively strict security measures in the last few years. Expect to run your bags through an X-ray machine and be subjected to a search if you set off the metal detector.

The Eiffel Tower, by the way, is one attraction that remains crowded no matter what the season.

Not only is it high on every tourist's must-see list, it only has three elevators -- in the legs -- to accommodate the crowds. Still, the view from the top is breathtaking; it's 324 meters high, and there's little to block the vista.

Completed in 1889, the Eiffel Tower is well worth exploring. The elevator ride to the top will cost you 11 euros, or about $14; if you're feeling ambitious, you can walk up to the second level for just 3.80 euros, or $5.

There's even two restaurants on the lower levels of the Eiffel Tower -- Altitude 95, and the prestigious and expensive Le Jules Verne (reservations are essential).

Bon Appetit

Beyond those delicious petit dejeuners, most of the food in Paris is superb. Try Charlot (12 place de Clichy), roi des coquillages (the king of shellfish) in Clichy, a vibrant neighborhood not far from Montmartre.

The gigantic platters of shellfish are truly works of art, but more than any one diner can consume -- get one to share and sample some of the side dishes to round out your meal. Main courses run about 19 euros to 38 euros ($25 to $48).

Another excellent pick is Chez Nenesse (17 rue de Saintonge), in the Marais district.

Here you'll find unpretentious food made with the freshest ingredients, and the atmosphere of a classic Parisian cafe. The mixed green salad with duck fois gras is terrific; prices here range from about 12 euros to 15 euros ($15 to $19).

Montmartre is where you'll find the storied Moulin Rouge nightclub. It still has the famous windmill sign facing the street, but has apparently gone through major renovations. Be prepared to pay for the privilege, as a multicourse dinner and a show on weekday evenings is 140 euros (about $180).

Dancers on rue Mouffetard
Photo: B. Stormshak

Finally, the weather. In mid-October, it was still rather warm in the city, but it will be cooler in November, of course, with temperatures ranging from the mid-30s to the mid-50s; it can rain frequently in this season.

But bring an umbrella, stout walking shoes -- and don't forget a power adapter -- and I guarantee, you'll love Paris in the fall.

Allons-y

Flights from the U.S. to Europe are now off their peak summer rates, which should make finding a good ticket tres facile.

Intra-Europe air fares are lower this time of year as well, so if you can't find a decent fare from the States to Paris, you might consider flying to London and booking a separate roundtrip to Paris. Try BMI, Ebookers or Easy Jet to help you find flights from London to the continent.

If you do want to take the " Chunnel" train, book well in advance to get the best rates -- it's a Eurostar train that zips between London and Paris, right under the English Channel, in under three hours. Bon voyage!

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