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.

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