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Paris Back To Swaggering Sexy Best

05/09/2017 12:13 | Updated 05 September 2017

Terrorists are advised to look away now, for I'm thrilled to report that Paris has regained its unique je ne sais quoi. The latest statistics, published at the end of August, indicate that tourists are falling head over heels for the French capital; visitor numbers in the first half of 2017 reached the highest in a decade. And after experiencing the feel-good spirit for myself in early September, I can confirm that the French capital is back to its stylish, swaggering and sexy best.

Paris is a particularly special place for me and my wife, as it is where we enjoyed our first foreign holiday together, six years ago, long before thoughts of wedding bells and nappies. We returned this month (sans enfant) and were heartened to witness first hand how its hotels, cafes, restaurants and tourist attractions are positively bustling with activity again.

It is coming up to two years since November 13, 2015, when 130 innocent people were brutally murdered by seven jihadis in Paris. The single deadliest terrorist incident on French soil was epoch-defining and inflicted a wound that may never fully heal. In the aftermath of the attacks, residents and sightseers alike were twitchy, understandably.

Fear took hold initially and it has taken a while for the damaged tourist industry, which is so vital to the French economy (as it generates more than 7 per cent of the country's annual GDP), to recover. Consider that in 2014 visitors to Paris spent some €13.50 billion, making it the third most popular destination behind London and New York that year.

When figures released in August 2016 indicated that there were a million fewer visitors to Paris between January and June of last year compared to the same period in 2015, the regional tourist board head labelled it "an industrial disaster". The situation has drastically improved, thankfully.

In the first half of this year the number of people making a trip to Paris and the surrounding Île de France region reached a 10-year high, according to figures published at the end of August by the Regional Tourism Committee (CRT). Further, Paris-based hoteliers welcomed 16 million guests in the same period, again the best in a decade.

Those encouraging findings tallied with my recent experience, too. The Eurostar train - one of the slick, spacious new e320 fleet - my wife and I took from London St Pancras International was teeming with passengers. Granted it was Friday afternoon, and those aboard included weekly commuters as well as weekend holidaymakers, but it was still hugely impressive.

Less than two-and-a-half hours later, in Gare du Nord it was immediately clear that security had tightened significantly since our last visit in 2011. However, the presence of four armed army officers patrolling the station was more reassuring than worrying. Similarly, the sight of two orange-vested police dogs sniffing for explosives close to the taxi queue was balanced out by an amusing and amorous long goodbye kiss between a loved-up couple not two metres away from the bushy-tailed bomb detectors. It provided a delightful vignette that neatly sums up the prevailing attitude in Paris right now.

And at our splendid hotel, Le Pavillon de la Reine, in Le Marais - historically the aristocratic district which spreads across the 3rd and 4th arrondissements - all but a few of the rooms were occupied. The champagne at breakfast never dried up, pleasingly, and without our three-year-old son we shamelessly luxuriated. Is there a better city in which to do so?

On Friday evening we dolled up and dined at L'Oiseau Blanc, a restaurant atop the sensational Peninsula Hotel which boasts a clear view of the Eiffel Tour and has an aviation theme (after the 1927 mystery when a plane of the same name attempted to cross the Atlantic and went missing). There was not a spare table in sight, all night, and the convivial atmosphere was as remarkable as the food. It was the same at Rech, Alain Ducasse's seafood-lovers' mecca, the following evening. At one point in the eatery par excellence everyone lauded and applauded when a 100-year-old lady blew out the candle of her birthday eclair, typifying the bonhomie.

Between five-star feasts and extended, energy-restoring sleeps, my wife and I ambled the streets of Paris, hands linked, and saw no obvious signs of nervousness or fear, from either locals or tourists. Rather, the opposite was true. And on our hour-long Vedettes du Pont Neuf cruise along the Seine we found it heart-warming to see such a vast number of folk cheerily going about their business, or pleasure.

Having emerged from a period of barbarically enforced darkness, La Ville Lumière ('The City of Light') is shining brightly once more, and its undimmed resilience serves as a brilliant beacon of love and hope in defiance of terror. On the 59th and top floor of the Montparnasse Tower, which offers unparalleled views of the city, we agreed, when snapping selfies like lovey-dovey teenagers, Paris is more appealing and irresistible than ever.

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