There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind. It’s admitting it which can be awkward, as any politician will tell you.
I was dead against the Channel Tunnel in the 1980s when the project was discussed in earnest, and I remained lukewarm when it officially opened in 1994. Forgive me, but I saw it as a loss of our island status, a link too far with our old enemy, the French. And it was on the pricey side, too.
Now? Well, I am sitting comfortably on the Eurostar, whizzing through Kent, followed by a short dip underwater before popping up in rolling French countryside.
Mark Palmer was dead against the Channel Tunnel in the 1980s when the project was discussed in earnest
Mark says that the French capital ‘still pulsates with intrigue, its imperious buildings watching over the River Seine with a knowing sense of entitlement’
All-in-all, a two-hour journey that brings us to Paris in time for a plat du jour – with a side order of humble pie. My wife, Joanna, and I are here to see two exhibitions: Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise – The Final Months; and the biggest collection of paintings by Mark Rothko ever assembled, at the Fondation Louis Vuitton.
As it happens, our hotel – JK Place – is 200 yards from where Van Gogh is in residence until February in the Musee d’Orsay.
I’ve wanted to stay in a JK Place hotel (there are currently three of them) ever since calling in for a drink at the one in Capri. The Paris outlet is in a neo-classical building in which the interiors have been completely and triumphantly transformed.
There are just 29 rooms. Ours is a blend of high-end French and Italian design: modern but tres chic, with mother-of-pearl cabinets and slinky black bathrooms. Downstairs sits a gorgeous Italian restaurant and a spa with heated pool.
Captivating: Mark visits the Musee d’Orsay where Van Gogh is in residence until February
The atmosphere is in sharp contrast to the torment Van Gogh was going through during the last two months of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise, when he produced no fewer than 74 paintings and about 20 drawings.
Booking ahead is essential to avoid a long wait – this is a blockbuster show. Van Gogh’s sinuous lines, peppered with rich colours, capture the village and countryside to thrilling effect. The Rothko exhibition is just as arresting but attracts a more avant-garde crowd. ‘I’m not interested in colour. It’s light I’m after,’ the artist said, one of many quotes written on the walls. I find this challenging, given that the majority of the paintings are vast rectangles of colour.
It’s all an acquired taste. For me, it’s more a case of feeling pleased to have seen them rather than longing for one above my sitting room fireplace. And learning about his complicated life is a revelation. Disturbingly, both Van Gogh and Rothko killed themselves.
Mark checks into the JK Place hotel, which has just 29 rooms. He describes his room as ‘modern but tres chic’
‘The Paris outlet is in a neo-classical building in which the interiors have been completely and triumphantly transformed,’ writes Mark. Above is one of the hotel’s bathrooms
JK Place hotel has a ‘gorgeous’ Italian restaurant and a spa with heated pool (pictured)
Paris is gearing up for next year’s Olympics. The streets seem cleaner, the taxi drivers grumpier. ‘The mayor is mad; Macron is even madder. France is falling apart,’ says one. Perhaps, but the capital still pulsates with intrigue, its imperious buildings watching over the River Seine with a knowing sense of entitlement.
A friend suggested we eat at Vagenende in Boulevard Saint-Germain for a quintessential French brasserie experience. Decorated in Belle Epoque style, it’s owned by a mother and daughter who live upstairs. We eat and drink spectacularly well and feast on the theatre of it all.
On learning that we are from London, one of the waiters says: ‘A great city but nowhere nice to eat.’ Why fight the prejudice? The French are masters in believing they’re right when plainly they’re wrong. It’s a strangely endearing national characteristic.
Return fares from London St Pancras to Gare du Nord in Paris from £78 (eurostar.com). B&B doubles at JK Place from £750 a night (jkplace.paris).