Take time out to recharge your batteries, writes Courtney Whitaker.
I'll let you in on a little secret: There's a place close to Paris that's beautiful, tranquil and perfect for a weekend escape. It is home to about 85,000 people and has all the charm of Paris but fewer tourists. It boasts amazing shopping, world-class gastronomy and luxurious hotels to escape from the chaos of the big city.
I'm talking about Versailles. The city, not the palace.
Whereas most people end up at Versailles on a day-trip, it is well worth adding a few leisurely days to your Paris itinerary and taking time to explore it for yourself.
Here's how to make the most of this special area.
Where to stay
It's important to base yourself somewhere quiet and comfortable to relax after a day of exploring, and Hotel Les Etangs de Corot is just the ticket. We are staying in the Claude Monet junior suite, and the comfort is such that it is like being welcomed into a beautiful old house.
A palette of greys and yellows works well with the antique French furniture, including a writing desk, armchairs and mirrors. The bed is enormous, comfortable and decked out in linen with a ridiculously high thread count. The bathroom is modern and luxurious, with a dressing table and chair, bath, shower and separate toilet. A generous selection of bathroom products by Caudalie Paris are provided and are a delicious hint of what is on offer in the spa downstairs.
We have a living area with a flat-screen television, speedy Wi-Fi and most importantly, large windows that open out to the glassy ponds of Ville-d'Avray. During the 19th century, artists, painters and writers would flock here to relax, including Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, whose impressionist paintings were inspired by the ponds.
The Spa by Caudalie is an absolute must-visit. It has a Jacuzzi and hammam and is well-known for its vinotherapy, using grape-based products, and has treatments such as a Crushed Cabernet scrub or a wrap of Gironde honey and wine yeast; there is also the "Pulp Friction" using fresh grapes. My masseuse tells me my shoulders are seriously locked up and recommends a full-body signature massage using ultra-fine grapeseed and essential oils in vanilla. Divine.
What to do
is a charming place to spend, well, all of your time. But if you really must leave your room, there is much to do and see in the area.
Of course, if you haven't done it before you must visit the Palace of Versailles, and you'll have a huge advantage in staying close by. Queues can be up to two hours during peak tourist season, so get there before opening at 9am. Or, if you're really averse to long lines and heat stroke, book online. We chose the Timed Passport, which, at an extra cost of about €7 ($12), guarantees you entry into the palace within half an hour of the time you have booked. You won't be disappointed. The opulence is palpable, the Hall of Mirrors blinding — but make time to visit the gardens too. You could easily spend a day visiting the estate alone.
The breathtaking Royal Opera of Versailles was inaugurated in 1770 during the reign of Louis XV and is not only a beautiful place to enjoy an opera or show, but also to visit during the day. It was fully restored in 1957 following World War II and inaugurated by the Queen.
Guided tours are available.
You needn't go as far as Paris for great shopping, either Head to Rue de la Paroisse for all the main high-street players: Sandro, Maje, Comptoir des Cotonniers and The Kooples.
Where to eat
Breakfast awaits in Les Cafe des Artistes, in the downstairs wine cellar of Les Etangs de Corot. A buffet of fruit, cereals, yoghurt, freshly baked bread and pastries is on offer for guests, as well as eggs made to order and good strong coffee. There is also a selection of French cheese if that's your thing in the mornings. We enjoy gazing out to the hotel's beautifully landscaped gardens as we graze.
In the evening, because we are tired from a full day, we are happy to return to Cafes des Artistes to enjoy dinner. And it would appear other people agree, because it is brimming with hungry diners. We sit outside and I order L'oeuf cuit (The Perfect Egg) for my entree, which comes with spinach and mushrooms, and the Ballotine de Volaille (French stuffed chicken) for main. We share a lemon meringue pie for dessert and a bottle of les Hauts de Smith Pessac-Leognan to accompany our meals. This is truly delicious food in a beautiful setting, and the ponds are 50m away if you need to walk off your dinner.
As well as Cafe des Artistes, the hotel also has another restaurant: Corot, which in 2014 earned a Michelin star under head chef Remi Chambard. Reproductions of Corot's impressionist paintings and stag heads adorn the walls and the menu offers inventive, gourmet meals and an extensive wine list.
If you fancy going further afield, and really want to splash out, head back over towards Versailles to the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace. The Gordon Ramsay au Trianon is a Michelin-starred restaurant, or eat al fresco on the terrace at La Veranda, also by Gordon Ramsay.