What to do for Valentine’s Day in Paris, the world’s most romantic city? The possibilities are practically limitless. You could book the Romance Package at the chic, newly renovated Royal Monceau, where 714 euros gets you an executive room and breakfast, plus champagne and treats from Pierre Hermé. Or book dinner for two in a cozy bistro or an elegant Michelin-starred temple to cuisine. At the very least, consider a nice bottle of champagne.
For a fraction of the cost, you can make a gesture that will outlast the buzz of the bubbly. Go to the hardware store or, better yet, head to the basement of BHV’s flagship store on rue de Rivoli, drop a couple of euros on a padlock and take your valentine to the Pont des Arts, the footbridge that crosses the Seine between the quai de Conti on the left bank and the quai Mitterrand on the right. Write your names on the padlock with an indelible marker, secure the lock to the railing and throw the key in the Seine. It may take your partner’s breath away.
Sherry, a friend of mine who’s been living in Paris since 2007, didn’t have a clue when her husband, whom she met in high school, took her for a stroll on the 30th anniversary of their first date. Rarely at a loss for words, this tall blonde whose conversation is normally sprinkled with the “y’alls” of her native Tennessee was speechless when he pulled out the lock. Seven months later, the lock is still there, weathered somewhat but still holding fast—perhaps just like their relationship.
The City of Paris has tried to rid its bridges of these locks, but the tradition persists. Walking along the bridge, one sees locks of every shape, size and color. A few sport engraved inscriptions; the rest are marked with initials or names, dates and little messages of love in many languages. Even amid the gray drizzle of a typical Paris winter, it’s hard not to feel warmed by the connections the locks represent. No matter what happens, just like Bogie told Bergman, these valentines will always have Paris.
Anne Schwartz left behind a public policy career in Washington, DC, when her husband got a new job assignment in Paris in 2007. She blogs about her adventures in the City of Light at Just Another American in Paris and provides practical information to Anglophone expats at Posted in Paris.