I never wanted to ride through Paris in a sports car with the wind in my hair. I just wanted a facial. French women always look so groomed and glossy, I figured their beauty salons must be the best in the world. It was a case of Pampering with Purpose, the purpose being I would end up looking like a French Woman instead of a frazzled, jet-lagged Australian one.
My budget ($200) knocked out the top salons in town. At the world's first Chanel spa at The Ritz Paris, you can take a "'moisturisation cruise" from €310, and at the supermodels' favourite salon, Joelle Ciocco in Place de la Madeleine, treatments start at €695 and feature a buccal massage (inside the mouth) for the 'lift effect' of your dreams. That all sounded a bit scary, so instead I booked the Institut Darphin, tucked away in a little courtyard just off Rue Saint Honore.
When I get there, Madame looks a little distracted. There has been a burst water pipe in the building above, and the salon is without water, but Olga, my facialist, is resourceful.
Grasping a giant bottle of Evian, she takes me to a darkened room, with a supremely comfortable bed. The background music is orchestral, almost operatic, at just the right volume. My face is cleansed; her hands are firm and capable as they work the pressure points of my face. The face mask is exceptional; chilled, thick, rich and smooth; followed by a thorough hand, arm and feet massage, then I am left to dress.
I peer curiously at my skin. It's miraculous; as plump as a French roast chicken. How did that happen? I stroll down the Rue St Honore, feeling like a French Woman at last.
The next day, the concierge at the Hilton Paris Opera recommends a small salon called Dulcenae, for my manicure and pedicure. In Paris, you lie down for your mani/pedi ("simple" without polish, or "complet", with polish) and barely need to lift a finger.
But owners Sophie and Laurent Gaudens set up Dulcenae with a much bigger agenda than pampering the already-pampered. "We want to care for those with burns scars, cancer, and amputations," explains Sophie. "It is very hard for a lot of people to book in for treatments if they have a particular issue with their body or their skin, but they are all welcome here." Her treatments are amazingly good (and great value), but they do me a greater service by reminding me, yet again, that beauty is only skin deep.