Fancy waking up to the romance of Paris before heading to your high-flying London office? Meet the Channel commuters doing just that...
When the high-speed Eurostar link opened in St Pancras in 2007, it whittled the Paris-London commute to just two hours and 15 minutes, and made the possibility of living in Paris while working in London more than just a pipe dream. Property prices in France are now up to 30% lower than those in the UK, and in a recent International Living poll on the best places in the world to live, France came top (Britain came 25th, FYI) – suddenly, commuting from Paris seems an even more attractive prospect.
And a dual-city lifestyle is increasingly economically feasible, too. While train fares in the UK skyrocket, the success of the Eurostar is pushing prices down, and early-bird prices are becoming favourable. A train from London to Manchester can cost up to £180. By comparison, ‘Les Frontaliers’, as international commuters are known in France, can travel from St Pancras, London to Gare du Nord, Paris for just under €79 return. With this in mind, Stylist talked to three top London professionals who turn Parisian at the weekend…
Parisians are less stressed than Londoners
Kate Redman, 31, is a campaigns manager at Save The Children. She lives in the Montmartre district of Paris and commutes to her London office weekly
“My parents own a house in Toulouse and we used to spend every summer there, so I spoke French pretty well by my A-levels. After university, I persuaded my boyfriend to move with me to Paris where I got a job as a foreign policy analyst at the British Embassy. Even on our basic salaries, we could afford to eat out at chic cafes, trying new dishes and chatting for hours. However, after three years, I realised that I’d progress much faster in my career in London. People stay in the same positions for years in Paris, while in the UK everyone expects to be promoted or move on every two years. I was in my early 20s and I had to go where the opportunities were so I headed back to London.
I got a job at Save The Children, quickly moving up the career ladder. However, I always had one eye on Paris. My brother moved there and my parents were spending more time in Toulouse. When my now-husband got offered work as a journalist in Paris at the beginning of this year, I realised I might not have to make a choice. I made enquiries at work and they were happy for me to work from home one day a week. I looked at the Eurostar times and suddenly it all seemed feasible. So at the start of the year, we moved into a two-bed flat right next to the Sacré-Coeur.
By Thursday, I’m ready for a more laid-back pace
Our flat is beautiful, with floor-to-ceiling windows and white walls, yet rent is cheaper than in London, helping us to absorb the cost of my commute. Every Monday morning, I get up at 7am in Paris to catch the 8.15am train into St Pancras. If I book my Eurostar tickets three months in advance I can get the lowest fares. I get into St Pancras just after 9.30am UK time and after five minutes on the Tube, I’m in the office.
From Monday to Thursday, I stay at my parents’ house in London, and keep my work wardrobe there too, to save on packing. By Thursday night, I’m ready to return to the more laid-back pace of Paris life. Nobody pushes past you on the way to work here and, unlike the Tube, the Metro always seems to work. It’s not considered a badge of honour to be stressed in Paris. They take the time to admire their surroundings and taste their latte.
At the moment, our weekends are spent doing up our kitchen and my brother lives close to us, so Paris is more like home than London.”
It’s a lifestyle decision not a career change
Ayse Suleyman, 29, lives in the Marais district and runs her own UK-based PR company, spending every other week in London
“I met Frederic, my fiancé, while I was on holiday in Sardinia in June 2008. He’s an art dealer with galleries there and in Paris. He’s lived in Paris since he was 15 and his passion for the city was infectious. Luckily he spoke fluent English, so there was no language barrier. We exchanged numbers and soon we were travelling between Paris and London, showing each other the sights. Frederic did a great job – I soon fell for the food, creative energy and romantic atmosphere of the city. For a short period Frederic moved to London to be with me, but I knew this was only temporary and I began taking French lessons. When Frederic proposed to me at the end of 2010, we agreed that we’d start looking for an apartment in Paris. Within weeks, we found a gorgeous one bedroom apartment in the arty Marais district – perfect for Frederic’s work.
It all happened so fast, but what made it so much easier was that I knew this move was a lifestyle decision, not a career change. It never entered my head to stop working in London. I recently launched my own PR and communications company, and all my clients and contacts are based there. So I spend every other week in London, working Monday to Friday. But even on the rare weeks I can work from Paris, I have to spend a couple of days in England.
I fell for the food and creative energy of Paris
I usually get the 6.43am train from Gare du Nord, to get into London for early breakfast meetings. The cost of travel is worth it to wake up in a beautiful city. Emails make it easier to work in a different country but they’re no substitute for face-to-face meetings. Right now, when I’m building up my business, it’s essential to meet clients in person.
Overall, I’m amazed at how straightforward the move has been. I stressed about telling my parents, but my dad is from Cyprus and believes in doing whatever it takes to follow your heart. They’re both really proud of me. It was my London friends who found it really hard at first, because I’m in such a rush in London and can’t catch up with everyone. But it’s now been a few months, and I’ve become incredibly organised, scheduling breakfast meetings with friends when I can. Living in two cities isn’t tough emotionally, but it does take precision, both in your career and your personal life.”
I just have a more unusual commute
Arabella Boyce, 33, is a freelance stylist and lives in the Montmartre district . She works on London-based photoshoots four days a week
“My job takes me all over the world, going on photoshoots for different magazines. But there’s no escaping how important Paris is to the fashion industry. All the big fashion houses are based here and it attracts a hub of creative people. Over the past two years, lots of photographers I work with have moved to Paris. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to join them. I’d freelanced on French magazines and I’d loved their creativity. But I also knew I needed to keep the majority of my work in London – it’s where most of my clients are based. But as I did my research, I realised this didn’t have to stop me from living in Paris – it would just require a more unusual commute.
And so, a year ago, I took the plunge and moved to a studio in the centre of Paris, just five minutes’ away from the Gare du Nord railway station. It’s bigger than the one I rented in London for the same price and overlooks the hot new restaurant in town, called Le Derrière, a sort of Soho House with lots of mismatched furniture, ping-pong tables, cool art and an amazing courtyard. I can watch Paris’ hipsters milling around outside while I’m cooking.
I love that instead of drinking after work, people go to galleries
Typically, I’ll commute to London for a job three or four times a week. I’ve become savvy at sourcing the cheapest fares on Eurostar, but I’m lucky enough to be able to claim back my expenses through work.
The French have a reputation for being rude and abrupt, but I find their directness funny. At a party last week, I told someone in French – in a rubbish accent – that I’d been in Paris for just over a year. “Then why do you not speak French so well?” came the response. I just had to laugh. I also love the fact that, instead of going drinking after work, people go to galleries, like the Anish Kapoor installation at the Grand Palais. All the Chanel shows during Fashion Week are in the Palais, and I love it.
I was concerned about telling employers I’d moved away from London in case they stopped commissioning me, so I did it slowly over six months. I needn’t have worried, far from putting them off, people respect my bravery. So I keep my Mulberry travelling bag packed with all my essentials. My parents love it too – I stay with them when I’m in London. I see more of them now than I did before. I’ve never looked back.”