Fact and Fantasy; Audiences Are Currently Being Thrilled by the Spectacular Production of Phantom of the Opera at the Wales Millennium Centre, but Take a Trip to Paris and You Can Discover Where the Story Began. Eva Palencarova Was Won over by Historic Buildings and a Futuristic Hotel TRAVEL

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Byline: Eva Palencarova

IT'S one of the most magnificent buildings in Paris with its opulent grand marble staircase, spectacular chandelier and ceiling painted by Chagall.

So it's little wonder that Opera Garnier, one of the city's great landmarks, has inspired writers through the generations including Gaston Leroux who wrote Phantom of the Opera. Fact and fantasy became blurred with the detective writer claiming on his deathbed that the opera ghost in his story really existed and you can still see the chandelier which features in the tale. Even the underground lagoon has some basis in fact - the building site was so marshy that it kept filling with water during construction and workers had to create a vast underground tank which even today houses catfish.

If you've been among the audiences at Andrew Lloyd Webber's spectacular musical version at the Wales Millennium Centre recently you can see where the story of Phantom Erik and Christina all began on a tour of the opera house.

The building, designed by architect Charles Garnier and built between 1860 and 1875, was commissioned by Napoleon III and is the largest example of the architecture of the Second Empire.

It is where fashionable Parisians would go to see and be seen amid the mosaics, marble and sculptures, the vast gilt mirrors and glittering chandeliers.

You can catch an opera or ballet or take a one and half hour tour in English. Entry costs 12 euros for adults, nine for children but is free with the Paris Pass. If your French is good, or you don't mind paying for a private tour in English, you can visit after the opera house is closed to normal visitors for added atmosphere.

There's no shortage of historic landmarks to visit in Paris. If you're planning a trip up the Eiffel Tower book online up to the day before you visit and you'll cut some of the waiting time. It's 8.5 euros for the lift up to the second floor, 14 euros if you want to climb all the way to the top.

But you don't have to take the tower for breathtaking views of Paris, try a romantic spot outside the beautiful Sacre Coeur Basilica or just stroll the charming streets of Montmartre, home to the fictional movie character of Amelie.

See some of the many sides of Paris by taking a nighttime stroll past the illuminated Moulin Rouge in the red light district, a compulsory visit to the Notre Dame, and a quiet walk around the Pere Lachaise cemetery, visiting the graves of Jim Morrison, Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde or Edith Piaf.

With all that Paris has to offer, it would be a sin to suggest that you spend much time indoors unless it is in a museum or a cathedral, but this is precisely what I did.

Not any indoors however. I am talking about one of the city's best kept secrets - the Seven Hotel. A designer boutique hotel where Parisians themselves come to spend a night, and live an unforgettable experience.

I first came across the Seven Hotel in the city's Latin corner while browsing the internet for unusual and unique places to stay. I remember a brief mention of "floating beds" and a striking image that caught my eye. When I saw its website, I got an instant crush on 'Le Seven'. I told myself I would have to check this place out and then tell the rest of the world about it too. …