Mar 08, 2011 01:37AM ● Published by Erin Frisch
by Lesley O’Malley Keyes
Photos by Braxton Freeman
Whether you decide to stay in a small, quaint B and B or one of many five-star hotels, there is only one way to start the day, in my opinion, and that is with a very French breakfast! Good coffee, a fresh-baked baguette with butter and strawberry jam, topped off with a warm pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant). Spread your map on the breakfast table and plan your day. There is so much to see that you need to research and prioritize your time, especially if you are just there for a few days. Try to walk around where you can to truly get the Paris “street buzz,” the clatter and chatter from sidewalk cafes, the delicious aromas from local bakeries, restaurants, and markets, and of course to people watch! The metro (subway) and buses are easy to use and stop at all major attractions.
Must-Sees in Paris
Why not start at the Arc de Triomphe, the centerpiece of the Place Charles de Gaulle–Etoile. From the terrace at the top of this arch you can see all 12 avenues, named after famous battles fought by Napoleon, which stem from the monument. You can also see Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, and the Tuileries Garden. Quite the view! The arch was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 in recognition of French military victories, and it was completed 30 years later during the reign of Louis Phillippe, the last king of France, who dedicated the monument to the revolutionary army and the French army.
The Eiffel Tower, a must-see Paris landmark, is 324 meters high and weighs in at about 10,000 tons. It was built for the World’s Fair in 1889 and took more than two years to complete. You can take the stairs or elevator up to the first level for souvenir shopping, the second level for a meal at the fabulous Jules Verne restaurant, and then to the third level where you can step out onto the viewing platform for an amazing 360-degree view of the city. Expect lines most of the year, and allow enough time to queue and view!
What could be more glamorous than a dinner cruise on the river Seine? Day and evening cruises are a popular way to dine while seeing Paris from the water. There are many boats offering this trip, Bateaux–Mouches perhaps being the most famous.
Shopping (or at least window shopping) should most definitely have a place on your itinerary. When people think Paris, they think fashion, and they will not be disappointed. More shops than you can imagine will tempt you with their clothes, shoes, and accessories in all price ranges. Where would Paris be without the skills of the masters of haute couture and luxury goods, their collections and creations taking the limelight year after year? You can find many of the most recognized designers’ collections showcased in stores along the Champs–Elysees.
The Montmatre Area
One of my most favorite ways to spend an afternoon and evening is at Montmatre, known as the “little village within a big city,” watching the many artists painting a colorful collection of local masterpieces for your pleasure. Both Renoir and Van Gogh painted here in their early days. Around this busy square are lots of cafes and restaurants in which to sit and watch the transformation of this “artists’ playground” as night falls. While this area is quite safe, some neighboring areas are not quite as safe, so be careful if you wander out of Montmatre.
While you are in this area, you must go to the Basilique Sacré-Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart). It is a Roman Catholic church and familiar landmark located on the highest point of the city in Montmartre. The site of the 19th-century basilica is traditionally associated with the beheading of the city’s patron, Saint Denis, in the third century. According to legend, after he was martyred, Bishop Denis picked up his severed head and carried it several miles to the north, where the suburb of Saint Denis stands today!
The foundation stone of the Basilique Sacré-Coeur was laid in 1875. It was consecrated in 1891, fully completed in 1914, and elevated to the status of a basilica in 1919, after the end of the First World War. Designed by Paul Abadie in a Romanesque-Byzantine architectural style, the Sacré-Coeur was inspired by St-Front in Perigueux (Dordogne), a multi-domed Romanesque church the architect had recently restored.
Even the great bell, the Savoyarde, has nationalist references: Savoy was annexed to France in 1860. Cast in Annecy in 1895, it is one of the world’s heaviest bells at 19 tons. A climb to the top of the dome provides an excellent view of Paris—at 271 feet above Montmartre, it is the second-highest viewpoint after the Eiffel Tower—and the walk around the inside of the dome alone is worth the climb.
Of course you could spend your entire vacation wandering the numerous art galleries and museums and sampling lunches and dinners at different restaurants each day—the choice is yours—but make sure whichever itinerary you choose that it includes steak frites—the French have a wonderful way of serving up a thin, tasty steak with delicately cut fries. Bon voyage!
Lesley O’Malley Keyes’s career spans managing a group of travel agencies and a staff charged with writing hotel guides for Conde Nast.