Paris is always the ultimate luxury for this travel writer. I try to begin or end every cruise in the Mediterranean with a stay in the City of Light.
I understand that many first time visitors want to check off the list of the iconic sites. But even for the first time visitor, I urge you to travel deeper. A selfie at the base of the Eiffel Tower or at the back of the crowd viewing the Venus de Milo is boring. Search for the sites that feed your passions, not those others tell you are “the top ten.”
The list below is highly subjective but has been honed during my 30 visits in the past 15 years. These are the sites I return to time and time again and still find I am awed, inspired and enlightened on each visit. I would love to hear your favorite, non-top-10-sites in Paris.
Archaeological Crypt of Notre-Dame
On the beautiful Isle de la Cite, Notre-Dame is magnificent and you will see large crowds waiting to enter at any time of the year. But few notice an entrance right behind the crowds. Underground, in fact, under the very plaza you are standing on, is the fantastic new Archeological Crypt of Notre Dame. Your English translation might suspect these are tombs, but it is not. It is the history of the settlement of Paris. Most dramatic to me are the original Roman docks, right where they have been for over 2000 years. Your visit will only take about 30 minutes, and you will emerge with a new understanding of how Paris, became Paris.
Vaux le Vicomte
The model for Versailles, but more tasteful and much less crowded, Vaux is a short 45 minute drive or RER ride from Paris. Built from 1658 to 1661 by Nicolas Fouquet, Minister of Finance to Louis XIV, its perfection was Fouquet’s downfall. Upon completion, Fouquet threw a lavish party for the Sun King to see his treasure. Louis loved it, really loved it and was angered that his Minister should have something so much nicer than his own Versailles. Fouquet was put in prison and the fabulous trio of designers who had created Vaux, architect Louis Le Vau, landscape architect Andre le Notre and painter and designer Charles Le Brun were requisitioned to work on Versailles. Be sure to visit on a clear day so you can spend time in the magnificent gardens.
While most tourists flock to the Louvre or the Musée D’Orsay, hidden in the Marais, is my favorite Paris museum. The Musée Carnavalet showcases the history of Paris from prehistory to the present in two adjoining medieval mansions. Many of the rooms recreate private homes from different periods, including the rooms occupied by Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and their family in the Temple Prison. Seeing history through the period furniture and day to day objects presents a very different perspective than that often seen in a museum setting. Also not to be missed is Fouquet’s art nouveau jewelry shop, relocated here from Rue Royale. Sections of the Musee were closed for remodeling during my visit in June 2016, but enough was still open that it was well worth the visit.
The Grand Vefour
Why not combine history and luxury dining? This historic restaurant near the Louvre is the oldest restaurant in Paris still operating on its original site. If you are looking to splurge on a fine meal, this should be your choice. You could sit in the same seats once occupied by Napoleon and Josephine or Victor Hugo. Both are marked with brass plaques.
Napoleon III Apartments at the Louvre
These magnificent rooms are in the Richelieu Wing, 1st floor, but ask directions as they are very confusing to find. They recreate the most extravagant, over the top examples of royal and aristocratic living in Paris during the reign of Napoleon III (1852 to 1870). He was "the" Napoleon’s nephew, also the grandson of Josephine. The exhibit is less crowded than Versailles but every bit as opulent.
A former royal palace and prison, the Conciergerie has beautiful medieval vaulted ceilings and architecture. It is most noted as the place from where nearly 3,000 people were sent to the guillotine during the French Revolution. This included Marie Antoinette and you can see the cell she occupied which is much more barren than the earlier rooms at Temple Prison as shown at the Musée Carnavalet mentioned above.
Visit a Market
Get up early and find a nearby market. Wander and taste and get to know the many characters who create theater in all the Paris markets. Here is one of my favorites, close to the Parisian home of Julia Child. I like to think she shopped here too.
What are your must see, always return to, sites in Paris? Top ten lists aside, it is Paris, so creativity in spending your luxurious days is demanded! Such hard decisions, just wander around the Tuileries Garden and enjoy the challenge.
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