Who needs to travel the world when Paris alone has enough diversions to make even the most extensive bucket list splash over the brim?
“To know Paris is to know a great deal,” wrote controversial American novelist Henry Miller, who spent a significant portion of his life waging a running philosophical battle with the City of Lights. To truly know Paris, you’d have spend a lifetime at its exquisitely pedicured feet.
The problem many travellers to the French capital have is simply fitting all that wonderment into a relatively compact vacation. The total number of visitors to Greater Paris, all accommodation combined, exceeded a record 40 million in 2017, with about 7 million of them opting to visit the Eiffel Tower, the world’s most popular tourist attraction, and just one of hundreds crammed into its pulsating heart.
This was a problem my partner and I shared on our week-long sabbatical in Paris. Having disembarked at the sprawling Charles de Gaulle Airport, we were soon installed in a thoroughly modern studio in a 300-yearold maison – sourced at a competitive rate via Airbnb – in Le Marais. So infinitely cool is this arrondissement,
close to all the major sights and marked by trendy boutiques, open-air markets, patisseries and Lenny Kravitz-approved falafel, that even the homeless sport top buns. We’d compiled a hopelessly impractical list of must-do things for each of the seven days, but were soon forced to whittle it down to the bare bones as we battled subway delirium and queue dementia.
If you spent 60 seconds looking at each of the objects in the Louvre, the world’s largest art museum and home to the Venus de Milo, Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People and, of course, the curiously unsettling Mona Lisa, going steadily for eight hours a day, it would take you 75 days to see them all. And when you consider that there’s still the haunting cathedral of Notre Dame, the fascinating Army Museum housing Napoleon’s Tomb and a host of artifacts, the iconic Arc de Triomphe and the sheer magnificence of the Palace of Versailles to see, the result can only be overload.
Thankfully, Paris has any number of drinking holes offering respite from the teeming swarm of tourists. The Cave de Louvre is an underground cellar built in the 18th century by Trudon, the wine steward of King Louis XV, and offers tours by sommeliers who don’t take themselves too seriously and give you the chance to create your own vintage. Then there’s the Hemingway Bar, an intimate alcove in the Ritz Hotel where – as soon as the occupying Nazis began retreating from Paris – the famously alcoholic Nobel Laureate personally “liberated” the bar by downing 52 dry martinis in a row. Though I was eager to emulate my literary hero’s impressive feat, one Old-Fashioned cocktail, at €30, was enough to “liberate” my wallet of its contents.
We did visit most of our must-see targets, including the eerie Catacombs and the disappointing Moulin
Rouge (which reminded me of a cabaret show at
Sun City in the Nineties). We found the Paris Pass, which offers discounted and skip-the-queue access to over 100 attractions, to be invaluable.
Hitting the tourist trail isn’t the only way to imbibe Parisian culture. If you can bring yourself to eschew the rickety subway system and take to the streets, you’ll be richly rewarded. There’s even a word for it in French – flâneur – to wander freely around the city. Whether
02 0301 A view of the city against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower. 02 A grisly artifact in the Catacombs. 03 The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile and the Champs-Élysées at sunset.