One has to feel Marc Jacobs when he says “I envy people who go to Paris the first time”. Because there is nothing quite like the first time. When I first visited Paris, I was overwhelmed by the renaissance architecture, wide boulevards, the river Seine and atmospherics heaving with art, fashion, music, culinary & culture extraordinaire. C’était un coup de foudre.
With so much to soak in, two days in the city wasn’t going to be adequate. So when I had a chance to be back in Paris this summer for an extended stay, the plan was to do the city without a plan. No itinerary to follow, no bucket list to check off. Just some free flowing fluid days exploring one of the most beautiful and celebrated cities in the world at my own pace.
Flying in to Paris from New Delhi, my airline of choice was Air India. Apart from the warmth of a home airline, it offers the best connections to the continent, with nonstop flights to 10 European cities. It departs at a civilised hour, flies nonstop, and the wide body 787 Dreamliner is a rather comfortable aircraft. On ground, the Maharaja Lounge remains a much needed respite from the rush at T3 Terminal. Draped in luxury and new age indulgences, it retains an old world charm that is hard to find in modern glass & steel airports around the world.
The Business Class on the 787 DreamLiner is equally indulgent. With a 2-2-2 seating plan offering privacy, personal space and comfort for the long haul, it has seats that recline 180 degrees and come equipped with an array of functions to navigate through the in-flight entertainment system. The service on board is impeccable too. With wine & cheese, a selection of meal choices on the menu, a complimentary range of high quality Khadi products and more. Overall, an immensely satisfying in-flight experience.
Once in Paris, the best way to discover the city is on foot. Simply pick a direction and walk along. I would have averaged 25,000 steps each day and was mighty chuffed with my decision. Walk along the river or the tree-lined boulevards and it leads to some interesting discoveries. During summer for instance, the banks of Seine transform into a make shift beach. Evenings have an air of festivity with street musicians and artistes, and it remains lively till the early hours; with locals and tourists alike displaying a general sense of bonhomie over food, drinks, music and conversations. The river banks are also the fastest way to walk from one end of Paris to the other, and the fact that it makes for some great photo-ops is an added advantage.
While in Paris, here are 10 places we recommend you visit, for a flavour of the City of Love & Lights.
1. Sacré-Cœur. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris is a beautiful Roman Catholic Church constructed in the late 19th Century. Located on the Montmartre hill, it is the highest point in the city and offers a glorious view of all that Paris has to offer, including the Eiffel Tower. But it’s more than just optics. Walk around Sacré-Cœur and you can treat yourself to some great street food and shopping in the small but lively market square which has some trendy restaurants, bars, cafes and souvenir shops. Though it is a rather steep walk to the summit, the view of Paris and the bustling market definitely makes it worth the effort.
2. Quartier Latin. The Latin Quarter of Paris is situated in the 5th and 6th arrondissement of Paris, close to the Sorbonne University. An area which derived its name from the University’s earliest Latin speaking students, the Quartier Latin is alive every night of the week. With a number of bistros, bars and theatres, the Latin Quarter has something for everyone. It’s especially fun to walk around this part of town, as the streets are buzzing with life. If you want to let your hair down in Paris on a week night, Quartier Latin is the place to be.
3. Champs-Élysées & Arc de Triomphe. A visit to Paris is incomplete without indulging in some retail therapy along the famed Champs-Élysées. Located in the 8th arrondissement, this 2 kms. stretch is unarguably the most expensive street in the world. Running between Place de la Concorde and Place Charles de Gaulle, where the Arc de Triomphe is located, it is sprinkled with luxury stores, upmarket restaurants and beautiful theatres. From high street brands like H&M to luxury labels like Cartier and Louis Vuitton, you will find them all here. One of our favourite stores is the pretty Kusmi Tea boutique, which is a treasure trove of single origins and blends. It has a jaw-dropping selection of teas, a lovely tea bar and some indulgent accessories that can elevate your tea ritual to another level. A visit here is highly recommended for tea aficionados. Champs-Élysées is beautiful and lively, and easily accessible by the metro. Set aside an entire evening to take in the indulgent part of Paris, with a walk down its famous Avenue de Champs-Élysées, and a visit to Arc de Triomphe.
4. Notre-Dame. Paris is dotted with iconic structures and the medieval catholic cathedral of Notre-Dame is one of its most special. Located in the 4th Arrondissement, it was built between the period of 1163 & 1345. An education in French-Gothic architecture, the massive structure with its magnificent interiors and intricate stained glass windows leaves you in complete awe. Notre-Dame is situated right in the heart of Paris and is easily accessible by public transport. The iconic cathedral towers are visible from afar, even while walking along the Seine.
5. Louvre Palace & Museum. The Louvre is an architectural marvel and acknowledged as the most visited museum in the world. A lifetime wouldn’t be enough to view the 38,000 odd exhibits that are on display at the world’s largest art museum. If time is of essence, the best way to go about it is to book tickets in advance, avoid the hour long queues and take a guided tour to see some of the most admired works. You could be done in under 4 hours. Else, keep a day aside to be on your own and get lost in amazement wandering through the Louvre Palace. A night visit to the Louvre is another experience that is well worth it, when you can savour a museum visit in relative solitude, in the calm of the night.
6. Eiffel by Night. A visit to the Eiffel Tower before sundown is recommended. You could then capture the beauty of the iconic structure both during daylight and after dark, when it sheds a whole new light. Wrapped in a golden hue, the symphony of moving lights gives the structure an almost magical aura, with an interplay of lights, shadows and silhouettes. It’s a surreal visual experience and a spectacular feast to the eye.
7. Place de la Bastille. Bastille plays one of the most important roles in French history, and the square at Place de la Bastille is an iconic reminder of what France has evolved into as a nation. The Place de le Bastille stands on the ground where the Bastille prison, a symbol of absolute power in the Ancien Régime, once stood. When the prison was destroyed during the revolution, the Place de la Bastille was made to commemorate a turning point in French history. The July column, which stands in the centre of the square, commemorates the events of the July Revolution of 1830. At present, the square at Bastille is home to many bars and cafes, and is also a hotspot for concerts and public demonstrations.
8. Palace of Versailles. The Palace of Versailles is a symbol of French aristocracy that has lived on throughout the centuries, and is one of the most beautiful structures in the whole world. The primary residence of the French kings for many decades, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Set aside a day to meander through its beautiful architecture, splendid gardens, fountains and canals. The Palace is located 20 kms. outside of Paris, and is a 45 minute train ride. The best time to visit would be on Saturday when the Garden of Versailles hosts Les Grandes Eaux Musicales, the beautiful music and fountain show.
9. Jardin du Luxembourg. The Luxembourg Garden has been a part of Paris since the 1600s, when it was built as a part of the Luxembourg Palace. With its sprawling lawns, tree-lined avenues and beautiful flower beds, the Luxembourg Garden is an oasis in the middle of the Parisian landscape. One of the highlights of the Garden is the Medici Fountain, which was built in 1620. The Luxembourg Garden is located in the 6th Arrondissement, which makes it easily accessible by metro or other public transport.
10. Quartier Pigalle. One of the most lively places to visit in Paris is the rather infamous Quartier Pigalle, an area situated on the edge of the 9th & 18th Arrondissements. A huge tourist attraction, Quartier Pigalle is home to most of the city’s sex shops, adult theatres and cabaret shows. The iconic Moulin Rouge is located here, and the former red-light district of Paris is now a buzzing spot for anyone wanting to have a quirky night out.
As a city, Paris has many hues. Experiential & material, romantic & historic, spirited & soulful; it means different things to different people. Yet in all its myriad forms there is but one Paris. Like a heady date night eau de parfum, it sets the mood and makes the heart flutter. And lingers on. For long after you may have left the city behind, Paris stays with you forever.