Long range forecasts had indicated very cold, rainy weather throughout the time of our proposed visit to Paris at the end of November. I was thinking of delaying the trip till next year.
Then the attacks took place in Paris on November 17th and that determined us to go ahead with our visit – to show support for Paris in our small way.
It was strange to see so many heavily armed police officers and soldiers on the streets of a European capital, and maybe the normally vibrant Paris atmosphere was a little subdued.
However the welcome at our hotels was very warm, with staff thanking us for visiting their city. And suddenly the weather changed; after light rain showers on the first day, we had three days of sunshine.
If you are planning to visit Paris as the festive season approaches, then do please go ahead. The weather may be variable, but your welcome will be especially warm, and the Christmas Market in the Champs-Élysées makes any visit well worthwhile.
We stayed three nights in the Holiday Inn Montmarte, then two nights in central Paris at the Intercontinental Hotel Le Grand, just by the Opera Garnier. The Holiday inn was booked on a Senior Discount flexible rate, the Intercontinental was free of charge as IHG Reward Club nights. Both hotels provided excellent service.
We had four full days to explore, with a walking tour on each day as described below. We must have walked 20 miles or more in total, but hardly seemed to notice as there was something of interest on almost every corner.
I pick out here some of the highlights on each of our walks. But there is something for everybody in Paris, and wandering around discovering for yourself can be very rewarding.
Walk 1 – Montmartre (4 miles)
Our walk commenced in the Cimetière de Montmartre close to our hotel. This fascinating 19th Century cemetery contains the elaborate graves of many famous citizens, including Edgar Degas, Jacques Offenbach, Emile Zola and Miss Bluebell, the Irish dancer of Moulin Rouge fame.
From the cemetery it is a short walk to the Moulin Rouge and Pigalle, passing various erotic shops and bars along the way. We then headed up to Moulin de la Galette – featured in many paintings – and past the strange Man through the Wall sculpture.
After pausing at the Wall of Love and taking some refreshment in the pleasant little Café Montmartre, we headed up to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica to enjoy the panoramic views over the city.
Our route back to the hotel included a visit to the Museum of Montmartre, which gives a real feel of Montmartre when it was the centre of artistic innovation.
The Renoir Garden at the rear overlooks the only Vineyard remaining in Montmartre.
Walk 2 – Palace of Versailles (7 miles)
No, we didn’t walk to Versailles – it is 20 miles south-west of the city – but took the RER B train for about €7 return including connecting Metro travel. The Palace of Versailles is then about a mile from the RER station through the attractive centre of Versailles.
There were no queues for entry tickets – unlike the massive queues during the summer period.
We chose the combined ticket at €18 each which covered both the main Palace and the Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, containing the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon palaces plus the Marie-Antoinette Hamlet. There are no senior discounts on entrance charges.
From the main Palace to the Domaine is about two miles, walking past lakes and through landscaped gardens. Less spritely senior travellers can opt for the shuttle train at €4 each way.
Of course the State Rooms in the Palace of Versailles and the more intimate rooms in the Trianon palaces were magnificent, but make certain you also visit the reconstructed hamlet where Marie-Antoinette played at being a shepherdess.
A word of warning: the grounds are not well sign-posted. We managed to get lost a couple of times, finishing up walking an extra couple of miles or so, making over seven miles in total for the day!
Walk 3 – Champs-Élysées and the Eiffel Tower (6 miles)
From our hotel at the Opera Garnier, we headed down the elegant Boulevard des Capucines. At the Neo-Classical style church of La Madeleine, which was built to the glory of Naploeon’s army, we turned south to the Place de la Concorde. Originally called the Place de la Révolution, this is where Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were guillotined in 1792. Now it is dominated by the 65 metre high Ferris Wheel, patriotically lit up in red, white and blue.
The Champs-Élysées runs for almost a mile from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. At this time of the year, it is the site of Les Villages de Noël Christmas Fair. In my opinion this is one of Europe’s great Christmas Fairs, and having walked down one side on the way to the Jardins du Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower, we walked down the other side on the way back to our hotel.
Walk 4 – Îles de Paris (3 miles)
Our final day involved a more restful 3 mile walk from our hotel to the two islands in the Seine, the Île de la Cité and the Île Saint-Louis, before taking the Metro back to the Opera Garnier.
Along the way, the Jardin des Tuileries proved disappointing, looking quite drab in autumn. The massive Palais du Louvre never fails to impress with its incongruous Pyramide entrance to the Musée de Louvre.
The Île de la Cité is of course dominated by the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, spectacular from the outside and equally so from the inside.
Hidden away at the eastern end of the island is the simple, yet moving Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, commemorating the 200,000 Jews deported from France during WWII.
Just a short distance across a bridge is Île Saint-Louis with its narrow streets and many excellent small bars and restaurants. This was a great place to relax and bid farewell to Paris after a very memorable few days.
POSTED 9th DECEMBER 2015 by STEVE HANSON