Category Archives: Paris

Great Day Trips From Paris – Versailles

My last of 3 great day trips to recommend is the magnificent Chateau of Versailles
versailles[1]
Originally constructed as a modest hunting lodge by Louis XIII in 1624, the Chateau was expanded and transformed over the next 50 years to become what is arguably the most extravagant palace in Europe, if not the world.  The Chateau became the official seat of the French monarchy when Louis the XIV moved the court from Paris to Versailles in 1682, and remained in use until the French Revolution in 1789 when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were “escorted” back to Paris. 

Set amid 1800 acres of elaborate gardens and parklands, the Chateau has over 700 rooms, 1,250 fireplaces, 67 staircases and 2,000 windows, with the most elaborate furnishings, sculptures, tapestries and artwork of the time.  The renowned Hall or Mirrors, or Galerie des Glaces recently completed an extensive 3 year, 19 million Euro renovation. 
ver-3[1]
Two-thirds of the 357 mirrors were cleaned and restored, and those that could not be restored were replaced with antique substitutes.   In addition, the incredible ceiling artwork of Charles le Brun has been painstakingly hand-cleaned by forty restorers who worked full time for 18 months to return the canvases to their original state. 

Also on the Domain of Versailles you will find the Grand Trianon, which was used by the king as a retreat when he wanted to get away from the formality and demands of the royal court….sort of a “staycation” you might say.  You can also visit the Petit Trianon, which was originally built by order of Louis XV for his long-time paramour, Madame de Pompadour.  Sadly, she died before its completion, so Madame du Barry, her replacement, set up residence there.  When young Louis XVI ascended to the throne in 1774, he gave the Petit Trianon to his 19 year old Queen Marie Antoinette. 

 There is so much more to see here that I won’t go into every detail, but I’d be remiss if I did not mention the unbelievable, extravagant gardens. 
Marathoniano Fountains
On weekends in summer you can pay an extra fee to attend the Grandes Eaux Musicales, famous fountain show….like Bellagio fountains without the computerization. 

My best advice is to check the official website for opening times and prices, as they vary for each building and by season.  And you can count on temporary closings for some portions due to ongoing renovations.  But you won’t be disappointed….there is more than enough to occupy a full day.  You can purchase tickets online in advance and print them out before you leave home.  Or the general admission is covered in the Paris Museum Pass.  And the facilities for tourists are just as extensive as the grounds themselves.  Audio self-guided tours, guided escorted tours, mini-trains, electric carts, segway tours, bicycle tours, restaurants, snack bars, and the obligatory gift shops….a veritable Disneyland.  Yes, of course it’s crowded, but you can’t leave without seeing it.  So just go!

 While I am not a proponent of capital punishment, after spending time at Versailles, it’s not hard to understand why the French invented the guillotine.

 Getting there:

Versailles is located about 14 miles southwest of Paris.  From central Paris take the RER Line C5 in the direction of Versailles Rive Gauche Chateau (avoid the Versailles-Chantiers station as it’s not as convenient).  Get off the train, walk straight out the station doors.  Cross the street in front of you, turn right and walk about 2 blocks, then turn left and continue straight about 3 more blocks.  You’ll run right into the palace main gates.  You can’t miss it!  Or just follow the crowds.  If you want more detailed instructions on taking the train, I like this blog post   Round trip ticket should be around 6 Euro.

510-1[1]

Advertisements

Great Day Trips From Paris – Reims – Champagne

3-glasses-of-champagne-and-me-compressedAnother great day trip, head off to explore the magnificent champagne region of France. With France’s highly efficient TGV fast trains, you can visit Reims (rhymes with sconce) in a comfortable day trip from Paris. With a population of 200,000, Reims is known as the City of Champagne, for the 155 miles of underground chalky caves criss-crossing beneath the city, which provide the perfect temperature and humidity for storage of the golden bubbly. And while most of the world’s leading Champagne houses are based here, there is more to see than just champagne.
From the train station, it’s about a 15 minute walk to the famous Cathedral de Notre Dame, where 26 kings of France were coronated. Admire the amazing Gothic architecture. Built in the 13th century, it was badly damaged in WWI, rebuilt in 1938, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.


The cathedral also displays amazing stained glass windows by famous Russian post-impressionist Marc Chagall.

Reims
is also famous for being the place where WWII officially ended. Musée de la Reddition (Surrender Museum) at
12, rue Franklin Roosevelt 51 100 REIMS, is the site of the former war room of Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower, where Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7, 1945. The former school building has been declared an historical monument, and you can tour the war room, and view the strategic war maps still on the walls. NOTE: The museum has been closed for renovations, and is scheduled to re-open Spring 2009. Check their website or call for re-opening dates.


piper-heidsieck-train-compressedIf you’re not into history, then just take a taxi from the train station straight over to Piper Heidsieck. (51 Boulevard Henry Vasnier). This is Disneyland for champagne lovers. Board the automated champagne train for a 15 minute tour which explains the whole process of growing, harvesting, blending and aging the fine bubbly. D
isplay near the end of famous movies where champagne featured prominently. (Play it again, Sam….of Casablanca fame).

3-glasses-of-champagne-compressed2

Be sure to stop in the tasting room at the end. You will taste three varieties of the beautiful bubbly, served with a variety of macarons.
(Update – Sadly, Piper Heidsieck has closed their lovely cave in Reims, and moved farther out into the vinyards, so no more champagne train! Sorry!!)

From Piper Heidsieck it’s a short walk over to Taittinger. (9, Place Saint-Nicaise). They offer 1 hour guided walking tours. A gracious interpreter leads you down into the chalky limestone caves and explains the aging and fermentation process, the riddling rack, etc. The caves are quite impressive. You’ll see a museum-like photo display of famous celebrities, and dignitaries enjoying Taittingier throughout the last century. Once again, at the end, you’ll be escorted into a tasting room to sample several vintages. There is a nominal fee for this tour.

Getting there:
From Gare de L’Est there are several TGV trains in the morning, and several retuning in the early evening. 62 Euros is the current unrestricted 2nd class fare, but you may find cheaper tickets if you book in advance. TGV trains ALWAYS require advance reservations. Click
here for the English website for France SNCF train schedules:

Here’s a map of the route. I would probably walk from the train station (A) to the Cathedral (B), then taxi to Piper Heidsieck(C), walk to Taitinger (D), taxi to Musee de la Reddition (E), and then walk back to the train station (A). It’s a full day, but a great one!


Great Day Trips from Paris-Monet’s Gardens at Giverny

If you’re going to be in Paris more than a few days, take advantage of the great public transportation system and venture out to see some of the glorious sights nearby.  I’ll be highlighting 3 of my favorite day trips from Paris in the next few weeks.   You can do all 3 of these excursions via organized tour companies…..but if you like scheduling your own day, and saving money, don’t be afraid to venture out on your own.  Let’s start with Claude Monet’s glorious home and gardens at Giverny. 
 
 giverny-home
Monet’s gardens are one of the most visited attractions, and no wonder why.  This famous leader of the Impressionist movement retired to Giverny and made his home here from 1883 until the time of his death in 1926.  He spent many years planning and planting his famous gardens.  You have seen pictures of them many times…..even if you have never been there.  Monet created his beloved water lily paintings here….dredging the pond, building the Japanese footbridge, framed by weeping willows and wisteria, and planting a riot of colorful blooms, designed to flower all through the growing season.  Rose arbors, delphiniums, spring bulbs.  But Monet was captivated by the water lilies, capturing them in different lights and changing seasons, from many perspectives….close up to far away.
gardens

Entrance fee to Monet’s house and gardens is 6 euros for adults, discounts for children and seniors.  http://www.fondation-monet.com/uk/  Open April 1 – Oct. 31. 

Flowering calendar http://giverny.org/gardens/fcm/calendar.htm explains what’s in bloom every month.

 

 

Getting There

Take an early train from Paris Gare St. Lazare to Vernon.  Cost is approx 24 Euro round trip, and direct trains make the trip in about 45 minutes.  Here is the English website for France SNCF train schedules:   http://www.tgv-europe.com/en/home/?rfrr=Basket_header_Home

 

Public buses depart Vernon train station about 15 minutes after the train arrives.  The short bus ride from Vernon to Giverny is about 2.5 miles, and costs about 3 Euros round trip.     

Try to arrive early, before the hoards of tour buses disgorge their day-trippers. 

 

Organized bus or mini-van tours are available from Paris through Paris Visions, ranging from 70-89 Euros.  http://en.parisvision.com/15,226-visit-giverny-monet-house-and-gardens.htm

 

For something delightfully different, try Fat Tire Bike Tours.  For 65 Euros, you receive round trip train transportation Paris to Vernon, a guided bike tour from Vernon to Giverny, picnic lunch along the Seine, entrance to Monet’s house and gardens, and a visit to his gravesite.  It’s an easy 6.5 mile round trip bike ride.  http://fattirebiketours.com/paris/tours/monet-bike

Be sure your camera is fully charged and has plenty of storage memory, as you’ll need the space to capture the beautiful surroundings.   

 

 

Blogging From France

Bonjour, friends and travelers. I’m traveling to France the first week of December, and plan to add photos in real time, blogging from my iPhone. So (assuming the technology cooperates), check back each day for updates from the road. I’ll be traveling through southwest France, the Pyrenees region, and the Languedoc (see map below). Here’s a peak at my itinerary:

  1. Lourdes – celebrating 150 year anniversary of St. Bernadette visions of the Virgin Mary
  2. Montpellier and Castries – university town, and thriving city
  3. Saint Guilhem le Desert – medieval village
  4. Carcassonne – best preserved medieval city and castle in Europe
  5. Nimes – known for 2 things – best preserved Roman amphitheater and temple, and “denim” or where your blue jeans come from….seriously, this is where Levi Strauss obtained the cotton to make his famous Levi’s….cotton from Nimes, or de nimes.
  6. Uzes – with visit to weekly market Place aux Herbes
  7. Pont Du Gard – incredible 2000 year old Roman aquaduct

france-regions

Hope you can join me! Au revoir, et a bientot!

flight path

flight path

Chicken in tarragon cream sauce

Chicken in tarragon cream sauce

Paris Museum Pass – Save Hours Waiting in Line

Next time you visit Paris, be sure to check into the Paris Museum Pass.  SAVE HOURS OF TIME – NO STANDING IN LINE AT EVERY MUSEUM, save money too; 2, 4, or 6 day passes available  http://www.parismuseumpass.com/en/home.php  Good for Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Notre Dame; Pompidou Modern Art, St. Chapelle, Arc de Triomphe, Picasso & Rodin museums, Palace of Versailles & much more; purchase at any participating museum, Charles de Gaulle Airport, or Paris Tourism office on Champs Elysees, & major Metro stations.