The following itinerary describes a range of sites which we plan to visit. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight schedules and confirmation of private visits. 2 lunches and 2 dinners are included in the itinerary where L=lunch and D=evening meal.
Paris - 8 nights
Day 1: Wednesday 27 September, Paris
- Opéra Garnier (interior)
- Walking tour from Opéra District to the Palais Royal via the arcades
- Welcome Drinks at champagne bar Dilettantes
Participants will be required to make their own way to their accommodation in Paris (check-in time is 2.00pm).
We begin our tour with a walk from our apartments to the Pont-Neuf (‘New-Bridge’), ironically the oldest bridge of Paris; its was completely in 1607. Its name actually refers to the fact that it was the first stone bridge with sidewalks instead of houses on it. We shall cross the bridge to the île de la Cité, passing by the place Dauphine, a triangular square whose unconventional shape and hidden location inspired Surrealist writer André Breton in his novel Nadja.
Paris’ leadership as the world’s major entertainment centre rested in part on its fame for opera performances, captured in Degas’ marvellous images of dancers, musicians and their audiences. In 1858 the Emperor Napoleon III commissioned a new theatre to house Paris’ opera and ballet companies. Charles Garnier (1825-1898) won a subsequent design competition and construction commenced in 1861; after many setbacks, including the fall of Napoleon, the building opened in 1875. This afternoon we shall explore the Opera Garnier precinct and take a guided tour of this monumental theatre’s sumptuous interior.
Next we continue our walk to the Grands Boulevards which, together with the small arcades (passages) that survived ‘Haussmanisation’, fascinated the Surrealists. The glass roof combined two realities, creating a unique feeling of being at the same time inside and outside. While Haussman’s boulevards symbolised a new area, ripping the city from its medieval buildings and narrow streets, some of the old passages remained, vestiges of the pre-Empire. We shall stroll these arcades linking the main avenues, such as the galeries Vivienne and Colbert, just as Louis Aragon described his wanderings in Le Paysan de Paris.
We continue our walk to the Palais Royal, which originated as Richelieu’s Palais Cardinal, passing to the Crown when he died. Surrounded by beautiful 17th century buildings, for four centuries this magnificent precinct has been a seat of power, focus of French leadership of the world’s intellectual life, and a place of recreation and pleasure; it is here that the world’s first purpose built restaurant opened when the French ‘invented’ this mode of public eating. It is also the home to the Comédie Française. Its peaceful garden is now enlivened by contemporary sculptures by Buren and Bury. The fountains in the lake in the middle of the garden fan out over two vast greens skirting the flowerbeds designed by American landscaper Mark Rudkin.
In the late afternoon we walk back to the Saint-Germain quarter for a champagne tasting at the bar Dilettantes. (Overnight Paris)
Day 2: Thursday 28 September, Paris
- Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris (exterior)
- Shakespeare and Company bookstore (exterior)
- Musée National du Moyen-Âge
- Walking tour of Saint-Germain-des-Prés
- Welcome dinner at Le Train Bleu, Gare de Lyon
Between the Middle Ages and the 18th century, Paris was the largest Christian city in Europe. It also enjoyed a unique status compared to capitals of a comparable age such as London. Whereas the Spanish and English monarchies were peripatetic, favouring cities throughout their lands, the French monarchy ‘created’ France from its court in Paris; only during the reign of Louis XIV were the functions of the realm concentrated elsewhere, at Versailles. Since 1789, France’s successive republics have also concentrated power in Paris, to the extent that some scholars suggest that in the 19th century the country’s national identity actually came to be based upon that of Paris. This concentration of power and culture is why Paris dominates France, and cities like Marseilles, Lyon and Toulouse have a strictly secondary status.
This morning, therefore, we explore the development of Royal Paris and its artistic and architectural heritage. We walk to the île de la Cité, medieval centre of the city, to visit the Louis IX’s (1214-1270) exquisite Sainte-Chapelle, considered one of the finest architectural treasures of the Western world. Built in 1248 to house the precious relic of the Crown of Thorns, this chapel is conceived as a great, luminous stone and glass reliquary.
From here it is a short stroll to Notre-Dame. Pope Alexander III laid the first stone in 1163, marking the beginning of a construction project that took nearly 200 years to complete. The cathedral is a remarkable transitional Romanesque-Gothic structure and features some superb stained glass and stone carving. The Gothic style’s cradle is Paris and the Île-de-France, whence it spread out across Europe. It expressed the intimate link between the Church and the French monarchy until the 1789 Revolution, when it became a target of the revolutionary mob. It took its place in French – and world – literature, when Victor Hugo (1802-1885) made it the setting of that great and extremely influential novel, Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, 1831). Hugo in fact wrote the novel, of which the cathedral itself, rather than Quasimodo or Esmeralda, is the true hero, in a desperate attempt to save this wonderful building, then in such a parlous physical state that some even advocated its demolition.
Next, we take a walk though the Latin Quarter to the Musée de Cluny, via Paris’ legendary English-language bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. Originally established in 1919 by Sylvia Beach, an American, in the 1920s the store became a popular gathering place for literary expats. Sylvia lent books and money, allowed impoverished writers to reside there, and promoted their works. James Joyce’s Ulysses was published by her in 1922. Henry Miller called the shop “a wonderland of books”, Hemingway wrote of it fondly in A Moveable Feast and Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lawrence Durrell and Anaïs Nin dropped in often. Sylvia’s original bookshop closed in 1940 but the right to use the name and idea was given to George Whitman (great grandson of Walt). Today the shop is run by his daughter Sylvia.
We shall continue our exploration of medieval Paris with a visit of the magnificent Musée National du Moyen-Âge at the Hôtel de Cluny (1485-1498), Parisian palace of the powerful Order of Cluny, and a fine specimen of late Gothic secular architecture. This museum holds a huge collection of medieval sculptures and tapestries and countless other objects as diverse as fine chests, stained glass windows, precious reliquaries and bejewelled ornaments. A highlight of our visit will be the Unicorn Tapestries, which express the extraordinary richness of the late Gothic style, a vehicle for the expression of courtly power and grace. Here we enter the world of conspicuous consumption that underpinned French royal imagery.
After lunch, we take a walking tour of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter which draws its name from the abbaye de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the oldest church of Paris. It was originally part of a great Benedictine abbey founded in 558 by Merovingian king Childebert I (496-558). Although it has been considerably rebuilt and restored throughout the centuries, you can still find reminiscence of its medieval past in the nave and the transept that have stood since the 11th century. It is a rare example of a Romanesque church surviving in Paris. Strongly affected by the Revolution, the church underwent heavy alteration during the 19th century. The renovations were led by architects Etienne-Hippolyte Godde and Victor Baltard. The latter remains famous for the construction in the 1850s of the wholesale covered market of Les Halles. Its Pavillon Baltard was an important example of then-revolutionary glass and iron structure until its destruction in the 1960s.
Baltard’s work fell within a period of great urban transformation ordered by the préfet de la Seine, Baron Haussmann. Commissioned by Emperor Napoléon III, Haussmann altered Paris’s geography fundamentally in order to turn its crowded insalubrious medieval neighbourhoods into a modern open city with wide avenues, tall buildings and parks. The boulevard Saint-Germain is a perfect example of ‘Haussmanisation’. Personally ordered by the baron, the new street was designed to be the main east-west axis of the Left Bank, flanked by uniform facades, at the cost of many elegant ‘hôtels particuliers’ that were destroyed in the process.
Saint-Germain today captures the essence of Paris’ Left Bank: the old abbey church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, with charming streets lined with bookstores and literary cafés, old squares, artists’ studios, the famous Paris Fine Arts school, and the beautiful Saint-Sulpice church, mentioned in The Da Vinci Code.
One way in which Paris changed the way we live was by ‘inventing’ the restaurant during the French Revolution. This in part occurred because fleeing aristocrats left behind their chefs, who found an alternative outlet for their craft. This evening we shall experience one of the great delights of Paris as we dine at Le Train Bleu, the famous restaurant at Gare de Lyon. Built in the Belle Époque architectural style, this luxurious restaurant was constructed for the great World Fair at the turn of the 20th century, and in 1972 it was classified as an historic monument. Le Train Bleu was fully renovated in 2014, bringing it back to its former glory. Today, diners enjoy delicious food in an environment reflecting a bygone era. (Overnight Paris) D
Day 3: Friday 29 September, Paris
- Musée d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou, including ‘David Hockney’ exhibition
- Afternoon at leisure
- Dinner & Concert at the Philharmonie de Paris: Verdi’s Falstaff conducted by Daniel Harding of the Orchestre de Paris
Today we continue our exploration of Paris’ artistic vitality with a visit of Europe’s most famous Modern Art museum.
We take a special private tour of the Musée d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou, a magnificent collection of 20th century art which takes up where Orsay’s collection ends, with masterpieces from the School of Paris to the New York School. We shall also visit the ‘David Hockney’ exhibition, an important retrospective of his original work, coming nearly 20 years after his first Paris debut at the Pompidou. Through 15 exhibition rooms, the show covers the entire career of this English artist noted for his sometimes explosive creations, from his arrival at art school (1953) up to the latest brightly-coloured landscapes produced with an electronic tablet.
The view from the Pompidou’s rooftop is wonderful, because a feature of Parisian urbanism is the restriction of building heights throughout the city. You can therefore look across Paris to the Eiffel Tower, which escaped such restrictions because it was initially intended as a temporary entrance arch to the 1889 World Fair; it was meant to be demolished but became so famous it survived.
The afternoon is at leisure and you may wish to further explore the Beaubourg district and the Halles area, which once housed the iron food markets of Paris. The initiation of a huge shopping area on the old market site, and the erection of Richard Rogers’ and Renzo Piano’s revolutionary Centre Pompidou (1972-7) in a run down city district, was attended by huge controversy. Today the ‘quartier’ is again undergoing a complete renovation. One of the main features was completed in 2016: a two hectare-glass canopy covering the entrance to the mall and train station where the Pavillon Baltard stood until the 1960s. Barely inaugurated, it is already being criticised for its design. Such arguments are a leitmotif in the history of Parisian urbanism. Paris, along with St Petersburg, Berlin and New York, has a powerful history of the construction of grand, highly innovative, often challenging architectural statements. These accord with its status as a city of spectacle. Often initially controversial, such great monuments, like the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, eventually take their place in the celebration of the unique orchestration of period styles that is the city. Rogers’ and Piano’s building, an attack on the Beaux-Arts tradition, and totally at odds with the style and scale of the traditional architecture of its precinct, is now accepted by even its most hostile critics.
Tonight, we attend a performance of Verdi’s Falstaff conducted by Daniel Harding of the Orchestre de Paris at the recently inaugurated Philarmonie de Paris designed by Jean Nouvel. A pre-concert dinner will be served at the restaurant Le Balcon, located on the sixth floor of the Philharmonie and offering a panoramic view of Paris and the parc de la Villette. We shall then attend a performance in the Grande Salle which despite its size (it can host up to 2400 people) has been designed by architect Jean Nouvel in order to create an intimate atmosphere. The originality of the concert hall is also due to its versatility. The stage can be adjusted to suit different genres of music, offering the best listening conditions for each. The Philharmonie is linked to the Cité de la Musique, conceived in 1995 by Christian de Porzamparc. (Overnight Paris) D
Day 4: Saturday 30 September, Paris
- Musée du quai Branly
- Lunch at restaurant Les Ombres
- Musée Marmottan
- Fondation Le Corbusier: Maison La Roche
This morning we transfer by coach to the Musée du quai Branly, designed by Jean Nouvel. The entrance to the museum features a ‘Living Wall’ by Patrick Blanc, an extraordinary vertical garden rich in verdant textures. We shall enjoy an exclusive visit before the museum opens its doors to the public. Opened in 2006, the quai Branly is dedicated to Indigenous art from Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas. It houses 370,000 objects, combining collections from the Musée de l’Homme and the Musée National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie. The museum also displays Australian Indigenous paintings specially commissioned by Jean Nouvel as permanent installations. The rooftop is particularly spectacular as it features a painting from contemporary Aboriginal artist Lena Nyadbi that can be seen from the Eiffel Tower.
We lunch at the restaurant Les Ombres, situated on the Musée du quai Branly’s terrace. The restaurant’s decor, furniture and crockery are signed Jean Nouvel, architect of the museum. The play of shadows from the Eiffel Tower throughout the restaurant is a tribute of the architect to the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose major work has become the universal symbol of Paris. A magical place, this restaurant offers an unforgettable view of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower.
Next we visit to the Musée Marmottan, a wonderful art collection that occupies a mansion on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, which was owned by the collector Paul Marmottan. He presented his house along with his Renaissance, Consular and Empire collections of paintings and furniture to the Institut de France and the museum was opened in 1934. In 1971, Michel Monet presented 65 paintings by his father, Claude Monet, to the museum. Part of Monet’s personal art collection has also been added, making the collection the largest corpus of the artist’s work in the world. The Musée Marmottan also has works by Berthe Morissot, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, Paul Gauguin, Paul Signac and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. A highlight is Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, which gave its name to Impressionism.
A quick coach transfer takes us to the Fondation Le Corbusier, located in the 16th arrondissement. Cradle of early Modernism, Paris is especially noted for the architectural experiments of Le Corbusier and his colleagues. Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret conceived the Villa La Roche, in which the Fondation Le Corbusier is now housed, in 1923-25. Designed for Raoul La Roche, a Swiss banker and collector of Avant-Garde art, the whole house is an art gallery, an ‘architectural promenade’ – a theme inspired by Le Corbusier’s visit to the Acropolis in 1911 and repeated most strikingly in his Carpenter centre for the Visual Arts nearly forty years later. The promenade goes up and down staircases, leads you through tight spaces, in-between balconies, open vistas, down ramps and into a beautifully lit library. This idea of a spatial sequence was adopted by many modern architects after Le Corbusier.
To close the day, we stop at the Trocadéro, an area that took its name from an island off Cadiz (Spain), site of a great French victory over Spanish liberals in 1823. The majestic axial view of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadéro terrace brings home to us the secret of Parisian urbanism. The city has monuments from all periods, and these are often linked by axial views, like that which runs from the Louvre up the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe and beyond to the Grande Arche de la Défense. The boulevards and gardens on these axes create sight lines linking the monuments visually across the city, giving Paris a sense of monumentality and completeness rarely experienced in other cities.
The rest of the evening will be at leisure. (Overnight Paris) L
Day 5: Sunday 1 October, Paris – Maincy – Paris
- Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, Maincy
- Fondation Louis Vuitton
This morning we travel out of Paris by private coach to the famous château of Vaux-le-Vicomte. Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s Superintendant of Finances built this great house in 1641. Fouquet’s grand Baroque château, with its splendid formal gardens created by André Le Nôtre, raised the jealousy of the king and Fouquet fell from grace. Louis XIV subsequently commissioned Le Nôtre to create an even greater vision at Versailles. Our visit will illustrate how the landscape was modified to achieve the perspectives of the magnificent formal garden. We shall also explore the sumptuously furnished apartments, decorated with beautiful tapestries, as well as the kitchen with its row upon row of gleaming copperware.
After lunch we return to Paris where we spend the afternoon visiting the much anticipated new art gallery in Paris. The Fondation Louis Vuitton for Creation has entrusted architect Frank Gehry (Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Vitra Design Museum, New York 8 Spruce Street) to design a new contemporary art museum and cultural centre, set in the Jardin d’Acclimatation, a children’s park in the Bois de Boulogne. Frank Gehry has imagined the building inspired by the glass dome of the Grand Palais. Using innovative technological developments, the museum takes the shape of the sails of a boat vessel inflated by the wind. (Overnight Paris)
Day 6: Monday 2 October, Paris
- Musée de l’Orangerie
- Jardins des Tuileries
- Place de la Concorde
- Musée du Louvre
This morning we visit the Musée de l’Orangerie, a small yet spectacular gallery displaying Monet’s sensational series Les Nympheas. It also includes the Walter-Guillaume collection, featuring 146 works dating from 1860s to the 1930s, such as paintings by Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin, Picasso and Matisse.
We shall also take the opportunity to walk through the nearby Jardin des Tuileries, an extraordinary open space surrounded by a magnificent architectural panorama, and admire the superb place de la Concorde, one of Europe’s most powerful expressions of urban planning. Like so much of the city, it was designed to establish Paris’ reputation as the world capital.
From here it is a short walk to one of the world’s most famous museums, the Musée du Louvre, which houses the world’s greatest art collection. It started life as a fortress, but over the centuries kings and emperors added new buildings. One of the most controversial additions was the glass pyramid, designed by I.M. Pei, which opened in 1989. The Louvre’s art collections have been a vehicle through which governments established and reinforced Paris’ status as the world’s art centre in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Our visit will take in selected collection highlights as well as exploring the building itself. Once the formal tour is concluded, group members will have some time at leisure to further explore the museum’s vast collections. You will have the option of returning to our apartments or continuing on to discover further delights of the city into the early evening. (Overnight Paris)
Day 7: Tuesday 3 October, Paris
- Musée Rodin
- Musée Picasso
- Place des Vosges
- Opéra Bastille
We begin our day at the exquisite Musée Rodin. It is housed in the elegant 18th-century Hôtel Biron, the residence of the sculptor Rodin from 1908 to his death in 1917. A series of special events will therefore be organised this year to celebrate the anniversary of his death. The Rodin collection in the sculpture garden and within the mansion itself is the most comprehensive Rodin corpus in the world.
We shall then travel by Métro to the Marais district where, following time at leisure for lunch, we visit the Picasso museum. The collection, which is renowned worldwide, was created thanks to a remarkable donation from Picasso’s heirs. More than 5000 pieces of artwork are housed in the beautiful 18th-century Hotel Salé, recently reopened after a 5-year renovation.
A short walk away is the Place des Vosges, a magnificent Renaissance square considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in the world. Its architectural harmony is matchless. Surrounded by lovely Renaissance brick buildings with stone dressings and quoins, and steep mansard roofs, this square was originally designed as a royal and aristocratic refuge from the densely packed, noisy city.
The day’s program concludes at one of Paris’ most important historical places, where the French Revolution started: the place de la Bastille. There are today almost no visible traces of the prison, symbol of Absolute Monarchy. Instead, the square hosts since the 19th century the Colonne de Juillet commemorating the 504 victims of a three-day revolution that took place in July 1830. Facing it is the ultra-modern Opéra Bastille, which we shall visit.
The opera’s construction was part of President Mitterrand’s ‘Grands Projets’ in the 1980s, which were intended to rejuvenate Paris with ambitious contemporary architecture. It included seven other projects, now all part of the city’s identity such as the Louvre’s pyramid and the French National Library. The opera was deliberately designed by Canadian architect Carlos Ott to contrast with the Palais Garnier. However, in order to blend its convex facade into the area and make it feel as original part of the ‘quartier’, the square was not remodelled for its construction. Rather, the left side of the opera was kept hidden by older buildings to give the impression that it always belonged here. (Overnight Paris)
Day 8: Wednesday 4 October, Paris – Saint-Germain-en-Laye – Port Marly – Paris
- Musée d’Orsay
- Farewell Lunch at the restaurant Pavillon Henri IV, St-Germain-en-Laye
- Château de Monte Cristo, Port-Marly
A quick walk along the Seine will lead us to the Musée d’Orsay dedicated to the 19th-century art. Overlooking the river, it is housed in a former railway station, which was converted to a great museum by ACT Architecture (Renaud Bardon, Pierre Colboc and Jean-Paul Philippon) and the Italian architect, Gae Aulenti. It holds the world’s greatest collection of French Realists, Impressionists and Post Impressionists (1848-1914). Masterpieces include Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1862-3) and Olympia (1863), and Renoir’s Le Moulin de la Galette (1876). Such paintings document two poles of Parisian life, those of Bourgeois recreation, and the alienation of the individual in a burgeoning, crowded, ever changing, modernist city. Not only was Paris the city of spectacle, but it was also the city where modernism as ‘state of mind’ was invented.
We then drive to Paris’ elegant suburb Saint-Germain-en-Laye to enjoy lunch with a panoramic view over the city at the regal Pavillon Henri IV. The Sun King Louis XIV was born in one of the salons of the Pavillon and it has long been a favourite meeting place for aristocrats, artists and writers as well as important financial and political figures. Famous guests of the Pavillon Henri IV, which was converted into a hotel-restaurant in the mid 19th century, include Georges Sand, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Alphonse Daudet. Here, Dumas wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, and Offenbach composed some of the music to his famous operettas.
Our tour ends with a visit to Alexandre Dumas’ nearby house, the Château de Monte-Cristo, named after his best-selling book. It was his “paradise on earth” and he spent a fortune on it. Too big a fortune, for only two years later he had to sell it to pay the debts. Here he wrote Adventures with my Pets which includes tales about his pet vulture; here he began his monumental Grand Dictionary of Cuisine; here he entertained Hugo, George Sand and his many mistresses.
The rest of the day and evening will be at leisure. (Overnight Paris) L
Day 9: Thursday 5 October, Paris
Your tour ends today in Paris. Those returning to Australia will need to make their own way to Paris CDG airport (contact ASA for information on private transfers). Participants wishing to extend their stay in Paris are advised to contact ASA for information about extending their stay at the Appart’hotel Citadines Saint-Germain-des-Prés.