This year, we decided to take a river cruise on the Seine into Normandy, spending four leisurely days beforehand in Paris. After all, I’d never pass up the opportunity to spend time in Paris. We travel to Paris regularly, so we are always looking for new and interesting things to do, beyond the regular tourist haunts. Here’s a rundown of what we did this summer.
Our Paris Adventure
Three of us arrived on a Friday and were picked up at CDG by my favorite new transfer service, SayShuttle. To try out the service, our ride was complimentary. For three passengers, dropping off at two different hotels, the price would have been 69€ door to door. We were met outside the baggage claim area by the SayShuttle driver who held a placard with our name on it. He loaded our luggage into his minivan and off we went, arriving less than an hour later at our hotels. Customers book in advance and provide their flight data, so the driver is there when you land, no waiting, calling or searching for the right place to meet the driver. This is an excellent service and the best part of all, is that it costs just 69€ for up to 8 passengers. Now, that is a bargain!
We then checked in to Le Madison Hotel. Oh, how lucky we were to be able to spend four nights at this elegant, boutique hotel in the heart of Paris. Set on the lively Boulevard Saint-Germain, we were just steps from a Metro stop and a short walk to Notre Dame and the Louvre. We loved the stylish decor of our room and that we had free WiFi. The bountiful breakfast buffet was served in a beautiful room and was one we looked forward to every day. The Madison Hotel is located just across the street from Saint-Germain-des-Pres, one of the oldest churches in Paris. In the summer, regular concerts are held in the evening at this church.
On our first morning in Paris, we asked our concierge for directions to the Fondation Louis Viutton and got great information about a low cost, special bus service you can get from the Arc de Triumph. I had been reading about the Fondation Louis Vuitton, architect Frank Gehry’s latest feat, and couldn’t wait to see it. It is a spectacular building set in Paris’s idyllic Bois de Boulogne. The building itself houses a contemporary art collection with changing exhibits as well as a venue for multidisciplinary events. The restaurant, Le Frank, is a work of art in itself. We spent a morning enjoying the building inside and out as well as the beautiful surroundings of the Bois de Boulogne park. Note: the park is located a short distance from one of my favorite Paris museums, the Marmottan Monet Museum. Set in a lovely old mansion, the Marmottan has a fantastic collection of Impressionist art. Here, you will find Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Daumier and more. The museum also has an impressive collection of illuminated manuscripts. Visit the Marmottan and the Louis Vuitton Fondation and make it a day.
There is one place I return to every time I am in Paris: the Luxembourg Gardens. The Madison Hotel is a very short walk to the gardens, so we spent time in the gardens watching the children playing and relaxing in the shade. And, here’s a bonus: On the side of the gardens that borders Rue du Vaugirard, you will find the little Musee de Luxembourg. It is a great little museum with changing exhibits. And, it has a lovely tea room, a splendid place for a little break or for lunch or even dinner. The Angelina tearoom is open from 10am – 7.30pm and, until 11.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays. (Yes, THAT Angelina.)
One day, we were offered the opportunity to sample a Reims Scenic Champagne Tour with France Intense, an upscale France company that offers tours to Champagne, Burgundy, the Loire Valley and more. We took the train to Reims and started the tour right from the train station in Reims. They set up the tour to coincide with the train schedule from and to Paris, so there is no waiting around. After meeting our fellow tourists, we got into a mini-van for the tour. These tours take no more than 8 passengers. We enjoyed a tour of the G.H. Mumm champagne house that ended in, you guessed it…a tasting.
We then had a tour of the magnificent Reims Cathedral, where most of the French Royalty were crowned. The cathedral is immense and the exterior is a monument to Gothic architecture. I took this shot of the famous smiling angel at the Cathedral entrance.
We then drove on to the small town of Ay and had lunch with champagne tastings at the Domaine Sacret. This is a family owned operation, and they offer a lovely B&B package. We toured the rooms and wished we could stay. I bought some champagne here; it was delicious and very reasonably priced. After lunch we drove on to Verzanay, a Grand Cru Village, for a tour of the cellars and a tasting at Champagne Godme Sabine, operated by Sabine and Jean-Marie Guillaume. Sabine explained how the hot summer had ripened the grapes early this year and that they were looking to harvest is just another week. So much depends on the weather! Then the drive back to Reims and drop-off in plenty time for the train back to Paris. Certainly a day well-spent.
And, speaking of champagne, I simply cannot get enough, so when Viator offered a champagne Seine cruise for us and our friends, I jumped on it and was so happy that we did. Viator offers day tours and more, around the world, at excellent pricing. We had a fabulous time on the champagne cruise, mostly because of the wonderful sommelier. He was humorous, high energy, and very informative. The cruise itself was lovely. It felt luxurious to sip champagne as we glided along the Seine, passing one architectural masterpiece after another. Before your next vacation, check out Viator, you’ll be surprised at the many offerings and the excellent pricing.
One night we were invited to see the fabulous show Le Merveilles at the Lido. We enjoyed the evening show with a bottle of champagne. Others chose the dinner show which included several courses and champagne. The costumes, the dancing, the “Bluebell Girls” and the “Lido Boys” along with a very talented singer put on a pretty spectacular show. Although there was some topless dancing, all was done in good taste. There were even children in the audience…this is France, you know. It was really a memorable evening and I would recommend it to everyone. The Lido is located on the Champs Elysees, so it is easy to get to and as glamourous and as can be.
Of course, we spent time just walking, window shopping and soaking up the ambience of this fantastic city. Here are a few restaurants located near our hotel that I can heartily recommend.
Just a few short blocks from our hotel, we came upon La Locanda, a lovely Italian Restaurant. I ordered the Prix Fixe dinner which included an antipasto plate. My husband and I both enjoyed the fantastic roasted vegetables as a starter. And, the entrees were hard to beat. Reasonable pricing and wonderful food made for a delightful evening.
A La Petit Chaise
Billed as the oldest restaurant in Paris, A La Petit Chaise is a traditional French restaurant with a reasonably priced menu. We dined here with our friends one evening and everyone was happy with their meals. I enjoyed the Menu at 36€ which included starter, entree and dessert. There were lots of choices for all tastes. I chose the salmon and cod duo with julienned vegetables for my entree…delicious.
No matter what time of year we visit Paris, there is always a lot to see and do, with new things popping up all the time. Next time you visit this glorious city, try a new neighborhood, a new restaurant and some new excursions.
Written by Terri Fogarty for EuropeUpClose.com