Making the Magic of Paris Come Alive in Under 4 Days!
I had the good fortune of spending some quality time in Paris last week with my son, Oliver, and his best friend, Mary, during their college spring break. It was Mary’s first visit to Paris, and I had less than 4 days to show this young lady the best of this magical city. I selected several activities that would offer a comprehensive experience of Paris without feeling rushed – I call them the Top 10 Experiences – Paris in 4 Days!. With spring like temperatures and favorable weather during our entire stay, we enjoyed guided tours of the city by boat, bus and segway, and walked my favorite neighborhoods to visit the “must see” Paris favorites and enjoy photo-ops. When the time came to check out of our Paris hotel on day 4, and head to the Montparnasse rail station for the 3 hour journey to our home in Vannes, I reveled in satisfaction when Mary commented that she felt she had really seen a lot of Paris without ever feeling overwhelmed. So if you’re traveling on an Off the Beaten Path Tour this year, and hoping to schedule some time in Paris, but have a limited amount of time for an extended stay in the “city of light” either pre- or post- tour, take comfort in knowing that you can enjoy a lot of different experiences to discover this city’s historical treasures at a leisurely and fun pace.
— Top 10 experiences during our 4-day stay in Paris last week! —
1. Dinner at Le Chardenoux Brasserie — A quaint, corner location in the 11th arrondissement and a registered historic monument dating back to 1908 sets the stage for sumptuous dining at one of my favorite brasseries in Paris. At a fixed 39 euros menu, Chef Cyril Lignac serves up a wonderful selection of appetizers, main courses and desserts from which to comprise a memorable traditional French dinner experience. The “accueil” or ambiance is warm, friendly and inviting. No request is too much, and they aim to please. The staff wear their smiles with sincerity. The service is prompt, and the cuisine is semi-gourmet with a touch of amazing. We enjoyed the sirloin steak with home-made bearnaise sauce, sucrine topped with a dab of house dressing, and sauteed potatoes with a house paprika mayonaise. For dessert, I chose the hazelnut chocolate tarte. The entire meal from start to finish including the wine selection was out of this world! This place is not to be missed when in Paris!
2. Segway Tour of Paris that included a chance meeting and photo-op with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson! — Sent my university age son, Oliver, and his best friend, Mary, on this tour, and they are still talking about it. OK, the chance meeting and photo-ops with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson at the Champ de Mars during their photo shoot for the upcoming release of Zoolander 2 may have slightly influenced their overall opinion (Photo above compliments of Oliver). But these young adults headed out with City Segway Tours at 2 pm for an approximate 2.5 hour tour of Paris that included all the wonderful highlights one should not miss – the Louvre, Invalides, Naploean’s tomb, Eiffel Tower, Seine River, the Grand and Petit Palais and everything in between. The guide was very knowledgeable, friendly and entertaining, and was very attentive to his small group of 5 patrons. All along the tour route, the group made stops in order to appreciate each historic site. They were able to get off their segways during the tour to enjoy engaging historical commentary of the various sites included in the route and take photos. Both Oliver and Mary gave a double thumbs up on the quality of the experience and the entertainment value.
3. Our 3-night stay at The Intercontinental Paris — Le Grand – There will be a separate review for this hotel on our blog, but for the sake of our top 10 list, I have to include it. The location, rooms and ambiance make this a charming and magical place to spend any trip to Paris. I am a big fan of the right bank Opera neighborhood area, and this hotel offers “front door” access to it all. The variety of dining venues, cafes, nearby parks, historic sites, and shopping make this a prime location to stay whether it’s your first trip to Paris or your twentieth. I felt like a real princesse while staying here, and will return. Housekeeping goes out of their way to ensure you have a very enjoyable and comfortable stay. And the breakfast buffet is one of the best I have experienced in Paris to date. The doormen and concierge are courteous and informative, and go out of their way to help guests.
4. The Hop-on, Hop-off BIG RED BUS — Being an insider to Paris, I never imagined I could enjoy this excursion as much as I did. It really is a gem that anyone can enjoy. Whether you’re a new or returning visitor to the city, the BIG RED BUS is worth “hopping on and off”. If you ride the entire route non-stop, the tour takes about 2 hours. The tour route passes by the major historic sites on the left and right banks making regular stops for riders to hop on and off to explore on foot or visit local monuments and museums. Some of the stops are manned with a dedicated Big Red Bus employee who can help travelers with directions and tickets. Bus drivers are very courteous, and were very helpful when I had quesitons about connecting to places not along the bus route. In a single day, we rode the entire route hopping on and off at leisure to take in the major historic monuments, enjoy photo-ops and shop. It was a very efficient way to explore the city, and I had fun playing the tourist!
5. Best Cantonese gourmet dinner at LILI — The Pensinsula Hotel – The interior is as stunning as it is described on the Peninsula hotel’s website – inspired by the drama of Chinese and French opera. An award winning Hong Kong Chef and his talented staff prepares some of the best, authentic Cantonese cuisine I have ever tasted. So you ask, what are we doing eating Cantonese in Paris?? Well since I live in this fabulous French nation, I enjoy the occasional detour to another cultural culinary experience, and as I always say, “Paris has something for everyone” and Lili is all that! We enjoyed a selection of pan-fried vegetarian bean curd sheet rolls, Marinated beef shin in five spices, Sautéed scallops and seasonal vegetables with XO chili sauce, Braised pork belly with fungus, and the house recommendation of Peking Duck that was prepared table side and delicious beyond words! Dress code is resort chic. The entire dining experience is more than just typical, it was dreamy and we cannot wait to return!
6. The Skip the line Eiffel Tower Tour — Purchased tickets through Easy Pass Tours located just a 5 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. Their office is easy to find, staff is friendly, helpful, well organized and knowledgeable. I booked our tickets on the Easy Pass website, and received a confirmation via email of the purchase, along with details on where to go and by what time on the scheduled tour day. Travelers check-in at the Easy Pass office 15 minutes before the scheduled group entrance time to the Eiffel Tower. Once all guests have been checked in, the guide walks the group to the Eiffel Tower where an informative and interesting historical overview of the site is provided, and then the group passes through security and enters the site together. Once inside the Eiffel Tower, travelers go their own way, and your on your own to stay the duration of time you would like. There are no time limitations or hidden expectations, just skip the line and go in.
7. Bateaux Mouches Seine River cruise — A wonderful complimentary experience to the Big Red Bus tour, and a fabulous excursion to enjoy on a Sunday afternoon or evening when most shops in Paris are closed. We actually walked from our hotel at Opera Garnier through Tuileries Gardens, Place de la Concorde and along the river to the Pont d’Alma boarding area on a Sunday afternoon. We couldn’t have picked a better time to enjoy the cruise on the Seine River. The light was golden which made for exceptional photo-ops. The warm temperature and calm water created a perfect ambiance to both relax and enjoy the sights from a different perspective. Beverage and food service is available on the boat. Restrooms are also available aboard.
8. Visiting the Crypts at the Pantheon — This is one visit in Paris that I refuse to miss anytime I have a new visitor to the city. One could call it “one-stop appreciation,” because where else can you visit the burial sites of some of the world’s most famous writers, poets and scientists, such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Zola, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie. Both the underground crypt and the interior architecture are mesmerizing with its Gothic interior decorations combined with a mainly classical style building. Bonus here is once you complete your visit, you are just a 5 minute walk from the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens and the Palais de Luxembourg that Marie de Medici, wife of Henri IV and mother of Louis XIII, started building towards the end of her husband’s reign.
9. A behind the scenes visit at Alain Ducasse’s “Ecole de Cuisine” — with good friend and “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” Chef Christophe Q. (friend and chef we cook with during our Loire Valley Tours) – From a half or full day class for the general public to 3 weeks and longer core culinary education classes for dedicated culinary students or career changing adults, this new cookery school offers courses for all culinary interests and every skill level. From the amateur to the professional, come discover the secrets that have made Alain Ducasse the name associated most with French cuisine worldwide. This new school offers an opportunity to learn French culinary techniques and secrets in an intimate environment under the direction of the world’s best trained and most notable chefs. The school also offers half and full day, as well as the occasional evening, wine initiation classes.
10. Sunday Champagne Brunch at the Intercontinental Paris – Le Grand — Not only is the hotel itself a true gem in a fabulous location, but the Sunday Champagne brunch is worth the high price tag. While the service staff is a little slow, the buffet itself offers an excellent selection for all tastes and dietary requirements. From breakfast items, a large choice of salads to seafood, Asian cuisine and traditional French dishes, the buffet offers a blend of cultural cuisine. My favorite though was the dessert buffet that featured everything from French creme puffs and chocolate eclairs to Bordelais pastries called canneles, traditional creme brulée and fresh fruits. My sugar coma awaited, and I indulged!!