Holly Cave explore the city’s arts scene and highlights the attractions guaranteed to give groups a warm bienvenue
Paris will always be the global heartland of the arts scene, eternally classic and always with one eye on the cutting edge of fashion. This alone makes the city a rich choice for a group trip, with a cultural tidbit for every taste and persuasion. The forthcoming summer months are a wonderful time to visit, with the warmer days casting uplifting sunlight over a cruise along the Seine or a wander along its banks. Enjoy a Baroque evening at the Petit-Palais, populated with characters that appear to jump out of the paintings on the walls or pay a visit to the Museum of Modern Art and the special open-air cinema housed in its courtyard. From June until October, the Palace of Versailles welcomes an exhibition of Anish Kapoor’s work and until August, there’s a wonderful Jeanne Lanvin retrospective at Palais Galliera for those with a penchant for fashion. All 14 museums in the ‘City of Paris Museums’ family offer reduced group rates.
Self-organised groups will appreciate the simplicity of the Paris Pass – a ‘one-stop shop’ card that gives the holder pre-paid access to over 60 of the city’s museums, galleries and famous monuments valid for two, four or six days’ worth of exploring.
It also allows fast-track entry into many venues, inner-city travel and a day’s hop-on hop-off bus tour. If you’ve got a lot planned, it may be worth investing in these for your group. There are some obvious places not to miss, such as the Louvre. This former royal residence is one of the biggest museums in the world and contains over 35,000 works of art, including Leonardo da Vinci’s famous masterpiece, the enigmatic Mona Lisa in Room Six. Groups must pre-book, but guided tours are optional. Note that only groups of up to 25 are allowed within the galleries and a flat admission rate is charged depending on party size. 90-minute guided tours in English are available most days and should be reserved well in advance. The Musee d’Orsay is also bursting with European artworks created in the 19th and 20th centuries, where prior group booking and at least a week’s notice are required. Groups are admitted Tuesday to Saturday. Excellent guided tours for up to 25 people cost €75 for one hour.
For sculpture, you shouldn’t miss Muse Rodin – the mansion where the famous French sculptor lived towards the end of his life. Both complete and unfinished works by Rodin and his pupil Camille Claudel are scattered around the rooms and gardens of this grand mansion. A special group rate of €5 per person applies for groups of 10-25.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
The lesser-known Musee Bourdelle is a real treat. It’s built around Antoine Bourdelle’s studio and apartment – an assistant of Rodin and teacher of Giacometti. Although not the most famous of local artists, a visit here really evokes the feeling of wandering through the life of a working artist. Even better, it’s free to visit the permanent collections. The Pompidou Centre is rather more on the avant-garde side of the art world, but is fast becoming a classic piece of history in its own right. 90-minute lectures really help everyone get to grips with the fantastic modern art on offer here. Groups must be booked at least three weeks in advance. More amazing contemporary art can be found across the city, often tucked away in some of the many independent galleries and collections. Here’s a tip: Cartier isn’t just about jewels. In 2014, the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain celebrated 30 years of exhibitions. Displays within the large glass and metal building – surrounded by gorgeous gardens – on Boulevard Raspail change regularly. Groups of 10 or more will need to book a fortnight in advance and guided tours can be arranged.
A LOOK BACK IN TIME
Those looking for some history mixed with art appreciation may like the eclectic objects and displays spread throughout the two furnished, panelled Marais mansions that form Musee Carnavalet. Items include oddities such as a Neolithic canoe, souvenir plates of the French Revolution, old shop signs and a fabulous art nouveau jeweller’s shop. If your time in the city of love is short, a hop-on, hop-off bus tour is actually an excellent way to get to grips with Paris. City Sightseeing Worldwide offers outstanding discounts for group travel, with good discounts depending upon the size of your group – reaching as far as 20% off for groups of 30-39 passengers. Its Paris partner, Big Bus Tours, calls in at all the key central attractions including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay, Galeries Lafayette, the Grand Palais and the Avenue des Champslysees, which stretches down from the Arc de Triomph war memorial. When it comes to accommodation, Paris excels in small boutique hotels, which are atmospheric but not especially suitable for sizeable groups travelling together. Yet, there are a few medium-sized hotels in the city centre that will be accommodating to larger parties. The Hutel de Vigny is a classically Parisian townhouse, with 37 rooms and off-street parking available. It’s centrally located just off the Champslysees, which also makes it accessible for public and private transport in and out of the city.
It receives excellent reviews from guests and the team there will happily help organise your group booking, offering special discounts for multiple room bookings.
If you’re looking for the trendy, boutique experience without straining the purse strings, the rooms at the Hutel des Academies et des Arts has 20 rooms from around €150 per night. It’s situated on the street that was once home to Gauguin and Modigliani and the artist’s model mannequin forms a recurring theme here. The small but perfectly formed rooms are on the theatrical side, with a decadent vibe to the decor. Contemporary art lovers will adore the stimulating atmosphere of the Artus Hutel, located in the historic heart of Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Evoking the spirit of the art galleries and antique shops in the streets surrounding it, this 27-room hotel is bursting with design flair and imaginative touches. They have a basement function room for group events and parties. From its front doors, it’s just a seven-minute walk to the Louvre and five minutes to Pont des Arts.
DINE OUT IN STYLE
Eating out for lunch on a set menu can often be a less pricey alternative to an evening meal and will also allow time to rest between museums and galleries. In the Latin Quarter a few streets south of the Seine, Au Bistrot de le Montagne specialises in catering for groups and serves up classic French cuisine. It wins rave reviews for the service and atmosphere, as traditional musicians often entertain diners.
Groups can choose from a set menu, with wine and drinks included in the price. If your group values beautiful surroundings, let the art tour of the city continue at Brasserie Bofinger, a gem of the Belle Epoque era. Steps away from the Place de la Bastille, an elegant stained glass cupola graces the dining room and the food more than matches up to the decor. The chef will happily create a menu for large groups in advance. Groups can be seated in different parts of the restaurant. The Salon des Continents seats 20-25, the Salon des Marqueteries has room for 30-50 and groups of up to 70 can enjoy the private surrounds of Salon Hansi. For a more casual affair, Little Breizh is a Breton-style creperie with large tables, huge portions and prices that won’t break the bank. Situated on Rue Gregoire de Tours, the sweet and savoury crepes and galettes are made to order and strong French cider is the drink of the day. Reservations can be made in advance and the café is a short five-minute walk from the Musee d’Orsay.
Paris is full of art history and incredible works of art – some of the best in the world.
If you have time, then consider a day trip a little further afield to Monet’s inspirational gardens at Giverny, which are open April to November. 45 minutes by coach from Paris, this was the French Impressionist’s home from 1883 until his death.
Coaches can park five minutes from the Fondation Claude Monet. Wander the grounds to see where the painter drew so much of his inspiration – in July and August you’ll see the famous water lilies that became a theme of his later works. Wherever you go in Paris, take a camera – or perhaps a sketchbook – to capture the grandiose sights and artistic atmosphere.