Holly Cave provides an insight on what the French capital has on offer for Groups
Paris may be the world’s greatest city. For first-timers, it’s packed full of legendary art, architecture and culture, and is home to icons such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. But this stylish and sophisticated city is ever-evolving and there’s always more to see for returning visitors. This relatively compact city is perfect for group travel and being able to access its outlying attractions – such as Giverny and Versailles – easily by road really opens up the possibilities.
C’est chic! The famous sights and attractions of Paris are recognised the world over, and are synonymous with laissez-faire elegance. A classic tour through the centre of the city will call in at Notre Dame, Place de la Concorde, the Opera House, the Arc de Triomphe, cruise down the wide avenue of the Champs Elysees and, of course, stop at the Eiffel Tower. Accessing the top of this iconic landmark is easy – take the lift or stretch your legs on the stairs – and special group rates are available for groups over 20. On a clear day, the panoramic views from the top are stunning. It’s open until 2300hrs and the atmosphere after dark is magical.
But stunning views aren’t hard to come by in Paris. A great spot to visit is the bohemian district of Montmartre, where famous artists once convened in its village streets. In the tree-shaded Place du Tertre, artists still gather to paint and draw local scenes and speedily capture the likeness of passers-by. Coaches can park at the bottom of the hill and it’s a short stroll up the cobbled streets or a funicular ride to the top, where the pearl-like Basilica of the Sacré Cœur gazes out over the city below. From here, see if you can spot the red windmill which marks out the legendary Moulin Rouge concert hall. Pop back later to catch the feathered showgirls dance the can-can.
The Seine is the lifeblood of Paris. A number of vessels large and small take visitors on its waters, from which so much of the city can be seen and fully admired. The river flows through 10 of the 20 arrondisements, or districts, passing the Notre-Dame cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Orsay Museum, The National Assembly building, Hotel des Invalides, the Grand Palais and the Palais de Chaillot.
A full Seine cruise travels beneath the 32 bridges, including the pretty Pont Neuf which has been immortalised in many paintings, stories and films over the years. Boats often pause here and the little island is a lovely spot on which to stretch your legs or simple soak up the sunshine on a summer’s day on the benches beneath the willows. You might also want to come back to the Pont des Arts after your cruise to enjoy the ‘Paris Beach’, where thousands of tons of imported sand, palm trees and beach chairs turn the riverbank into the French Riviera.
At night, the key sights and attractions become more obvious as they are illuminated with glittering lights. The statuesque Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité looks especially beautiful after dark. Take a river trip early in your stay and you’ll get a great understanding of the city’s layout and character before you delve deeper. When it comes to choosing a cruise, there are high-end lunch and dinner cruises – often with full orchestras and cabaret performances – hop-on hop-off boats tours and more specialised river excursions which take in the history of the area, or relate the views to well-known films and plays. If you are after something a little more active, there are many operators which combine a bicycle tour of the banks with some relaxation time aboard ship.
It’s easy to fall headlong into the historic romance of this city, without remembering that Paris is setting contemporary trends, too. Taking the time to seek out the 21st century attractions rewards you with a completely different perspective – and an insight into everyday life.
When it comes to art and architecture, pay a visit to La Grande Arche de la Défense and Centre Pompidou. The latter is homage to high-tech architecture, housing 50,000 works of modern art within its tubular steel walls. Exhibitions change regularly, with around 600 pieces on display at any one time. It’s not far from the Louvre, so juxtapose the two for a morning or afternoon of culture. Enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking the Seine in the expansive Tuileries Garden beside the Louvre. La Grande Arche de la Défense is a bold, modernist monument set in the midst of the Parisian equivalent of Canary Wharf – it is as far from the tree-lined avenues of Montmartre as you can get. Built in the late 1980s, it was designed as a monument to humanitarian ideals, acting as a counterpoint to the military might of the Arc de Triomph.
Watch office workers scurry by as you sip on a coffee at one of the cafes in the area, or wander through Les Quatre Temps mall – the largest shopping centre in Europe. However, when it comes to shopping in style, Galeries Lafayette is the only place to go. The gorgeous 10-storey Belle Epoque interior of this building, dating from the late 1800s draws many visitors. For a lot of visitors, this feels like the true essence of Paris; chic and decadent. The shops sell a wide range of high fashion and even gourmet food, and every Friday at 1500hrs there is a free fashion show on the seventh floor of the Coupole building. Fashion fiends will love spending a few hours at the little visited Docks en Seine. This modern redevelopment of the old riverside warehouses near Charles de Gaulle Bridge is marked out by its bright green external walkways. It is now a fashion and design centre, showcasing young designers in its programme of exhibitions, alongside an array of cafes, restaurants and bars, and comes into its own after sundown.
Visitors staying more than a couple of days might consider heading out to Versailles, just half an hour by coach from Paris. Explore the incredible opulence of the 17th century palace of Louis XIV where both inside and out, the venue’s lavishness makes it a jaw-dropping sight. A whole day will give you time to explore not only the palace and its gardens, but also the pink marble Grand Trianon and the Queen’s Hamlet, which was Marie- Antoinette’s rustic retreat from her tumultuous life in court. At weekends from the start of April until late October, visitors can enjoy the beautiful fountain display in which the jets of water move precisely in time to music. Move over, Las Vegas!
Monet’s gardens at Giverny (open April to November) are just 45 minutes by coach from Paris. The French Impressionist moved here with his family in 1883 and lived here until his death. He created his Séries of paintings here, which featured rural idylls of haystacks, cathedrals and water lilies from his garden pond. You can see many of these works of art in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Mesmerisingly beautiful, this village Esbjerg Amsterdam (IJmuiden) and the house and gardens from which Monet drew so much of his inspiration in his later life are well worth a wander. July and August are the best months in which to visit, as the famous water lilies will be in bloom. Access is easy: the coach park is just five minutes from the house, now called Fondation Claude Monet. If you have time, the neighbouring medieval village of Vernon is a hidden gem. As well as escaping the crowds of Giverny, visitors can explore the castle, cobbled streets and museum full of works by artists from the surrounding area, including Monet himself.
Markets of Paris
Spending an afternoon wandering the markets of the city is the perfect way to immerse you in the Parisian way of life. There are over 80 outdoor food markets alone, some of which are open daily and others which only appear on certain days of the week. Marché Place Monge is a favourite with Parisians, especially on Sundays. Many stalls sell produce from Paris itself and others sell ideal lunch items such as freshly roast chicken, local cheeses and charcuterie. Combine a visit to the Eiffel Tower with a browse of the stalls at the attractive Marché Saxe-Breteuil. It is located straight in front of the monument, which makes for a charming setting – one of the best in the city. As well as food, it also sells amazing fresh flowers, clothes and household goods. It is open on Thursday and Saturdays from early morning until mid-afternoon. The largest flea market is Clignancourt, which spills off the main road into alleyways and little squares. The varied stalls sell almost anything you could think of and wandering through it often seems more like visiting a museum than shopping. There’s plenty of parking on the edges of this sprawling market. As with all the markets, it’s best to head there first thing in the morning before the streets become too crowded.