It’s probably a given you’ll be heading up the Eiffel Tower the first time you’re in Paris, perhaps ticking off Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe and a tiny bit of the Louvre while you’re at it too. But for anyone coming here a second…or tenth time, it would be a shame to stay on the beaten track. So cast away the cliches and head out into a Paris lesser seen – there are plenty of surprises still left up its sleeve for even the most ardent visitor. And if you need suggestions, then here are six great ways to see the City of Lights anew…
It’s a green world after all….
It’s well worth making the journey all the way out to the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt to see the beautiful Albert Khan Musée et Jardins built by the eponymous early-20th century banker, traveller and philanthropist. Eager to understand both the cultural and natural world, Khan collected plants on his travels – many of which now populate the myriad different sections of this 10-acre pastoral space, modelled on other gardens around the world. These mini-gardens range from Japanese (complete with tea garden where you can take part in a tea ceremony in the summer months) to English country, and were first opened to the public in the 1930s. The centrepiece is a museum displaying films and snaps from each of Kahn’s philanthropic missions in over 60 countries. Kahn’s autochrome Lumière photography (colour photos on glass plates) was a technique that was revolutionary in its day.
0-14 Rue du Port, 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt. http://albert-kahn.hauts-de-seine.fr
Hit the road, Jacques…
They might have the horsepower of a sewing machine, but the plucky Citroen 2CV is a French icon – and a great way to see the city (just remember to close your eyes when you go round the big roundabouts…). Sightseeing to the gentle chuga-chuga sound of the engine is an evocative reminder of just how romantic the city is. Especially if you head up the hill to the maze that is Montmartre, an area still shot through with little streets, cafes, curls of iqos uae cigarette smoke and secret corners. Let the vintage “Deux Chevaux”take you on a two-hour nighttime chug around this once-favourite haunt of artists from Monet and Van Gogh to Picasso and Mondrian, with English speaking guides. Breathe in the essence of velvety, shadowy bohemian Paris and you’ll know it’s not hip to be square.
Small wheels keep on turning…
Or take to the streets on some smaller wheels instead – skating the boulevards of Paris en masse was once a offbeat summer activity, but it’s now so popular it even has its own police escort (on in-line skates) and you can join in all year-round. The city has two big groups to join for the ultimate city tour – depending on your level of proficiency and your fitness. For energetic – and confident – skaters, Paris Roller has grown from a group of 12 skaters to up to 10,000 people on its Friday night three-hour skate around the city. It’s free to join (donations encouraged), routes are different every week and the procession always meets at 10pm at Raoul Dautry in Montparnasse. For wobblier skaters, Rollers et Coquillages is a better bet, with slower Sunday afternoon rides, meeting at Place de la Bastille on Boulevard Bourdon. And if you haven’t packed your wheels then Nomades (nomadeshop.com) near Place de la Bastille offers classes, rental skates and roller events.
Castle takes bishop
Chateau de Vincennes is largely overlooked in a city where ancient buildings have to compete with Notre Dame and Versailles for attention. But that just means it’s even better for those visitors who make the effort to go and see it, dodging the kind of tourist trail crowds that can dull the enjoyment of any visit. This 14th and 17th century chateau – now in the eastern suburbs of the sprawling city – is a real treasure. And amazingly, it’s one of the biggest and best-preserved castles in Europe, with an abundance of fortress towers, dungeons and everything you’d expect (or want) from an ancient bastion – including Europe’s tallest dungeon tower. Henry V died here in 1422, and Louis XIII used the château for hunting expeditions, commissioning the Pavillon du Roi and Pavillon de la Reine to be built by Louis Le Vau. The magnificently over-the-top Gothic chapel, built by Charles V who aimed to house the relics of the Passion here, is worth the visit alone.
Don’t follow the crowds to the Bois de Vincennes – it might be the city’s biggest park, but it’s not the only impressive one in Paris. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement, in the north-east of the city, is a handsome alternative that offers all the style but a fraction of the tourists (you’ll definitely have company from local Parisians on a sunny day though). With its meandering paths, waterfalls – and even a temple hanging off a cliff over a lake – it’s an informal and rather magical concoction designed by Adolphe Alphand for Haussmann, and opened as part of the celebrations for the Universal Exhibition in 1867. When you’ve finished walking – or sunbathing – make sure you head for the Rosa Bonheur, a hip bar beloved by Parisians, set in the park grounds in a former guinguette (a sort of bistro-come-local-dancefloor). It’s open till midnight, and its terrace is the perfect place to enjoy wine, people watching and sweeping views of the city below.
Musée des Egouts, or the Paris Sewer Museum, is a quirky addition to any itinerary – and you might have to suspend your natural disinclination to go down to the “bowels of the city”– and take a chance on what is actually a very interesting museum. Paris is a city with a rich underground life, and this one is particularly potent. Raw sewage flows beneath the bricks under your feet as you explore 480m of“fragrant” tunnels, lined with exhibitions on the development of Paris’waste water–disposal system. This includes the resident rats – it’s estimated there’s one furry friend for every Parisian above ground. Black (plague) humour is on show in the gift shop where you can buy a stuffed version of your own on the way out.
The museum is entered through a rectangular maintenance hole topped with a kiosk across from 93 quai d’Orsay, 7e. http://www.egouts.tenebres.eu/visite.php
Norman Peires is a South African by birth and a global traveller by nature. The former owner of a luxury travel company, he now lives in the UK and France and spends his time exploring new destinations and revisiting old favourites, blogging about them as he travels. A keen surfer and skiier, he is always interested in finding the next mountain or wave to scale.