|Paris Travel Guide|
Arc de Triomphe
Since 1920, the body of an unknown soldier from WWI taken from Verdun in Lorraine has lain beneath the arch, his fate and that of countless others like him commemorated by a memorial flame rekindled each evening around 6:30pm. France's national remembrance service is held here annually on Nov 11th.
From the viewing platform on top of the arch (284 steps), you can see the 12 avenues - many of them named after illustrious generals - radiating toward every part of Paris.
Tickets are sold in the underground passageway - the only sane way to reach the base of the arch - that surfaces on the even-numbered side of Ave des Champs-Élysées.
Bois de Boulogne
People over 60 can get in for free, which says a lot about the French sense of humour. The tunnels, which were used by the Résistance during WWII as a headquarters, are south of the Seine.
Cathédrale Notre Dame
Although Notre Dame is regarded as a sublime architectural achievement, there are all sorts of minor anomalies, as the French love nothing better than to mess with things. These include a trio of main entrances that are each shaped differently, and which are accompanied by statues that were once coloured to make them more effective as Bible lessons for the hoi polloi. The interior is dominated by a 7800-pipe organ that was restored but has not worked properly since.
It's well worth the effort of climbing the 387 steps of the north tower. This will bring you to the top of the west facade and face to face with many of the cathedral's most frightening gargoyles, which enjoy a spectacular view of Paris.
The design of the Pompidou has drawn critical comment since construction began in 1972. To keep the exhibition halls uncluttered, the architects put the building's 'insides' on the outside, with each duct, pipe and vent painted its own telltale colour: elevators and escalators are red, electrical circuitry yellow, plumbing green and air-conditioning blue.
After a massive renovation during 1998-99 the center has a stunning reworked facade on the west side, an expanded exhibition space, and a new cinema, restaurant and cybercafé - plus new facilities for dance, theatre, CD and video.
Two floors are dedicated to exhibiting some of the 40,000-plus works of the Musée Nationale d'Art Moderne, France's national collection of 20th-century art. The top floors have a magnificent view of Paris, and place George Pompidou below attracts street performers, musicians and artists.
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
One of the most popular graves is that of rock star Jim Morrison of The Doors, who died in an apartment on Rue Beautreillis (4e) in the Marais in 1971.
The cemetery has four entrances, two of them on Blvd de Ménilmontant. Newsstands and kiosks in the area sell a detailed map, 'Plan Illustré du Père Lachaise'.
Two-hour, English-language tours are run on Saturday at 3pm Jun-Sep. French-language tours, are run most Saturdays at 2:30pm.
Initially opposed by the city's artistic and literary elite - who were only affirming their right to disagree with everything - the tower was almost torn down in 1909. Salvation came when it proved an ideal platform for the antennas needed for the new science of radiotelegraphy. Just southeast of the tower is a grassy expanse that was once the site of the world's first balloon flights and is now used by teens as a skateboarding arena or by activists bad-mouthing Chirac.
When you're done peering upward through the girders, three levels are open to the public. There are elevators to the top but they have long queues. You can avoid the queues by walking up the stairs in the south pillar to the 1st or 2nd platforms. Guided visits are also available.
It thus fills the chronological gap between the Louvre and the Musée National d'Art Moderne at the Centre Pompidou. The museum is austerely housed along the Seine in a former railway station built in 1900 and reinaugurated in its present form in 1986.
Musée du Louvre
To make your journey through the collection more enjoyable, pick up one of the useful map-guides and check out the works you really want to see, concentrating on only a couple of sections of the museum.
The most famous works from antiquity include the Seated Scribe, the Jewels of Rameses II and the armless duo - the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo. From the Renaissance, don't miss Michelangelo's Slaves, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and works by Raphael, Botticelli and Titian. French masterpieces of the 19th century include Ingres' La Grande Odalisque, Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa and the work of David and Delacroix.
The former fortress began its career as a public museum in 1793 with 2500 paintings; now some 30,000 are on display.
The Grand Louvre project has breathed new life into the museum with many new and renovated galleries now open to the public. To avoid queues at the pyramid, buy your ticket in advance and/or enter through the underground shopping mall.
Place des Vosges
Consecrated in 1248, Sainte Chapelle was built to house what was believed
to be Jesus' crown of thorns and other relics purchased by King Louis
IX. The chapel's exterior can be viewed from across the street, from the
law courts' magnificently gilded 18th-century gate, which faces Rue de
Égouts de Paris
Île de France
The charming city of Arles is renowned for its Roman remains, its houses with their striking red barrel-tiled roofs, and its shady, twisting alleys so narrow you'd be hard pressed to swing a cat there.
These days Biarritz is best known for its fine beaches and world-class surfing. Its sights are compactly arranged; if you're in Bayonne, it's easy to come over for a day-trip and see everything of interest.
Cannes has just one museum and, since its speciality is ethnography, the only art you are likely to come across is in the many pretty galleries scattered around town. Still, the harbour, the bay, the hill west of the port called Le Suquet, the beachside promenade, the beaches and the people sunning themselves provide more than enough natural beauty.
Not to be missed is the Aigulle du Midi, a solitary spire of rock several kilometres from the summit of Mont Blanc that stretches across glaciers and snow fields. Easily accessible, the views from the top are postcard-perfect. A further treat is a trans-glacial ride on the world's highest téléphérique (cable car), which stops en route at skiing and hiking destinations. The Mer de Glace is the second-largest glacier in the Alps. It measures 14km (9 mi) long, 1800m (5900ft) wide and is up to 400m (1315ft) deep. For a better look at the glacier from the inside, you can tour an ice cave that is carved anew each spring. There is also a train that ascends to an altitude of 1915m (6275ft) and a number of uphill trails, but traversing the glacier is dangerous and should not be done without proper equipment and a guide.
Other activities in and around Chamonix include mountain biking, parasailing, ice-skating and screaming down a spit-shined summer luge track. The Swiss town of Martigny is only 40km (25mi) north of Chamonix, should you wish to border hop for watch repairs or chocolate.
Château de Chambord
Begun in 1519, its Renaissance flourishes may have been inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, who lived nearby from 1516 until his death three years later. Construction of the chateau, during which François unsuccessfully suggested the rerouting of the Loire River so it would be nearer to his new abode, took 15 years and several thousand workers, although the king died wizened and drooly before the building's completion.
Inside is a famed double-helix staircase that buxom mistresses and priapic princes chased each other up and down, when not assembled on the rooftop terrace to watch military exercises, tournaments and hounds and hunters returning from a day's deerstalking. From the terrace you can see the towers, cupolas, chimneys, mosaic slate roofs and lightning rods that comprise the chateau's imposing skyline.
Saint Malo and the North Coast
The port of St-Malo is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Emerald Coast. It is famed for its walled city, acessible beaches and one of the highest tidal ranges in the world. However, it is not the region's only gem; the Coast is studded with small towns that tempt their own share of eager visitors.
Among Sarlat's architectural treasures is the Cathédrale Saint Sacerdos, originally part of the Benedictine abbey. Higgledy-piggledy in style, most of the present structure dates from the 17th century. Behind the cathedral is the town's first cemetery, containing the Lantern of the Dead, a 12th-century tower built to commemorate St Bernard, who visited in 1147 and whose relics were given to the abbey. The town's other main focus is the Saturday market. Depending on the season, foie gras, mushrooms, truffles, trussed-up geese and sheep's heads with rheumy eyes are traded among a racket of vendors and spectators.
Sarlat also makes an excellent base for trips to the nearby Vézère Valley, which is peppered with nearly 200 prehistoric sites, including the Lascaux cave, thought to have been the site of a hunting cult where magical rites were performed. Discovered in 1940, this capacious labyrinth holds a number of 15,000-year-old doodles and paintings of bulls, horses and reindeer. There are other painted caves in the area, but Lascaux is sans pareil. Unfortunately, the exhalations of enthusiastic rock-watchers caused a carbon-dioxide fungus to cover the paintings; visitors today are restricted to a precise cement replica of the painted original, sealed off just a few hundred metres away.
Toulouse rewards the wanderer. Its small, 18-century Old Quarter is a maze of narrow lanes and plazas in which to get happily lost. Its River Garonne is peaceful by day and romantic by night, when the Pont Neuf is floodlit. Stumble across grand churches, fine art and handsome 16th-century mansions.
Corsica isn't called l'îsle de beauté (the island of beauty) for nothing. The delicately-shaded capital, Ajaccio, is a shrine to its famous native son Napoleon. The rest of the island is like a miniature continent, with marshes, mountains, coastline and a small uninhabited desert.
Grasse and its surrounds produce some of France's most highly prized flowers, including lavender, jasmine, centifolia roses, mimosa, orange blossom and violets. In springtime, the green-fingered should take a stroll around Jardin de la Villa Noaille. Of the 40 perfumeries, only three are open to the public.
Lampaul is the main village of the island, but it is only a tiny huddle; the most interesting things to do here are to visit the phares (lighthouses) and to walk along the island's rocky coastline.
Vézelay's focal point is the Basilique Sainte Madeleine, a former abbey church that was founded in the 9th century. During the Middle Ages, it housed what were believed to be the relics of St Mary Magdalene, which ensured a steady stream of pilgrims on her saint's day, 22 July. This tradition continues, and every year celebrations include a procession in which the relics are paraded around town. Magnificently restored, the church features a tympanum that is considered a masterpiece of Burgundian-style Romanesque architecture, grotesque carvings, sculpted capitals and an enormous nave. Behind the basilica is a park that has wonderful views of the Cure River valley and nearby villages, while walks in almost any direction will deposit you in rural loveliness.
Vézelay is 15km (9mi) from Avallon, 51km (31mi) from Auxerre, and lies within the Parc Naturel Régional du Morvan.
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