For the sake of daydreaming, let us say you are headed to Paris for five days this May. It could still happen! You have time to make all the arrangements, and you know this has been on your bucket list for quite a while. COVID has loosened its stranglehold on international travel. And now we know better than to wait too long to make plans and get moving. The time is now. And Paris is a perfect place to head in May.
As you make your arrangements, plan to stay on the left bank, on or close to the Seine, preferably in a room with a view. Your optimum experience depends on your being able to move about easily and be right where you want to be when you walk out the door each day. To get around, plan to use the comfortable, glass domed Batobus (boat bus) instead of the Metro. You will be able to see much more from the river than you would from underground!
As your first peak experience, walk around the island across from your hotel, passing in front of Notre Dame, still undergoing restoration after the terrible fire in 2019. Circle the whole island, looking out and across the river to the right bank, then rounding the front tip and walking back along the left bank. Now you will start feeling more oriented. Stop in at the Flower Market as you pass it, both to smell the roses and to pick up five or six of the cunning little garden elves to bring home.
End your island walk at Saint-Chapelle, the ethereal treasure of Gothic architecture hailed as “one of the greatest architectural masterpieces of the Western world.” Worshipers in the Middle Ages considered this chapel to be a “gateway to heaven.” Once inside, you will be dazzled by color and light and surrounded by some of the loveliest stained glass in all the world, miraculously preserved for 770 years. Sitting beneath these towering windows is an experience you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
For your second peak experience, take the Batobus to the Orsay Museum, housed in the former train station built to serve the flood of visitors arriving in the city for the 1900 Paris Expo. As the Batobus completes its path along the right bank, then crosses the river and cruises back along the other side, be sure to watch for the small rendition of the Statue of Liberty on the little island. This was Frederick Bartholdi’s working model for the full-size Statue of Liberty that stands in New York Harbor. The sculptor created this 1/16-scale version in time for the 1900 Paris Expo.
Once inside the museum, be prepared for startlement as you happen upon one masterpiece after another. Monet’s Blue Water Lilies and Poppy Field. Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette. Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait and Starry Night. Cezanne, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec. Each new encounter is fully as amazing as the last.
To catch your breath, you will have made lunch reservations at the dazzling Restaurant d’Orsay, former dining room of the turn-of-century hotel that was once part of the train station. Look up and around. Take in the soaring frescoed ceilings… The towering mirrors… The glittering chandeliers… The elegant sculptures and decor… Imagine yourself back in the Golden Age as a guest at this hotel while you visited the Paris Expo with all its excitement and promises.
For your third peak experience, take the Batobus to the Louvre stop. Head straight to the iconic glass pyramid, and then inside to spend two hours here. Leave BEFORE exhaustion sets in. Imagine yourself as royalty-for-a-day. The Louvre is a former palace, crammed with art and sculpture that once upon a time only Kings and their guests ever got to see.
While here you will need a strategy! Follow a 12-Point Treasure Hunt that starts in the remains of the medieval fortress—the earliest part of the castle. Then progress to the Roman copies of Greek sculptures in the Salle des Caryatides. Next visit the Venus to Milo, then the royal apartments of the Sun King’s mother, Anne of Austria. Find the Cour du Sphinx, displaying an intricate mosaic from a fourth-century Roman villa. Then on to find Winged Victory, looming above you on the stairs. Next, visit the Sun King’s audience chambers, the Gallery of Apollo, with a vivid painting of Icarus flying too close to the sun at the entrance and venture into the Grand Gallery for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. Stop at the café on the Mollien staircase for a short break, then check out the Michelangelo Gallery. Finally, locate the sculpture courtyards in the Richelieu Wing, then the Medici Gallery, with Rubens’ multiple portraits of Marie de Medici, all commissioned by the Queen herself. And that, believe me, will be enough Louvre for one day. So, head outside to the Tuileries Gardens to relax and wander.
For your fourth peak experience, head up to Montmartre (“mont” means mountain). Take the funicular (not the 300! steps) up the hill to the Basilica and find a place to sit for a while, taking in all of Paris, spread out beneath your feet. Visit the artists’ square to watch artists at work and admire their creations. Then lunch under the multi-colored umbrellas atl’Eté en Pente Douce.
For your fifth peak experience, you will have saved your ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower. If you are feeling especially daring, ride all the way to the top. Then purchase a glass of champagne, white or pink, to celebrate both your courage and all the vivid memories you have made during your trip.
Carolee Duckworth is an avid traveler, an expert trip designer, and co-author (with son, Brian Lane) of Your Great Trip to France, Your Great 5-Day Trip to Paris, and others, available on Amazon.com.