Things to Do in France - page 5
A sea of high-rise office towers and modern skyscrapers encompassing 1.6 square kilometers at the western tip of the city, La Défense is Paris' purpose-built business district -- a modernist showcase of Paris in the 20th century.
La Défense was developed back in the 1960s by then President Charles de Gaulle, in an effort to minimize the detrimental effect of office blocks taking over downtown Paris. Restricting building heights across the city center, the business district was pushed to the western end of the city’s 10km-long Historical Axis, which stretches between the Louvre, the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe.
A towering district of glass and steel structures and the largest dedicated business district in Europe, La Défense boasts a number of striking buildings, including the GAN Tower -- Paris' tallest skyscraper at 179 meters -- and one of Europe’s largest shopping malls, Les Quatre Temps.
Promenade Plantée’s well-manicured gardens, flowering shrubs and romantic views make it one of the most popular destinations for budget conscious travelers visiting the City of Lights. Athletic visitors jog along the 2.9-mile scenic pathway as the sun rises, and dozens of couples in love gather to watch in the evening as the sunsets over Paris streets.
The greenway winds through Viaduc des Arts, where interested travelers can explore high-end shops and exquisite galleries, or comb through handmade arts and crafts booths before relaxing into the urban oasis of Promenade Plantée’s incredible gardens.
Few places offer travelers the unique shopping experience of Viaduc des Arts. This restored railway station in the heart of Paris is home to a wide variety of local artisans, from cabinet-makers to textile artists, fashion designers to painters. Dozens of one-of-a-kind shops are tucked beneath the picture-perfect arches of this old-world train station, providing travelers with one of Europe’s most idyllic shopping experiences.After combing through the oddities and artwork of Viaduc des Arts, visitors can wander the gardens of nearby Paris’s Promenade Plantee—an elevated park just above the shops. Travelers agree this quintessential Paris walk is a must for anyone visiting the City of Lights.
Located on one of Paris’ two natural islands in the Seine river, the Palais de Justice is among the oldest surviving buildings of the former royal palace. The middle of three impressive buildings on the Île de la Cité (the other two are the medieval Gothic chapel Sainte Chapelle and the former prison the Conciergerie, which is now a museum), the Palais de Justice is notorious for its role during the French revolution, where more than 1,000 people (including Marie-Antoinette) were condemned to death before being imprisoned at the Conciergerie next door and executed on the guillotine.
Because the Palais is still used for judicial purposes today, visitors are not allowed to tour the premises. However, touring the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle is a great way to check out the Palais de Justice from the outside. Sainte Chapelle has an impressive collection of stained glass windows, and provides the closest look of the Palais de Justice available to the general public.
Paris is a city best explored with your taste buds, and nowhere is that more true that at Maison Berthillon, the city’s most famous ice cream and sorbet shop. The iconic luxury ice cream shop and tea room opened on Rue Saint Louis en l’Ile in 1954, and eager visitors have been queuing up outside ever since.
Visit on any given day (except during the summers when the shop is closed) and you’ll find 70-odd flavors of decadent ice creams and fruit sorbets, many that change with the season. The wild strawberry (fraises des bois) sorbet is particularly famous, as is the salted caramel (caramel au beurre sale) ice cream, but all are well worth the wait.
Pont de l’Alma is a Parisian bridge built in 1854 in commemoration of the Franco-British alliance’s victory over the Russian army during the Crimean War. The bridge underwent complete rebuilding in the 1970s in order to accommodate the rapidly increasing road and river traffic – only the statues were retained from the original structure. The arch bridge is now 42 meters large and 153 meters long, and links the right and left banks of the Seine River.
Pont de l’Alma offers splendid views of the Eiffel Tower and is often the go-to location for photographers wanting to capture Paris. What made the bridge a household name worldwide, however, is the role it played in Lady Diana’s death; indeed, she perished in a car crash at the entrance of the bridge’s tunnel in 1997. The Flame of Liberty at the bridge's north end has become an unofficial memorial to her memory.
Soaring dramatically over Annecy’s intact Old Town and set atop a rocky promontory, the medieval castle is a fine display of Savoyard defensive architecture as it was the princely residence of the Counts of Geneva between the 13th and 17th centuries; it was later on abandoned and served a military barracks until the end of World War II. Imagine yourself as a brave 14th century knight and try to identify the primitive keep, the gates, and the cellar rooms. Like many other fortresses elsewhere in Europe, the castle was considerably extended and given several upgrades throughout the centuries, both in terms of style and defensive purposes. The furniture, artworks, and accessories nowadays found inside the otherwise bare yet fascinating exhibition area are testament to these changes, and perfectly complemented by sections on contemporary Savoyard art and Lake Annecy’s eventful history.
Like most museums in Europe, the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris wasn't always an art space. As its name would imply, its original purpose in the 19th century was to house the orange trees away from winter weather. Later, it was used for just about everything from soldiers' quarters to sports to one-time exhibits. But it wasn't until 1922, when Nymphéas – known to the world as Monet's Water Lilies – found a permanent home in their specially designed, softly lit room.
But the Water Lilies aren't the only reason to stop in here on the way to Place Concorde after a stroll through the Tuilieries. There are also works by Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Cézanne and many others.
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Europe’s largest science museum and one of Paris’ most visited exhibition spaces, La Cite des Sciences et de L'lndustrie, or the City of Science & Industry, has been fascinating visitors with its hands-on exhibits since its inauguration in 1986.
An innovative edifice of glass and iron masterminded by architect Adrien Fainsilber, the museum’s shimmering façade sets the scene for a journey into the high-tech world of modern-day science. Set in the modern parklands of Parc de la Villette, Paris’ largest park, the City of Science & Industry is renowned for its pioneering exhibitions, covering everything from genetics to audio technology, and including an inventive Space exploration exhibit. Most impressive is the Cité des Enfants, aimed at children from 2-12 years, where an incredible range of child-friendly installations offer interactive demonstrations allowing children to operate robots, experiment with water conductivity and broadcast ‘news’ footage on a live television.
The Musée National du Moyen Age - Thermes et Hote de Cluny is widely known as Musée de Cluny, after its home in the Gothic Hôtel de Cluny in the fifth arrondissement. Its two buildings house the Thermes de Cluny, cold-water pools dating back to Roman times; there is also the “Column of the Boatman,” originally discovered underneath Notre Dame and is the oldest-known sculpture in Paris.
The actual museum includes the iconic “The Lady and the Unicorn” that is the iconic example of medieval tapestry work. Also of note are the “illuminated manuscripts,” intricately decorated documents laden with gold and silver paints that make them appear as if they are lit from within.
Paris is full of art and antiquities – Greek, Roman, Renaissance, Modernist, painting, sculpture – after a while it can all become a bit overwhelming. The Musee du Quai Branly offers an alternative.
For starters, MQB as it’s known is a relative newcomer to the museum-scene of Paris. It opened in 2006 in a newly designed building by award-winning architect Jean Nouvel, alongside the River Seine and close to the Eiffel Tower. Its other point of difference is that its focus is on indigenous cultures, their arts, cultures and civilizations: Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, bringing together several collections under one roof and with an emphasis on education and cultural understanding. The museum has around 300,000 items and at any one time displays around 3500 of them in changing displays and themed exhibitions. With rotating exhibitions and temporary installments there is always something interesting.
French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix moved into a studio on Rue de Furstenberg on Dec. 28, 1857, and lived there until his death in August of 1863. After his death, a group of painters and art collectors created the Friends of Eugene Delacroix Society (Société des Amis d’Eugène Delacroix) in order to save his former flat from destruction. The society purchased the building in 1952 and donated it to the French government for use as a museum two years later.
Musee Eugene Delacroix opened as a national museum in 1971 and today showcases paintings from nearly every stage of Delacroix’s career (most famously Magdalene in the Desert), as well as his furniture, souvenirs brought back from a trip to Morocco and personal items. A downloadable mobile app in English includes a free guide to the museum collection.
Spread over an incredible 2,400 acres (that's around 3 times the size of New York's famous Central Park), the public park of Bois de Vincennes (Vicennes Wood) has been offering Parisians welcome respite from the urban bustle since the 12th century. Originally designed by Baron Haussman as a royal hunting ground for Louis VII, the collection of lakes and woodlands also form part of the grounds of the 14th-century Chateau de Vincennes.
Earning the nickname of the 'Lungs of Paris,' the park offers a seemingly endless stretch of greenery on the cusp of the city, with a vast network of walking, cycling and horseback riding trails spanning over 32km, as well as a number of attractions. Popular highlights include the Daumesnil Lake, where you can take a scenic boat trip out to the two islets; the Bois de Vicennes Buddist Temple, with its pretty wooden pavilion and towering Buddha statue; and the Lac des Minimes, where a footbridge leads out to the island restaurant.
Europe has no lack of Picasso museums, but the Musée Picasso in Paris should be at the top of your list. The Hotel Salé, a mid-17th-century home in Le Marais, was renovated from residence to museum, starting in 1968, and since then has developed a world-class collection of more than 3,000 of Picasso's works spanning his entire, prolific career.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was the outstanding genius of 20th-century art: he painted, drew, and otherwise created from his early youth until his death at the age of 91. Much of his prolific and prodigious legacy can be found in the wonderful Musée Picasso.
The Spanish-born artist spent a great deal of his life in Paris, and while this museum may not hold his big name works, it does offer the most complete overview of his oeuvre, and highlights his playfulness and humor. Tucked away in the chic Marais neighborhood, the museum is housed in the Hôtel Salé, a wonderfully restored 17th-century mansion.
French Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) spent the last years of his life alone in a small provincial house he’d purchased in 1852. Since he had no family to pass along his artwork to, he decided to bequeath his estate and all the paintings and drawings found within to the state of France.
Today, this former private home serves as a museum for Moreau’s work. Set up by Moreau himself and opened in 1903, the museum showcases the artist’s private collection of family portraits, souvenirs and personal mementos on the first floor and his paintings, inspired by fantastical scenes from Greek mythology and the Bible in the light-filled studios on the top two floors. Six rooms on the ground floor, previously closed to the public, were recently opened after extensive renovation and offer a look at life during the nineteenth century.
The Musée Nissim de Camondo is more of a portal into the past than it is your run-of-the-mill museum. It is housed in the Hôtel Camondo, not a hotel but a home built in 1911 in the style of the Petit Trianon at Versailles on the strict instructions of its owner, Comte Moïse de Camondo. Comte Camondo was a Parisian banker with a penchant for 18th-century art and furniture, and his home was a kind of showcase for his extensive collection. Today the Musée Nissim de Camondo is kept just as it was when he lived there, and it's a fascinating tour of life in the early 1900s as well as French design in the 1700s.
The Museum of Jewish Art and History opened its doors in 1998. The collection, buoyed by the inheritance of a private collection from rue des Saules, traces the history and culture of Europe’s Jewish communities from the Middle Ages to the present, with highlights that include a torah ark from the Italian Renaissance, a Dutch torah scroll from the 1600s, a German menorah crafted from gold and silver, documents from the Dreyfus scandal and an exhibit dedicated to presenting what life was like for a Jewish residents of Paris in 1939.
The museum is housed within the Hotel de Saint-Aignan, a magnificent mansion built between 1644 and 1650 for the Count of Avaux. The building, considered one of the most beautiful private mansions in Paris, served as a government building and commercial space before it was purchased by the city of Paris in 1963.
The Musée des Arts et Métiers (The Museum of Arts and Crafts) should be well-known to fans of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum – it is here that the device that first showed how the earth rotates is housed.
But there's so much more to this museum. It's like a mix between an inventor's lab and an explorer's secret hideaway. You can see all kinds of tools and technology from throughout the centuries – making your current technology look even more like a dream from the future!
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