Dubbed la ville lumiére (“City of Light”) Paris is forever thriving and maintains its position as the most popular tourist destination in the world. The abundance of iconic masterpieces and buildings coupled with a history of romantic inspiration sets the French capital in a league of its own. Unlike numerous other European destinations, the allure of Paris is not confined to a central frantic tourist playground but rather over spills over into the streets of all the twenty arrondissements, or districts. Away from the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower one encounters equally impressive yet majorly overlooked sights. It is here where travelers encounter the flipside of the ville lumiére – away from the bright lights of the city, intellectuals have sought enlightenment for centuries. Breathtaking views of the most beautiful city in the world, ancient masterpieces and buildings created by renaissance virtuosos that remain eternally intriguing await the eager explorer.
To gather your bearings upon arrival in Paris there are countless dynamic and even idiosyncratic tours on offer. One company that stands out is Fattire Bike Tours who offer a night bike ride of the city. The tour is €28 per person and covers all the main attractions in the dramatic in twilight hours.
After battling through the mêlée of the Metro crowds and enduring the colossal Louvre queues an escape from the frenzy can be found in the 20th arrondisement. Situated on the extreme Right Bank the premier attraction is the renowned Père -Lachaise Cemetery. Established in 1804 the cemetery now has a legendary status, thanks to its celebrity ‘residents’. Getting off the Metro at the side entrance on Line 3 allows visitors to enter facing Oscar Wilde’s art deco memorial and then proceed down the rest of the cemetery. Other residents include Edith Piaf, August Compte and Jim Morrison; the latter having a cult following that has caused tensions amongst families of nearby graves. The vast array of tales and myths associated with Père-Lachaise make it a thoroughly intriguing attraction; for example the memorial of Victor Noir, a journalist killed by Napoleon Bonaparte, depicts a partially aroused Noir and has since become a shrine of fertility!
Another institution bearing Parisian significance is the Sorbonne University. Equally famous for its prestigious reputation of excellence and the May 1968 student uprising depicted in The Beatles ‘Revolution’, the Sorbonne stands as a symbol of French intellectual revolutionaries. The relaxed college atmosphere leaks out into the Latin Quarter of the city with bistros blazed with lights lining the narrow cobbled streets. One jazz bar in particular, Aux Trois Mailletz, captures the campus atmosphere perfectly.
Within walking distance of the Sorbonne is the Pantheon. An awe-inspiring, crucifix shaped church, the Pantheon has become synonymous with the final resting place of France’s heroes; Voltaire, Victor Hugo (author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Louis Braille and most recently Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers. Dumas’ memorial is draped in a blue cloth inscribed with the immortal cheer ‘Un pour tous, tous pour un’ (“All for one, and one for all”).
Paris being the culinary capital of the world, it is essential to experiment with the local cuisine. Even the local eateries have their tales of famous clientele. Found at the St-Germain-de-Prés Metro stop, Les Deux Magots was frequented by the likes of Hemingway, Picasso and Sartre and oozes the quintessential French lifestyle. In a similar vein are the two restaurants Polidor, a home away from home for Joyce and Jack Kerouac, and Chartier, which claims to have “satisfied 50 billion bellies”.
Two final offerings lie on opposite sides of the Seine. The Jardin du Luxembourg can be found in the 6th arrondisement and epitomises French elegance and luxury. Ideal on a sunny day, the gardens, though often thronged with tourists, are idyllic surroundings for wasting an afternoon and observing the Palais du Luxembourg and Fontaine de Medicis. Montmartre is conversely located south of the Ile-de -Paris. Despite the central Place de Tertre being somewhat tainted by commercial influences the backstreets of Montmartre and Sacré-Coeur Basicalla are sights to behold. This is where the best view of the Parisian skyline can be obtained and where artists and alternatives gather to discuss life. Montmartre even has the red-light district Pigalle as a neighbour where the Moulin Rouge and the equally charming Sexodrome can be found.
Paris is a city steeped in historical revolution, while at the same time remaining fahionably à la minute,and continues to wear the scars and trophies of its luminaries. That so many of these somewhat lesser known attractions remain untouched is perhaps a testament to the oft-stereotyped tendency of Parisians to be uninviting to the throngs of tourists, keeping them firmly on the beaten track. The film Paris, Je t’aime, however is a testament to the charm to be found even in the locals. With 21 directors, 18 arrondissements and a cast of real people, it is a cinematic tribute to the City of Lights that highlights the true romanticism of Paris.