Ah the Côte d’Azur, also known as the French Riviera, is truly a place for the rich and famous to show off their wealth along the Mediterranean coast. With 300 days of sunshine a year it is the perfect spot to hit the beach or ‘park your yacht’ if that’s how you role. We stayed in Nice and toured around the area via bus, including driving part of the old Formula One track. We were most amazed by the unnecessary amount of wealth situated in the Principality of Monaco. Monaco has the world’s highest per-capita GDP and is an independent state surrounded by France. The hotel beside the Monte Carlo casino in Monaco costs 40,000 euro per night for the top floor, in case you were planning on staying the night. They even placed crystals in one of the tunnels road so it would sparkle as you drove through it.
What started out as a humble hunting lodge built by Louis XIII is now one of the greatest achievements in French Art of the18th-century. What is seen today are the transformations done by his son Louis XIV when he moved the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Château de Versailles is a must see when visiting France and only half an hour from Paris by train. The first Sunday of the month is also free entry. If I lived nearby I would go every chance I could just to walk through the gardens!
The gardens are just as beautifully crafted as the palace. When Louis XIV commissioned the gardener with the design and layout of the gardens he said they are to be treated just as importantly as the Château. Let’s just say the gardener sure did meet the brief! The gardens took forty years to complete as they had to lay out the flower beds, the Orangerie, the fountains and the Canal where there were once only trees, grasslands and marshes.
Hidden away in the gardens is Marie-Antoinette’s estate and it truly is an escape. Its very rural and cottage like, yet it still feels like something out of a fairytale. The contrast between the royal wealth and art of the palace to the cottage rustic feel of her estate is amazing and makes the experience of visiting Château de Versailles fulfilling and complete. No one could come here without an invitation from Marie-Antoinette herself. Here we saw ducks swimming around in the ponds, fish and even an otter.
It takes a full day to walk through the gardens, Marie-Antoinette’s estate, the Grand Apartments of the King and Queens, the Hall of Mirrors and the battle hall wing. There is so much to stand in awe of from the detailing on the floors, the marble walls, the furniture and of course the paintings and carvings on the ceilings.
Montmartre is a beautifully historic neighbourhood in Paris where you can wander the cobble stone streets, and unlike many other neighbourhoods in Paris, you can’t get lost here. Whenever feeling a little doubtful about the direction you are going, as long as you are heading uphill you are going the correct way. At the top of the hill is the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur that pokes through all the buildings and is even visible from the apartment we are staying at.
Walking tours are great in this area. We started our tour at Moulin Rouge where friends reserved tickets for a show the following night. From there we started to walk uphill and along Rue des Abbesses. Rue Tholoze intersects with this street and from here you can see the top of a windmill and Studio 28, the first proper art-house cinema in Paris. The windmill is actually a restaurant and names Le Moulin de la Galette after a dance hall that was once there. Many artists will swarm you as you get closer to the top, and although they are talented, be sure to keep walking unless you really want a self-portrait done.
At the top was Sacre-Coeur, the area’s most recognizable landmark. From here you get a fabulous view of the city and realize just how high up you really are. The tip of the church is at a higher point than the top of the Eiffel Tower. The stone is frost-resistant and actually bleaches with age to white. It definitely stands out among other older buildings in Paris.
I just had the best birthday of all birthdays! It all started the day before leaving to go to Paris while shopping with friends on Carnaby Street. We went into my favourite shoe store Irregular Choice where David proceeded to ask me if I wanted my birthday present early this year. He then went on to say I could pick out any pair of shoes in the entire store for our trip to Paris! I was so happy I teared up a little.
I had my actual birthday in Paris and were fortunate enough to celebrate it with good friends from back home who were traveling with us. They made David and I some breakfast in the morning then we went to the Arc de Triomphe. I didn’t know much about why it was so famous or where the name came from but in shortest terms this originally began construction in 1806 as a glorification of Napoleon and his army. Napoleon said to his soldiers in the Grande Armee, the French army at the time,”You will return home through arches of triumph” after the Austerlitz victory in 1805. Unfortunately for Napoleon, he lost the battle of Waterloo in 1815 and that ended the building project. It later resumed in 1826 and was completed in 1836, not long after his death. The Arc is more of a memorial as the names of battles during that time are listed with generals who took part in them. The ones that have their names underlined died in battle.
From here we walked down Champs-Élysées and stopped at the Ladurée for some of their famous macaroons, pastries, hot chocolate and coffee. The branding in this place is outstanding, and everything is high quality right up to the paper hand towel you use in washroom! I had a selection of mini macaroons; caramel, chocolate, coffee and pistachio flavour. They were crisp of the outside and perfectly smooth in the middle. The story of the Ladurée macaroon actually starts with a guy named Pierre Desfontaines who decided to take the two macaroon shells and join them together with ganache filling. I never knew this but the macaroons are left aside for 2 days before they put them on sale to achieve ultimate balance between texture and flavour. I can’t wait to try making my own! My favourite was the pistachio, I even bought a larger one to eat later on.
After filling ourselves up with pastry goodness we walked down to the Eiffel Tower. The very top of it was closed so we went up half the way and could see the entire city! I love heights, and had no problem with it, however if you do not like heights I recommend not going up. Later on in the evening we went to Le Refuge des Fondues and had a blast! The place is fun and we had a reservation so didn’t have to wait in the line up out the door. The ladies all have to climb over the tables to get to the other side where they sit, so note the length of your dress and height of heels if you choose to visit here. Here’s a video of our friend trying to get across the table.
The fondue I thought was great, we had meat and cheese. The wine is also served in spill proof baby bottles. With the tables so close together, they have to be. The walls were all written on, as well as displaying bills of money from travelers all over the world, and you chatted with whoever was sitting next to you. It was lots of fun and I highly recommend going to this place with friends while in Paris. It is located in Montmartre, a beautiful area to begin with.