I've already written about Dijon, Beaune and Burgundy, all quickly accessible from Paris (about 1-1/2 hours) on the TGV. You can actually go to the real south of France in less than 2-1/2 hours. I'm posting a few photos of Avignon, where I've spent substantial research time. Avignon is one of the remaining walled cities from the Middle Ages, and the papal palace, where the popes lived during the Avignon papacy during 70 years in the 14th C., takes up most of the city (a very cultural place with great restaurants, music, film festivals, etc.) as you can see in the first photo taken from the Pont d'Avignon, famous for its children's song dating from the time of the Plague: Sur le pont d'Avignon, on y dance, on y danse... The Petit Pont leads over to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon. It was part of France in the 14th C., whereas Avignon was owned by Queen Joanna of Naples till she sold it to the pope to be absolved of the gruesome murder of her husband at the time of the plague. It used to be thought the Kings of France orchestrated the Avignon Papacy but that has been shown to be false, except for its first pope, Clement V, who took over there after the whole papal curia escaped to Avignon following the shenanigans of Pope Boniface VIII. He had forced his predecessor, a monkish sort named Celestine V who had never wanted to be pope, to abdicate and then probably murdered him. Boniface was a jerk, and Dante, a contemporary, placed him in Inferno. His high-handed actions of claiming papal supremacy over all of Europe led to his papal palace near Rome being sacked and burned and he died a few months later. The courtiers (and popes) chose not to stay in the volatile environment of Rome, and escaped to the papal enclave, which then turned from a town of maybe 20,000 people to a major place because that's where poets and artists came for patronage.
The second is part of the Papal Palace, which is huge, and started in the 1320s. I got to visit what is called the "Palais Secret" (Secret Palace), not because it is truly secret, but because it is closed to the public except for tours in France. Since I'm doing a book on Avignon, I got in on it, and it takes you through the oldest parts of the palace (with no elevators, no restrooms, but remains of the papal latrines and gyms. The roof showing the angel was taken from one of the highest points. Then a short trip away is the Pont-du-Gard, the Roman Aqueduct, and the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, home of my favorite wines in the world (which you can also buy in the papal palace gift shop.
Thanks, pained platinum! I actually have done day trips to Avignon, but that was for research where I left early in the morning and got back to Paris fairly late. It's too amazing a city and region just to spend one day there, but if you're on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Paris, it's well worth even a long day. After all, I did the same (having to take flights) in Egypt with Luxor and Turkey with Ephesus.
Beautiful Post, Professor. I too have come to love Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. Also those from Gigondas, though it is rare that I have occasion to drink either. I only thought I liked wines from the Bordeaux region until I discovered these. I still love Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, though. Good French wine is hard to come by in my city, so it's just as well that I live in CA where we produce some really great stuff with fairly reasonable pricing. (Sssh, I could never get into German wines, though last year I did drink a couple of different whites from Austrian vines that weren't bad.)
Some friends of a friend have two really cute apartments for nightly and weekly rent in Avignon. As soon as I can gather the info, I'll post it here.
OMG, just the mention of Châteauneuf and Gigondas gives me goose bumps. I love the whole Côte du Rhône region (most of its wines are what I buy at home because they're affordable) but Châteauneuf is amazing. It's funny because when I bought two wines in the papal palace gift store one was pope Clement VI, one of my favorite medieval popes. He's a study in contrasts, because he said his predecessors did 'not know how to be pope,' enlarged the papal palace, decorated its rooms with hunting scenes and hosted soirées with his niece Cécile de Turenne (and supposedly his 'nieces and nephews' had the run of the palace, apostrophes emphasized). He admitted in his will, which I read at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, that he couldn't get over his love for women. But at the time of the plague he stayed in Avignon against the advice of his physician (the best of his day) to lead processions and eventually consecrate the Rhône River as a burial site once all the places in the city were used up. Ingenious, if not hygienic.
And Gigondas, oh my gosh -- you can buy it reasonably in any Paris supermarché, but finding it here (even not in Maine, where everything is impossible to get), but I love it!
Since you have friends in Avignon, please advertise it! There are no Marriotts nearby, so no conflict. It is an amazing city, which can be 60-70 in January if you hit it the right year or get the mistral and 12 - 20 inches of snow overnight. My luck has been good. In the summer it is an amazing cultural experience, and Marseilles, Arles, Nîmes, and Orange are nearby - also on the TGV.
I can get French wine pretty easily in Maine (even Châteauneuf, though only a couple of varietals and only in summer) at one place in Waterville. I mostly rely on my favorite Chilean wines, since I'm a red wine person. I find Casilleros del Diablo's cabernet and carmenere excellent, and because of my arthritic problems (this is horrific for a wine person because I am finding it impossible to use a corkscrew because of my arm and hand pain) -- I have found Chilean 120 carmenere and cabernet to be quite good. They have screw off tops, which embarrasses me to admit, but the wine is good and the pain is less.
Going generic, I mostly prefer cabernets (which would be Bordeaux for the most part), but I think that is only because I can't afford the 'big' Burgundies. When I've tried them at the wine cellars in Beaune, I have loved the good ones -- but not at a price. And the white Burgundies are very good too, as you say.
Another easy day trip from Paris would be to the Loire Valley (as you know). I have not done any wine tasting there, but did visit some terrific castles. These three are located close to Blois and are only about a two hour drive from Paris.
Chateau de Chenonceau
Château de Cheverny
Château de Chambord
The grounds of each castle are stunning. A really fun way to spend a day in France.
Pained, oh yes, indeed! Though Chambord is not furnished, but quite amazing nonetheless. And though it cost an immense treasure to build (François I built it as a hunting lodge, but also to show off his immense wealth), he lived in it barely 7 weeks. The massive windows, open rooms and high ceilings made it impractical to live in, as it was difficult to heat.
Chenonceau and Cheverny are both furnished and offer inside tours. Cheverny is still owned and operated by the original family. They also have a wonderful kennel of hunting dogs, and it's really delightful to watch them at feeding time.
I'll start from the easiest in the Loire Valley, where a train will do -- that's the castle of Amboise and Clos Lucé, where Francis I managed to convince Leonardo da Vinci to move to France to stay in the last year of his life. (Francis didn't know that.) But Clos Lucé is filled with almost real-size versions of his drawings and inventions.
Great pictures, Prof!!!
By the way, in case I missed it above, Versailles is a wonderful day trip. You can take the RER out of Paris to within a few blocks of the palace. We picked up some bread, cheese, a split of wine, some fruit and chocolate and made a day of it. The main palace was pretty crowded, but the gardens, The Grand Trianon,the Petit Trianon - had our picnic sitting on a small wall in Marie-Antoinettes estate (hamlet). It was really a nice day.http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage
Last trip to Versailles, we took the train to Rive Droite from La Défense. The station at Rive Droite is about a mile from the palace. I wasn't exactly sure how to get to the palace from the station, so I took photos with my phone of street signs on the corners, so as to have some "bread crumbs" for returning to the train station. I had to check my umbrella at the entrance into the Palace. The exit is in an entirely different location from the entrance. Hours had passed, and it wasn't raining (it didn't rain at all actually, the umbrella was just for insurance.) Anyway, I didn't remember about it until we were half way back to La Défense. Oh well, another one bites the dust as they say.
Great idea about Versailles, psudad. It makes for a wonderful and memorable day. Triple thumbs up! Oh, wait, I guess we can only do two. (I know, that was a really bad one.)
I couldn't agree more, and like the gardens even more than the palace, though it depends what time of year you are there. You definitely should have a map of the extensive gardens, esp on a hot summer day, because it is easy to get completely lost -- so have plenty of water.
If you want some fun contemporary reading about the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, I would highly recommend the memoirs of the Duke of Saint-Simon. He was the gossip of his time (and well placed) and some of his stuff is hilarious.
Personally, I prefer the smaller and more familial Fontainebleau. Alas, all my photos are long ago on slides, so I have no recent ones. But here is the site. It is smaller, but not small:
I will post photos from Chartres (a very easy day trip) and other châteaux in the Loire Valley tomorrow. Today kind of got past me...
My wife has the Duke of Saint-Simon books and has read them. She also suggested Madam De Sevigne's writings. My wife lived in Paris and studied at the Sorbonne, her junior year in college. She was a french major - history, language, literature. We spend the better part of a day in Pere Lachaise and Montmartre cemeteries - she was in heaven (no pun intended). She made many of the day trips you mentioned, during her time there. I am far less experienced in all things Paris, only having visited twice, for around a week each. I was a big fan of our visit to St. Denis, sharing a last name with a rather famous resident there.
I'm so glad you got to St-Denis, which most visitors to Paris completely miss. As I'm sure your wife told you, it was the first Gothic church, the royal abbey, built by Abbot Suger, advisor to the king, regent, and biographer. His goal was light and height, to draw the visitor's eye upwards. He also inscribed his name in numerous places in the royal abbey, as you can find in one of the stained glass window photos. It also served as the royal necropolis. The effigies are still there, but like most saints' reliquaries, the bodies or parts inside were taken out during the French Revolution, put on trial, always condemned, and then burned or thrown into the Seine.
Here are some photos of what I consider the Loire's most beautiful castle, CHENONCEAU. It was rebuilt in the early 16th C. in Renaissance style. It has an interesting history. King Henri II gave it to his maîtresse en titre (top mistress), Diane de Poitiers. But when Henri died, his queen, Catherine de Medici, forced Diane to swap it for the lesser château of Chaumont.
I really liked Chenonceau as well. I loved the grand gallery that Queen Catherine had built over the river Cher.
I could be quite happy living there... One can see why she gave Diane the boot. It would seem to me that Catherine was quite generous actually. Being that Diane was the mistress, she's probably lucky she didn't get the heave ho right into the river! "Here darling, let me waltz you right out that window."
Looks like I have a lot more day trips to do from Paris. Only one done so far is Mont Saint Michel. Don't have any photos available on this PC, but if you Google the name then click Images it will certainly likely pique your interest. A photo of Banff Springs Hotel (in Canada) also did it for me.
Isn't Mont St-Michel magnificent? The key is to go in low season. I've been several times, but the best was one January at the height of the full moon when tides were so high they washed over the lower walls -- to leave you had to crawl through a second floor window made for that purpose to get to the causeway. The back of the island (near the quicksand signs and the chapel of Saint-Aubert is my favorite part).
We went on a November day when it was windy and raining. Marriott lost an umbrella on that one.
Another highlight was that the driver of the car that took us was also a history teacher (although not originally from France), and he gave us a running story all the way out and back.
Then you must go back -- but unless you're into crowds forget the feast days of St Michael (he has two and I ended up there during one in May -- though there's a lot of Breton dancing in the cemetery that is quite interesting). My best advice is probably fall or early spring, but try to time it by the full moon to get the best experience. And la Mère Poulard can provide you with a great but expensive room facing the moon if you pick the right time!
Very cool, psudad! Being the podiatrist or any other sort of medical helper or even valet to the king could be perilous to one's health. Bathing, common and often a source of entertainments and birthday parties in the Middle Ages, went out of favor in the Early Modern Period, largely thanks to the Scientific Revolution (ironically). The idea that germs entered through pores meant that people were afraid to bathe regularly (with the anticipated result of smelling far worse than people in the Middle Ages.) The Duke of Saint Simon mentions that since Louis XIV took baths only twice a year, since he did not want to get a disease, his poor valet had to prepare a bath with perfume and wine. On one occasion, when Louis descended into the bath (with 6 months worth of accumulated filth) the valet passed out on the spot from the stench. I doubt his job lasted much longer, especially as the tiniest cubbyhole at Versailles was as coveted as the tiniest apartment for thousands of dollars a month now is in NYC.
As I began planning my Brussels/Ghent/Bruges trip for next spring, I started thinking, "hey, if I can go to Bruges for a day, where else might I go"? I first saw this post when it came out, and thought perfect, Paris for a day (of course one sentence in, I realized - doh!, from Paris). I waited a few weeks (enjoying the photos and comments) so as not to hijack the thread and now IMO, the time is ripe to jump in.
Since I have most of the experts (I'm buzzing jerrycoin) in this thread, I thought I'd ask - don't hate me francophiles; as a guy who loves nothing better than sitting in the sun with a beer and a red hot, watching the Charleston Riverdogs battle the Delmarva Shorebirds, a day trip to Paris is all I really need. It certainly seems doable from a distance point of view, what about a train trip from Ghent to Paris and then jumping on jerry's Hop on/Hop off Green double decker - what do you think? I won't be the ugly American, because I don't intend to talk to anyone, just observe . Thank you for your ideas - be kind, please.
I'll be staying in Ghent next Wednesday night and have spent the week end in nearby Bruges (Brugge) on several occasions:
Some people have called Bruges the "Venice of the North", but even while it is a canal city, one which I enjoy, it does not compare with Venice.
If you do happen to stay in Bruges you might try the De Pottekijker Restaurant - http://www.de-pottekijker.be
You can take train from Ghent via Brussels to Paris, if you like.
Your plan sounds solid and the L'Open Tour busses will work perfectly with it, as you will train from Bruges to Gare du Nord, and stop #5 on the yellow line is right out front of the train station. From there you can switch to the green line (the main line), which drives you by all of the most famous Paris attractions, including Champs Elysees, L'Arce de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, Le Louvre, Notre Dame and Tour Eiffel. You can purchase your ticket from the bus driver. The green line takes about 2 hours to complete.
I think if you know which day you want to travel, you save money by purchasing your tickets online in advance, but also occasionally the trains go on strike. You can check the websites though. Train from Paris to Bruges - Thalys.com
Thanks, erc! I have a picture of that (and many others) on my office door (it's kind of a theme park door). Unfortunately the DC one in my photo had been used by anarchists to make a point. But that's how Joan has been used by almost every interest group since the 19th C. And there are even Joan of Arc baked beans (talk about poor taste!) and cosmetics for sensitive skin. Sigh. But thanks for the pic!
Thanks, Oh you bet on Ghent. This is going to be another Insiders driven trip like last year's London trip. I'm basing the entire decision on your superb write up and newhiltonmembr's insights on Ghent. In an attempt to parlay a travel trifecta, I'm going to use tker's great manual on travel packages and hopefully score a seven night stay at Ghent and travel from there only two days - one to Bruges and now, one to Paris. Brussels will be supported by an overnight stay at the Marriott you liked and if I go to another city from Ghent (like Amsterdam or Cologne) I'll tack on another night - driven more by when I can cash in airline points for the most comfortable flight, IAD to BRU. I'm looking at a June '14 booking for a May '15 trip and will be driven more by the flight availability, then adjust hotels around my seven night Ghent stay. Unfortunately, I'll have to pay the upcoming increase hotel category levels and the United February award increase, but oh well, being able to go is what's being celebrated.
I read somewhere that United has been allowing the 20% points to miles conversion bonus on travel packages as well (as I utilize my Marriott Plat to United Silver reciprocal perk status), so I'll be burning up the Rewards customer service line and the Insider forum come this spring, I have a lot to learn about European rail - Stay tuned
Thank you profchiara for sharing your post with me .