Paris in One Day?

Paris in One Day?

Because of my life-long connection with Paris, I have been receiving questions from first time visitors as long as I can remember, usually wondering how to make the most of their limited time in the city. Then recently, I have noticed a new trend: “how can I do Paris in one day? I especially want to see…” A long list of the main tourist-magnet sites follows.

Start with a Reality Check

France - Paris Conciergerie

La Conciergery is one of the oldest surviving buildings of the medieval royal palace.

While it’s conceivable to “do” Paris in one day, and even be able to actually see some of it, it’s physically impossible to visit the all the main sites in this short a time. But don’t despair first time visitor, you can still enjoy your day in Paris. All you need is stamina and a pair of comfortable walking shoes.

Paris started over two millennia ago on a small spindle-shaped island in a bend of the Seine. From there, most of the notable palaces and monuments developed westward along the banks of the river. A six-kilometer (just under four-mile) walk, and an hour-long boat ridge will take you to most of the main historic spots of the city. But Paris hosts over 16 million overnight tourists a year, twice that if you add all the day-trippers. Which translates into huge lines everywhere you go. To actually get inside and do justice to any of the monuments and museums, you’ll need to add roughly half a day per main venue to your schedule, of just pick two and be content to walk by the others.

L’Ile de la Cité

France - Paris Bouquiniste

The Bouquinistes have been selling used books and prints along the Seine for over four centuries.

Start on the island where it all began. Built on the eastern end of the Ile de la Cité, Notre Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris, or simply Notre Dame) sits on top of the ruins of two earlier churches, themselves predated by a Gallo-Roman temple to Jupiter erected on what was first a Celtic sacred ground. Started in 1163, Notre Dame was intended to assert the prestige of Paris as the capital of the French kingdom. Construction took almost two centuries, but the outcome is one of the finest examples of early gothic cathedrals anywhere. Walk around the exterior, admire the countless statues and gargoyles, the spectacular flying buttresses, three monumental rose windows and intricate rooflines, including the two 69 meter (226 foot) tall towers, and the 90 meter (295 foot) spear that was added in the nineteenth century.

France - Paris, First Public Clock

The first public clock in Paris (circa 1418) sits at the corner of the Boulevard du Palais and the Quai de l’Horloge.

Then walk along the Quai past the next two bridges. At the third bridge (Pont Saint Michel) turn right onto the Boulevard du Palais, past the gilded grillwork of the formal courtyard of the Palais de Justice (courthouse). On weekdays, you may even catch a glimpse of the black-robed magistrates going up the grand staircase.

At the corner, a massive rectangular tower, once a watchtower, holds the first public clock in the city (circa1418). Cross the Seine and continue west along the Quai de la Messagerie. Look back on the Ile de la Cité for the best view of La Conciergerie. It is one of the oldest surviving buildings of the medieval royal palace. A former prison, now a museum, La Conciergerie is best remembered for its most famous inmate, Queen Marie-Antoinette, who was imprisoned there before her beheading.

 

Le Louvre

France - Paris Cour Carree

The oldest part of the Louvre dates back to the Renaissance.

Keep walking past the Pont Neuf (or New Bridge, but actually the oldest standing bridge in the city), to the next one, the pedestrian Pont des Arts that had its railings virtually destroyed recently by the weight of all the padlocks left by tourists as a memento of their visit! Please, ignore the bridge and turn right instead through the elegantly arched entrance of the Louvre. You are now in the Cour Carrée (Square Courtyard), surrounded on all side by the oldest part of the Louvre. The Renaissance-style wings were started in the sixteenth century by King François I and added upon by almost every subsequent monarch until Louis XIV’s move to Versailles. Sit on the fountain in the center of the vast courtyard and enjoy the view. On each wing, look for the monograph of the king under which it was built.

France - Paris Musee du Louvre

In the center of the Cour Napoléon, the I.M. Pei glass pyramid entrance to the Musée du Louvre.

Go through the archway at the center of the west wing (also known as Pavillon de l’Horloge or Clock Pavilion). You are now in the New Louvre with its north and south wings and pavilions that extended the palace by some 500 meters (1,600 feet) on either sides of the Cour Napoléon in the nineteenth century. Since 1989 it is the home of the Pyramide du Louvre, the famous glass and metal pyramid designed by Chinese American architect I.M. Pei, that now serves as the main entrance to the The Musée du Louvre. The Louvre is one of the oldest (circa 1793) and with over 38,000 pieces of art displayed across more than 60,000 square meter (646,000 square feet) of gallery space dedicated to permanent exhibits, one of the richest art museums on the planet. Consequently it draws almost 10 million visitors annually, and during the high season lines can stretch for hours in front of the pyramid. But there are two (perfectly legal) shortcuts to access the main entrance hall and admire the pyramid from below. My Parisian friends may shun me if I broadcast them, but I am happy to share with you. If interested, just contact me.

Le Jardin des Tuileries

France - Paris Carrousel

The Arch of the Carrousel commemorates the early military victories of Emperor Napoléon I.

Go to the triple-arched Arc du Carousel to your left across the road from the Louvre (mind the traffic!) and stand in front of the center arch. From there you get a great view clear through the Jardin des Tuileries, the Obelisk in the center of the Place de la Concorde and all the way up the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. You are now in the Jardin des Tuileries created by Catherine de Medicis in the sixteenth century on what was then a clay quarry surrounded by roof-tile factories (or tuileries). A century later, the Tuileries were redesigned by André Le Nôtre, the landscape architect and royal gardener of Versailles who made the formal Jardin à la Française famous throughout Europe. Parisians have been strolling here since 1667. The garden has been renovated many times, most recently in the 1990’s, but Le Nôtre’s formal design remains intact.

La Place de la Concorde

France - Paris Tuileries.

The Tuileries garden has retained its orignal Le Nôtre design of Jardin à la Française.

At the far end of the Tuileries, you arrive Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris (8,6 hectares, or 21 acres), created in 1755 as Place Louis XV, after the then reigning monarch. At the north end, two superb identical building, prime examples of Louis XV Rococo architectural style, sit on either side of the Rue Royale. The one on the left side is now the famous luxury Hôtel de Crillon, named after its previous owner.

 

 

France - Paris Obelisk.

The Obeilsk was offered to France by the Egyptian government in 1829.

During the Revolution, the square was renamed, you guessed it, Place de la Revolution. It became the scene of many well attended public executions including King Louis XVI (grandson of the original namesake of the square), Queen Marie-Antoinette, a number famous noblemen and revolutionaries alike and some 2500 others were guillotined here. The square was renamed Place de la Concorde in 1795, as a gesture of national reconciliation after the turmoil of the Revolution.

The giant Egyptian obelisk inscribed with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of Pharaoh Ramsesses II that stands at center of the Place de la Concorde was offered by the Egyptian government to the French in 1829. The 23 meter (75 foot) high column of yellow granite is one of a pair that marked the entrance of the Luxor Temple. It was erected at its current spot and flanked by two neo-classical fountains in 1836.

Les Champs Elysées and Le Grand Palais

France - Paris Grand Palais

The Grand Palais barrel-vaulted glass roofs viewed from the Alexandre III bridge.

Once you get across the Place de la Concorde, you are at the bottom of the Champs Elysees. Stay on the left side of it and enjoy the view up the avenue with the Arch of Triumph at the top, until you get to the Avenue Winston Churchill on your left. There are two large “palaces” facing each other across the Avenue Winston Churchill.

France - Paris Grand Palais Quadriga

The south quadriga by Georges Récipon represents “The Triumph of Harmony over Discord”.

On your right, the Grand Palais is a unique Belle Epoque exhibit space built for the 1900 Universal Exposition. With its Ionic-columned façade topped by a colossal Art Nouveau glass roof, it is currently the largest existing ironwork and glass structure in the world. It hosts over 40 major art expositions and international events per year in three separate exhibition areas, including the central nave with its 13,500 square meter (145,000  square foot) floor space topped by the largest glass roof in Europe. But the Grand Palais is equally famous for its striking exterior executed by over 40 artists of the time. Notable artworks are the massive mosaic frieze behind the colonnade of the façade, and the two quadrigas (four-horse-drawn chariots) that top the front corners.

Le Petit Palais

France - Paris Petit Palais.

The central entrance hall of the Petit Palais.

By now you have walked about five kilometers (three miles) and you probably feel ready for a break. Cross the Boulevard Winston Churchill to the Petit Palais. Like its big brother across the street, it is a Beaux Arts style extravaganza built to hold a major exhibit of French art during the 1900 Exposition. It was meant to be a temporary structure but Parisians loved it and mercifully refused to let it go. It became a city-owned museum in 1902. Think of it as a mini-Louvre without the lines. Entrance to the permanent collection is free. If there is a high profile temporary exhibit (in which case there will be a line going up the stairs to the main entrance), walk around to the door under the right side of the staircase and tell the security guard you are here for the permanent exhibit only. I especially like their Art Nouveau and Art Deco period permanent collection, but my favorite part of the building is the exuberant interior garden, relatively peaceful and with an above average cafeteria-style coffee shop. In good weather there are bistro tables around the vaulted gallery surrounding the garden, or you can take your tray and sit in the garden for a quiet picnic in verdant surroundings right in the heart of Paris.

Le Pont Alexandre III

France - Paris Alexandre III

The Alexander III Bridge.

Also built in time for the 1900 Exposition, this is the most spectacular bridge in Paris, dotted with giant candelabra-like lampposts and flamboyant sculptures of cherubs and nymphs. Both ends are punctuated gilded winged statues on 17 meters (56 feet) high granite pillars. Admire, but don’t cross the bridge. Rather go down the stone stairs to the bank of the Seine and continue westward for 10 minutes to the dock of the Bateaux Mouches.

 

Les Bateaux Mouches

France - Paris Eiffel Tower

The Bateaux Mouches cruise by the Eiffel Tower.

The oversized glass-enclosed boats, with their long open roof terrace depart at least hourly year-round and more frequently during the high season. Just sit down and let the city come to you. The cruise goes upriver from the Eiffel Tower to beyond Notre Dame and back to its starting point in about 70 minutes. You get a close look at the bridges, both banks of the river and all the historic monuments, including some you’ve already seen at street-level, from a different perspective, with a recorded commentary in multiple languages. The Bateaux Mouches began cruising the river over six decades ago. Since then a number of other companies have begun offering similar services. I prefer the Bateaux Mouches because their height and open roof deck give me the best photo opportunities.

 

 

La Tour Eiffel

France - Paris Palais de Chaillot

The Palais de Chaillot and the terraced Trocadéro Gardens viewed from the Eiffel Tower.

If you still have enough energy once you get off the boat, walk across the Pont de l’Alma to the Eiffel Tower. By now it’s probably getting late and the lines may have subsisted sufficiently for you to consider going up the iconic Paris landmark. You’ll be rewarded with the ultimate view of the city. Elevators can take you all the way to the top (third floor) although service from the second to the third floor may be suspended in case of high winds.
Enjoy your day in Paris. Should you decide to follow this itinerary, please share your thoughts so we can keep refining it for future visitors.

Good to Know

  • The Jardin des Tuileries is open daily from 7:30am to 7:30pm from the last Sunday in September to the last Sunday in March and from 7am to 9pm for the remainder of the year.
  • The Petit Palais is open year-round, Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Like all City of Paris Museums, it is closed on Monday, as well as some national holidays. The coffee shop closes at 5pm.
  • Les Bateaux Mouches are docked at the Pont de l’Alma. http://www.bateaux-mouches.fr/en. Contact: tel. +33 1 43 25 93 10.
  • La Tour Eiffel is open year-round. From mid-June to early September, elevators run from 9am to 12:45am. Last ride up is at midnight for the first and second floors and at 11pm for the top. The remainder of the year, elevators run from 9:30am to 11:45pm. Last ride up is at 11pm for the first and second floors and at 10:30pm for the top. http://www.toureiffel.paris/en.html.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Notre Dame, Paris, France

An Improbable Foodies Destination – Lille

An Improbable Foodies Destination – Lille

Improbable? Only if one sticks to preconceived stereotypes. Northern cuisine is one of the most underrated in France. Ask any casual outsider about Lille gastronomy and you may get a snickered “moules et frites,” or at best a dismissive Gallic shrug. Yes, mussels and fries are common fare in the historic capital of French Flanders, and reliably some of the freshest and best tasting I have sampled anywhere in France, but so are many other delectable regional specialties that reflect the dual French-Flemish heritage. Step into the first estaminet and find out.

What’s an Estaminet?

France - Lille Estaminet.

L’Estaminet ‘T Rijsel is popular for its local comfort food.

Estaminets are to northern French what bistros are to Parisians and pubs to the British, welcoming casual places where to enjoy local comfort food or just drop in for a drink. They are everywhere in Lille, dishing out hearty carbonnade (beef braised in dark beer), waterzooi (chicken or fish cooked in cream with leeks and carrots), and the unpronounceable pot’je vleesch (pot-cha-flesh). Or just say “potch…” The friendly waitress will say the rest for your benefit and bring on a huge portion of potted boned rabbit, chicken, veal and pork in vinegar aspic, with a heap of crisp French fries on the side. Most things come with French fries in an estaminet, even my all-time favorite lapin aux pruneaux (braised rabbit with prunes in a cream sauce).

L'Estaminet Chez la Vieille (at the Old One)

Boughs of dry hops hang from ceiling beams are a tradition at Chez la Vieille (at the Old One).

Estaminet ‘T Rijsel (that’s Flemish for Lille) is my preferred stop for both pot’je vleesch and rabbit. With its rough plaster walls lined with old framed prints and boughs of dry hops hanging from the beams over the tightly packed wooden tables, it looks like it’s been there forever. It’s cozy, and so popular that it can get quite raucous at the height of the dinner hour.

Estaminet Chez la Vieille (at the Old One) is other fun stop for a Flemish food fix. Same atmosphere and bric-a-brac décor hanging on its exposed ancient brick walls. But here, among the traditional recipes, another local staple that finds its way into a lot of dishes is the pungent local maroilles cheese, which mercifully doesn’t taste nearly as assertive as it smells. I especially like their chicken in maroilles cream sauce, and the leek-maroilles tart. I also rather enjoy their beetroot ice-cream, but the jury is still out on the chicory-flavored one.

Le Lion Bossu

France - Lille Restaurant Lion Bossu.

The Hunchback Lion’s lair is a seventeenth century townhouse.

But a woman cannot live on lapin aux pruneaux and fried potatoes alone. On my latest visit, I opted for Le Lion Bossu (The Hunchback Lion), one of the mainstays of the old town’s gastronomic scene. Here, in a seventeenth century townhouse at the corner of the Place du Lion d’Or (Golden Lion Square), husband and wife team Laurence and Pascal Coué have been welcoming diners since 1989. Madame Coué reigns over the kitchen, while Monsieur manages the dining room. The romantic second-floor dining room seduces at “Bonjour” with its period beamed ceilings, subdued lighting and brick walls enhanced by antiques gilded frames.

Cuisine Bourgeoise at its Best

France - Lille Lion Bossu Carpaccio.

Salmon Carpaccio, Lion Bossu-style.

The menu is a dilemma of interesting temptations. I start with a marinated salmon carpaccio. Instead of the traditional fanned paper-thin slices, it materializes as a finely diced patty of raw salmon on a bed of chopped fennel, surrounded by a lemon and chive cream. It’s more tartare than carpaccio, but lovely just the same so let’s not quibble. I follow with a magret de canard, (duck breast) sautéed to a medium rare perfection and served with a peppercorn sauce; excellent with its accompanying celery risotto and spring baby vegetables.

France - Lille Lionn Duck Breast.

Sautéed duck breast with a peppercorn sauce.

My friend’s poached scrod (dos de cabillaud in French) and baby spinach topped with foie gras mascarpone et caramelized onion compote on a mild curry foam, which of course I have to sample, is voted a success by both of us. But the coup de grace is yet to come. Dessert, a generous verrine of limoncello sabayon over creamy rice pudding and red berries coulis, has me wondering if next time I could ask for a main course portion.
 

France - Lille Lion Sabayon.

Verrine of limoncello sabayon.

The well-balanced wine list, representative of the main wine growing regions of France, is priced a bit on the high side. With the help of Mr. Coué, we select a light red Bourgogne Chardonnay, Domaine de la Vierge Romaine, 2014 that nicely complements both our entrée choices. The service, while attentive and friendly could be a tad faster.

 
 

Good to Know

  • L’Huîtrerie, the venerable centenarian widely recognized as the best fish restaurant and bastion of elegant dining in Lille, which I had intended to include in this roundup, regrettably is no more. I found out, when attempting to call for reservations, that it had closed its doors permanently in late February. Although glowing reviews still figure prominently on guidebooks and websites, beware that it is, alas, gone.
  • Estaminet ‘T Rijsel, 25 Rue de Gand, Lille, is open Tuesday through Friday from 12:00 P.M. to 1:30 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M., Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 P.M. to 2:00 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. to 10:30 P.M., and Monday from 7:00 P.M. to 9:30 P.M. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 3 20 15 01 59.
  • Estaminet Chez la Vieille, 60 Rue de Gand, Lille, http://estaminetlille.fr/chezlavieille/, is open Tuesday through Thursday from 12:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. to 12:00 A.M., Friday and Saturday from 12:P.M. to 3:00 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. to 12:30 A.M., and closed Sunday and Monday. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 3 28 36 40 06.
  • Le Lion Bossu, 1 Rue Saint-Jacques, Lille, is open everyday from 12:00 P.M. to 2:00 P.M. and 7:30 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. Reservations are necessary. Contact: Tel. + 33 (0) 3 20 06 06 88.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Lille, France

A Pioneering City of Art – Lille

A Pioneering City of Art – Lille

Lille has long been a city of great art museums. Open in 1809, its world-famous Palais des Beaux-Arts (Palace of Fine Arts), one of the first museums to be established in the aftermath of the French revolution, holds the second largest collection in France after the Louvre. In recent decades, the greater Lille metropolitan area has upheld its pioneering history with the opening of two additional museums that are fast becoming landmarks of the international art scene as well as monuments of contemporary French architecture.

LAM – A Unique Cultural Space

France-Lille LAM

The Metropolitan Lille Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Art Brut) designed by French architect Roland Simounet .

The Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut (Metropolitan Lille Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Oustider Art), LAM for short, has its genesis in the donation in 1979 by Jean Masurel, a local industrialist and life-long collector of Modern and Contemporary art, of its monumental (close to 4000 pieces) collection to the Lille urban community. A dedicated museum designed by prominent French architect Roland Simounet is inaugurated in 1983 in a suburban Lille parkland setting of Villeneuve d’Ascq.

 

France - Lille LAM Braque

Georges Braque, 1908, Maisons et arbre (Houses at l’Estaque),

Then in 1985, L’Aracine, an association of artists and collectors of Art Brut (Outsider Art) gives its collection to the museum. For this, the largest public collection of its type in France (over 3,000 works), a striking extension is designed by Manuelle Gaudrant. Five galleries faced in white precast perforated concrete now wrap around the eastern end of the original building. LAM reopens in 2010 after four years of construction and renovation work. Today, with over 4,000 square meters (43,000 square feet) of exhibit space and a permanent collection of over 7,000 works, LAM is a unique cultural space that brings together Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art. And offers over a quarter of a million yearly visitors the opportunity to appreciate a condensed history of art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in one collection of international standing.

Modern Art

France - Lille LAM Calder.

The LAM Sculpture Garden is an ideal setting for the Calder mobile.

This is where the Masurel collection can be seen in all its jaw-dropping magnificence. Expressionists, Cubists, Fauvisists, Surrealists and all the other “…ists” that shaped twentieth century arts are represented here, in the works of their greatest painters, arranged by their particular style: Braque, Derain, Kansinsky, Klee, Miro, Picasso, Van Dongen. An entire room is dedicated to Fernand Leger, another to Modigliani. And best of all, although predictably popular, the galleries are never too crowded, allowing me to enjoy the moment in a serene atmosphere.

Contemporary Art

France - Lille LAM Modigliani 1

During a recent visit, Modigliani steals the limelight, as with his 1915 Portrait de Chaim Soutine, on loan from the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.

This section features, along with Bernard Buffet, Dodeigne and Eugène Leroy, some lesser known but just as influential French and foreign artists. Important abstract painters and sculptors from the second half of the twentieth century are also represented by the likes of Daniel Buren, Richard Deacon, Gérard Duchêne, Pierre Soulages and Jean Dubuffet. An artistic itinerary that illustrates the evolution of art, the major artistic movements, trends and current themes in the contemporary art scene.

Outsider Art

Defined by a regrouping of pieces created by non-professional artists, without artistic reference and working outside of the aesthetic norm, Outsider Art is exhibited at the museum via a prism of well-known artists, such as Aloïse Corbaz, Joseph Crépin, Henry Darger, Auguste Forestier and Carlo Zinelli.

Amedeo Modigliani Retrospective

France - Lille LAM Mod. Blue Dress

Amedeo Modigliani, 1918, Seated Woman in Blue Dress, on loan from the Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Beyond the treasures of the permanent collection, what brings me to LAM on this latest visit is an exceptional temporary retrospective of the work of Modigliani (on display until June 6, 2016). Although the museum holds one of the finest French public displays of his work in its Masurel collection: six paintings, eight drawings and a rare marble sculpture, this rich exhibit shows the artist in a totally different light (at least for me). Through 23 drawing, five sculptures and 49 paintings, I am introduced to his antique, African and other non-western influences, as well at works by his contemporaries, such Brancusi, Picasso, Chaïm Soutine, Moïse Kisling and Henri Laurens, that nourished his inspiration.

 

 

 

 

The Louvre-Lens

France - Louvre Lens

The Louvre-Lens building, by Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, is itself a work of art.

With the opening of its satellite in Lens in 2012, the Musée du Louvre is no longer confined to its palatial Parisian digs. The building, by Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, is itself a work of art. Located on a 20-hectare (50-acre) former coal-mining site reborn as parkland, it is an ethereal creation of glass and brushed aluminum that reflects the flat landscape and pale skies of northern France. The core of the 360-meter (1,200-foot) long structure is a transparent, oblong 3,600-square meter (39,000-square foot) hall that is the starting point of the various galleries.

The Gallery of Time

France - Louvre-Lens Ancient.

The Gallery of Time illustrates the development of contemporaneous ancient civilizations.

The museum’s semi-permanent exhibition is housed in the 120-meter (400-foot) long Galerie du Temps (Gallery of Time). It showcases 250 pieces representing five millennia of art history, from the origins of writing in various civilizations to the nineteenth century. The displays are freestanding, to be viewed from all angles as I wander through time. Although chronological, the artifacts are arranged by themes, to better illustrate the Egyptian influence on Greek sculpture for instance, or how civilizations evolved simultaneously (such as Egyptian Pyramid Period and Mediterranean Cycladic Culture).

France - Louvre-Lens Claude Lorrain.

Landscape with Paris and Oenone, 1648, Claude Lorrain (Gellee).

My stroll through the history of art goes by “St. Mathew and the Angel,” an awesome Rembrandt that already foretells of Impressionism, and an incandescent “Landscape with Paris and Oenone” by Claude Lorrain, a preview of the JMW Turner skies to come two centuries later, before ending with pieces from the Romantic period. Each year, one third of the collection is rotated back to the Paris mother ship and replaced by new pieces. Side galleries also hold two themed temporary exhibits per year.

La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie

France-Roubaix Swimming Pool Museum

La Piscine is a unique Art Deco swimming pool reborn as a municipal museum.

Although not on the scale of its Lille, Lens and Villeneuve d’Ascq cousins, the charming Art Deco gem La Piscine-Musee d’Art et d’Industrie (The Swimming Pool-Museum of Art and Industry) in Roubaix is a not-to-be-missed side trip. Opened in 1932, this municipal swimming pool and bathhouse was much appreciated by the local community for over half a century until its closure in 1985. Mercifully it was reborn as a museum 16 years later after extensive renovations. Although its length was preserved, its Olympic-size pool is now a narrow central stream, its east-west direction facing the grand sunburst stain glass windows representing the rising and setting sun at both ends of the domed ceiling.

France - Roubaix Swimming Pool Museum Fountain

The Neptune’s head fountain is sourrounded by mosaics in a wave design.

A collection of sculptures that include four major works by Alfred Boucher (Hope, Faith, Charity and Tenderness) as well as pieces by Rodin and Camille Claudel line both sides of the pool. The original Art Deco mosaics in an ornate swirling wave pattern still outline the basin and the large Neptune head keeps spouting a graceful arch of water. At ground and second floor gallery levels, changing and shower stalls are now the setting for a comprehensive collection of textile industry related items from Roubaix’ heydays.

 

Good to Know

  • Getting there – Lille is easily reached by train, with frequent TVG (high-speed train) direct connections throughout the day from Paris (1 hour), Brussels (35 minutes), London, (1:30 hour), Amsterdam (2:40 hours) and other main western European cities. There are two train stations. The new Lille-Europe serves the EuroStar, Thalys and most TGV high-speed lines. Lille Flandre, the original station, now serves a mix of local and high-speed trains. Both are located in the center of town, a 10-minute walk from each other. Lens is located 40 kilometers south of central Lille, an easy 35-minute local train ride to the Lens station. There are also a few daily direct high-speed trains from Paris (1:20 hour). From the station, a twice-hourly complimentary shuttle takes visitors to the museum site.
  • Getting Around –To get around the metropolitan area, Lille has a comprehensive public transport network (Transpole) with two automatic metro lines, two tramway lined and over 60 bus routes.
    From the center Lille to La Piscine – Metro Line # 2 to Gare Jean Lebras or Grand Place, or Bus # 32 to Jean Lebras.
    From the Center of Lille to LAM – Metro Line # 1 to Pont de Bois then Bus: Liane # 4, direction Halluin-Gounod to LAM.
  • Visiting
  • Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut, (LAM), 1 Allée du Musée, Villeneuve-d’Ascq. www.Lille-Metropolitan-Museum-of-modern-art.com. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 to 6:00 P.M. Closed Mondays and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 20 19 68 68.
    Musée Louvre-Lens, 99 Rue Paul Bert, Lens. www.louvre-lens/en. Open Wednesdays to Mondays from 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. Closed Tuesdays and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 21 18 62 62. Entrance to the Louvre-Lens is free of charge.
    La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent, 23 Rue de l’Espérance, Roubaix. www.La-Piscine-Andre-Diligent-Art-and-Industry-Museum.com. Open Tuesdays to Thursdays from 11:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., 11:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. Fridays, 1:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. Saturdays. Closed Mondays and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 20 60 23 60.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Lille, France

From Medieval Industry Center To Business and Art Powerhouse – Lille

From Medieval Industry Center To Business and Art Powerhouse – Lille

Once a thriving textile and coal industries center, Lille, France’s northernmost major city, became one of its most underrated in the aftermath of Word War II. To many foreign travelers it still tends to be merely the first continental stop of the Eurostar after it emerges from the 38-kilometer (23.5-mile) long Channel Tunnel (or Chunnel) under the English Channel, or the halfway point on the Thalys (also a high-speed train) route between Paris and Brussels. Yet those who take the time to get off and linger a few days are immediately charmed by the elegant Flemish Renaissance architecture of le Vieux Lille (Old Lille), its three internationally renowned art museums, a vibrant business center and the Lillois’ easy-going friendliness.

France - Lille Renaissance Architecture.

Lille offers fine examples of Flemish Renaissance architecture.

The history of Lille is a millennium-long tale of convoluted alliances and conflicts that saw what is now the French part of Flanders go from the quasi-independent French fiefdom of the Counts of Flanders to a province of the Duchy of Burgundy (1369), before passing under the rule of Austria (1477), then Spain (1556) before finally reverting to France in 1688. Through it all, Lille managed to flourish as a regional capital of industry and trade. And develop a cultural heritage well worth a visit.

The Grand’Place

France - Lille Old Stock Exchange.

The Old Stock Exchange courtyard is a hub of city life.

Surrounded by stately buildings that span four centuries of rich Flemish architecture, the 155-meter (510-foot) by 72-meter (245-foot) Grand’Place started out as a marketplace in the fourteenth century. Its oldest remaining building, la Vieille Bourse (the Old Stock Exchange) is a superb example of seventeenth century Flemish Renaissance style. It consists of 24 identical houses around a cloistered courtyard. To walk under the broad colonnade that runs around its perimeter is to experience a hub of city life where locals come to play chess or browse the stalls of secondhand booksellers and flower vendors.

France - Lille Chamber of Commerce.

The 1921 Chamber of Commerce and its iconic belfry

Also on the northeastern side of the square, separating the Grand’Place from the Place du Théâtre, the Grande Garde, built in 1717 as an army barrack to house the French royal guard, was converted after the First World War into the 444 seats Théâtre du Nord. Next door, La Voix du Nord (The Voice of the North, a newspaper) building with its traditional Flemish step-gabled façade is a 1930’s evocation of the ancient a architecture. In the center of the Grand’Place, the Column of the Goddess commemorates the successful resistance of Lille to the Austrian siege of 1792. In case you are wondering, the bronze goddess at the top is clutching a linstock (used to light the fuses on cannons) in her right hand.

L’Hospice Comtesse

France-Llle Hospice Comtesse Kitchen.

The kicthen of the Countess Hospital Museum.

From the Grand’Place, a ten-minute walk north through the meandering street of the old town, now lined with stylish boutiques, leads to the last significant vestige of the works of the Flemish Counts, the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse (Countess Hospital Museum). Founded in 1237 by Countess Jeanne of Flandres within a wing of her own palace, the hospital was run by a religious community of the Saint Augustine order. Although the original building was destroyed by fire in 1468, it was immediately rebuilt, then expanded over the following centuries as a convent and the only major hospital in Lille until the end of the eighteenth century.

France-Lille Countess Hospital Ex Votoes

Ex voto portraits of children patients at the Countess Hospital.

Today, the ground floor of the convent contains a reconstitution of a Flemish home in the seventeenth centuries, including a kitchen with traditional Lille earthenware and Delft tiles. The refectory showcases carved furniture and fine tableware as well as exquisite paintings and art objects. The spiritual and hospital functions are highlighted in the chapel, dispensary and medicinal herb garden.

Le Palais des Beaux-Arts

France-Lille Palais des Beaux Arts.

The Palace of Fine Arts was one of the first museums in France

One of the first art museums established in France in the early nineteenth century under instructions of Napoleon I to popularize art, le Palais des Beaux-Arts (Palace of Fine Arts) holds the second largest art collections in France after the Louvre. Opened in 1809, it received a treasure-trove of works confiscated from churches and royal palaces. It was originally housed in a disused church until its permanent Belle Epoque-style home was inaugurated in 1898. The museum contains a first-rate collection of fifteenth to twentieth century paintings, including works by Raphael, Donatello, Rembrandt, Goya, El Greco, Rubens, David, Delacroix, Manet, Corot, and Monet as well as an extensive collection of classical archeology and medieval statuary. The basement features a department of unusual eighteenth century scale models of fortified cities in Northern France and Belgium that were used by the military of the time, and a 700-square meter (7,500-square foot) space dedicated to staging temporary exhibits.

Greater Lille Art Treasures

Beyond the city limit, the greater Lille metropolitan area is now graced with three notable art museums, each individually a worthwhile reason to visit the city.

France - Lille LAM

Metropolitan Lille Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Outsider Art.

Musée d’Art Moderne, Villeneuve d’Ascq – With a permanent collection of over 7,000 works and 4,000 square meters (43,000 square feet) of exhibit space, the Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut (Metropolitan Lille Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Outsider Art), mercifully shortened LAM, opened in 1983. It is the only museum in France and northern Europe to feature all the main components of twentieth and twenty-first century art.

 

France - Lille La Piscine

The Swimming Pool – Museum of Art and Industry.

La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent, Roubaix. Once a spectacular Art Deco public baths facility inaugurated in 1932, the building has been brilliantly repurposed in 1985 into an art gallery that is home to the artistic and industrial heritage of the town. The Olympic-length central pool is lined with nineteenth and twentiest century sculptures and paintings, mainly by local artists, and the changing booths now hold an extensive collection of displays related to the textile industries.

France-Lens Louve Museum

The Louvre-Lens building is a minimalist creation of glass and brushed aluminum.

Musée Louvre-Lens – Inaugurated in December 2012, the Louvre-Lens is a major example of the success of recent joint efforts between the French Ministry of Culture, the great national museums and the regional governments to decentralize cultural institutions. The building is a minimalist creation of glass and brushed aluminum that blends into the horizon. At its core the 120-meter (400-foot) long Galerie du Temps (Gallery of Time) leads visitors through 5,000 years of Ancient and European art history.

Villa 30

France-Lille Villa 30

The breakfast room at Villa 30.

Although Lille is easily accessible for day trips from Paris, London, Brussels and other nearby European cities, I prefer to linger a day or two, especially now that I have had the good fortune to come across Villa 30. This 1930’s townhouse on a quiet street of the center of town, thoughtfully remodeled into an intimate bed-and-breakfast in 2010, is located within easy walking distance of all the city’s main attractions. The five comfortable rooms decorated in a smart contemporary style and attentive host Julien Desenclos make Villa 30 a welcoming home away from home. And the hearty breakfast served in the light-filled breakfast room with its stunning Art Deco stain glass bay window is a perfect start to any day.

Good to know

        • Getting there – Lille is easily reached by train, with frequent TVG (high-speed train) direct connections throughout the day from Paris (1 hour), Brussels (35 minutes), London, (1:30 hour), Amsterdam (2:40 hours) and other main western European cities. There are two train stations, the new Lille-Europe that serves the EuroStar, Thalys and most TGV high-speed lines, and Lille Flandre, the original station that now serves a mix of local and high-speed trains. Both are in the center of town, less than a 10-minute walk from each other.
        • Getting Around – To explore the old town and the city center, walking is the best option. To get around the greater metropolitan area, Lille has a comprehensive public transport network (Transpole) with two automatic metro lines (the world’s first automatic subway in the world when it went into service in 1983), two tramway lines and over 60 bus routes.
        • Where to StayVilla 30, 24 Rue du Plat, 59000, Lille. lavilla30.fr. Contact: email Julien@lavilla30.fr. Tel +33 (0) 3 66 73 61 30.
        • Visiting
          Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse, 32 Rue de la Monnaie, Lille. www.Hospice-Comtesse-Museum.com. Open Monday from 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. and Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. and 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. Closed Monday morning, all day Tuesday and some public holidays. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 3 28 36 84 00.
          Palais des Beaux Arts, Place de la République, Lille. www.pba-lille.fr/en. Open Monday from 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. and Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 to 6:00 P.M. Closed Monday morning, all day Tuesday and some public holidays. Contact:: +33 (0) 3 20 06 78 00. 
          Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut, (LAM), 1 Allée du Musée, Villeneuve-d’Ascq. www.-Lille-Metropolitan-Museum-of-modern-art.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 to 6:00 P.M. Closed Monday and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 20 19 68 68.
          La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent, 23 Rue de l’Espérance, Roubaix. www.La-Piscine-Art-and-Industry-Museum.com. Open Tuesday through Thursday from 11:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., Friday from 11:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M., and Saturday from 1:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. Closed Monday and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 20 60 23 60.
          Musée Louvre-Lens, 99 Rue Paul Bert, Lens. http://www.louvre-lens/en/. Open Wednesday through Monday from 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. Closed Tuesday and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 21 18 62 62.
          La Citadelle – For military architecture buffs, this massive star-shaped fortress located at the northwestern end of the Boulevard de la Liberté, was designed by renowned 17th-century French military architect Vauban after France captured Lille in 1667. It still functions as a French and NATO military base. Guided tours are available on Sundays in summer through the Tourism Information Center, Palais Rihour, 42 Place Rihour, Lille. http://en.lilletourism.com. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 20 21 94 21. This is the only way to see the inside of the Citadelle.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Lille, France

From Roman Spa to Contemporary Cultural Center – Aix-en-Provence

From Roman Spa to Contemporary Cultural Center – Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence is a remarkable center of European history that has managed to preserve the integrity of its rich architectural and cultural heritage while evolving into a thriving, highly livable contemporary city.

Always the Romans!

FR-Aix Fountains.

The many fountains of Aix are fed by thermal springs. The mineral content of the water spurs the growth moss and ferns.

When contemplating the development of the Mediterranean basin around the time the tide of history turns from B.C. to A.D., it’s usually the Romans that get the credit, or the blame depending how you look at it. And Aix-en-Provence is a vivid illustration of Julius Ceasar’s “veni, vidi, vici,” doctrine, although not quite in that order.

Roman Consul Sextius Calvinius comes in 122 B.C., promptly lays waste to Entremont, the iron-age capital of the Celtic-Ligurian Confederation (now an archeological site three kilometers north of the city), and decimates its population. Back on lower grounds, abundant thermal springs bubbling out of the earth catch his eye and Aquae Sextiae (Waters of Sextius) is born.

FR - Aix cathedral baptismal fond.

The baptismal fond is surrounded by Roman columns.

As the first Roman city founded in the newly conquered Roman colony of Provincia, it quickly grows as a thriving urban center and spa. Then, with the spread of Christianity after it is declared the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 A.D., Aix-en-Provence becomes the seat of the ecclesiastical province, making it the de facto capital of the region.

 

The Dark Ages

FR - Aix Saint Sauveur Cloister.

The early medieval cloister of the Saint Sauveur cathedral.

A cathedral rises from the Roman forum. Soaring columns that once graced a Roman temple now define the octagonal baptistery, and the baptismal pool is fed from the nearby baths. However, while full immersion is an accepted rite of early Christian baptism, the Catholic Church takes of a dim view of public baths. The vast pools and the sources that feed them all but disappear under new monasteries. Stripped of its antique luster, Aix morphs into a typical medieval city constrained within its protective fortifications.

Unfortunately, these are not sufficient to deter the successive waves of the invading Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Franks, Saracens and other “barbarians.” Provence remains a highly contested province through most of the medieval period, and Aix continues to deteriorate. It is not until the twelfth century that it begins to shine again.

The Reign of the Counts

FR - Aix Clock Tower.

A clock tower tops the medieval belfry of the town hall.

In 1182, the Counts of Provence who, through judicious moves in the great chess game of history, are by now issued from the Aragon (Spanish) and Anjou (French) royal houses, make Aix their permanent residence. An era of development ensues that will shape the future city, starting from three key areas that are now the core of the historic district: the Saint Sauveur Cathedral, the Counts’ Palace and the thriving artisans and merchants district. Soon Aix spills out of its ramparts with the southward construction of several large monastic institutions. The most important, the Prieuré des Chevaliers de Saint Jean de Malte (Priory of the Knights of Saint John of Malta) becomes the burying place of the Counts. New walls are erected to encompass the expanding city

The Age of Mansions

The Fountain of the Four Dolphins is a landmark of the Mazarin Quarter.

The Fountain of the Four Dolphins is the Mazarin Quarter.

The last phase of Aix’s growth comes in the seventeenth century, during the reign of Louis XIV (1638 – 1715, the Sun King of Versailles fame). By now, Provence has been annexed to the kingdom of France for over two centuries. Louis takes a shine to the judiciary and religious capital of Provence. He mandates Archbishop Michel Mazarin (who happens to be the brother of his prime minister) to oversee the further southward expansion of Aix.

The crumbling twelfth century ramparts are dismantled and replaced by the tree-shaded boulevard dotted with fountains that we enjoy today as the Cours Mirabeau.

FR=Aix Mansion.

Seventeenth century mansions are a common sight in Aix.

To the south and west of it, the Mazarin Quarter flourishes. The cream of local society vies for land along the neatly laid out grid pattern of streets to build their elegant mansions of ocher-colored stone. One last time, the ramparts are expanded to include the “new town,” only to be replaced in 1848 by the wide boulevard that now encircles the city.

 

A Tradition of Culture

FR-Aix Musee Granet.

The former priory of the Knights of Saint John of Malta is home to the prestigious Musée Granet.

Along with prosperity the Counts introduce culture and refinement to their court. In 1409 the founding the university opens the door to a Golden Age that firmly establishes Aix as a center of artistic and intellectual creativity that will flourish until the outbreak of the French Revolution (1789). In the aftermath of the political chaos it unleashes, Aix loses its administrative powers, and is mainly bypassed by the great nineteenth century industrial revolution. But it remains a center of learning, art and culture. In the latter part of the century, its native son the great post-impressionist artist Paul Cezanne elevates the city’s artistic prestige to new heights.

FR - Aix Warriors Heads.

Sculptures of severed heads from the Celtic-Ligurian settlement of Entremont  on display at the Musee Granet.

An earlier Aixois artist, Francois Marius Granet (1775-1849), has already made a significant contribution to the artistic standing of Aix-en-Provence. A pupil of David and friend of Ingres, Granet is himself a Neoclassical painter and water-colorist. However posterity remembers him best for the bequest of his fortune and art collection to the city of his birth. It forms the basis for the original permanent collection of the city’s art museum, housed since 1838 in the seventeenth century Priory of the Knight of Malta. It will eventually be renamed Musée Granet in honor of its benefactor.

Picasso works from the Planque Collection

Picasso works from the Planque Collection.

In 2010 the status of the Musée Granet rises further when it becomes the beneficiary of the long-term loan of some 300 paintings, drawing and sculptures from impressionists, post-impressionists and leading twentieth century artists, from Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh to Picasso, Braque, Duffy, Klee and Dubuffet from the Jean and Suzanne Planque Foundation (the estate of Swiss art dealer and collector Jean Planque). A new space is created to house the collection in a stunningly renovated seventeenth century chapel just minutes away from the main museum.

A City of Music

FR - Aix Archbishop Palace.

The International Festival of Vocal Arts holds performances at the Palace of the Archbishops.

But in Aix, visual arts are only half the story. Created in 1948, the Festival International d’Art Lyrique (International Festival of Vocal Arts), is now a mainstay of the annual international classical music calendar. Devoted mainly to opera and vocal music, this three-week July event also includes orchestral, chamber and solo instrumental concerts. Performances take place in several of the great classic mansions around the city, including the Archbishop’s Palace, the eighteenth century Italian-style Théâtre du Jeu de Paume, and the new Grand Theatre de Provence (built in 2007).

However, music in Aix is not limited to The Festival. It begins in early spring with the Easter Festival, and continues through August, first with the Nuits Pianistiqiues (Piano Nights) at the new music academy building of the Conservatoire Darius Milhaud (also a native son). Then, to close out the summer in style, the Conservatoire offers Musique dans la Rue (Music in the Street) in late August with dozens of free open-air concerts from Baroque to classical to Jazz, presented all around town in the early evening hours.

The Waters of Sextius

Fr - Aix Thermes of Sextius.

A vast modern spa facility now sits atop the baths dear to Sextius Calvinius.

After days filled with art and music and taking in the fascinating history written in the ocher stones of the great mansions that line the tree-shaded avenues and squares, it’s time to return where it all started. A vast modern spa facility now sits atop the old baths, still visible through the glassed walls of the lobby. But the hot mineral Waters of Sextius still gurgle from their underground springs to be used in treatments throughout the spa. And they seem to have maintained their restorative powers so prized by the Romans.

 

Good to Know

  • Getting There – Aix-en-Provence is easily reached by train, with several direct TVG (high speed train) connections throughout the day from Paris (3 hours) and Lyon (1 hour) as well as Geneva (3 hours) and Brussels (5 hours). The Aix TGV station is located 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) southwest of town, with a shuttle running every 15 minutes between the station and the central bus terminal. The MarseilleProvence airport is 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) southwest of Aix, with numerous flights from Paris, London and other major European cities. It is served by the same shuttle bus as the TVG station.
  • Getting Around – To explore the historic city, walking is definitely the way to go. Road signs at the approaches to Aix direct motorists to large facilities where they can park their vehicles for a nominal daily fee that also includes free round trip bus tickets to the center of town for all their passengers.
  • What to do – With so much to see and do in Aix, it is a good idea to start with a visit to the Office de Tourisme (Tourism Information Center), 300 Avenue Guiseppe Verdi. Tel: +33 (0) 4 42 16 11 61. Located just a few steps away from the Cours Mirabeau Rotonde (Rotary) , it is open daily from 8:30 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. The staff is knowledgeable and multilingual.
  • Visiting – Cezanne fans may want to plan a pilgrimage to the Lauves Studio, 9 Avenue Paul Cezanne, where he lived and worked for the past four years of his life. Tel: +33 (0) 4 42 21 06 53. It’s a 30-minute walk to the northern outskirts of town, or a short ride on Bus No. 5 (Cezanne stop). Opening days and times vary throughout the year. Check with their website or the Tourism Information Center.
  • Relaxing Thermes Sextius, 55 avenue des Thermes, is a vast state-of-the-art facility offering a full range of hydrotherapy and spa treatments. Tel: +33 (0) 4 42 23 81 82. Appointments a must.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Aix-en-Provence