Autumn is a magical time to visit Paris. As the leaves turn to brown and the crowds recede, the sun breaks the crisp cold air and as long as you’ve brought a sweater along there are plenty of cool things to see and do. I’ve just come back from a long weekend and I loved every second. Here are a few ideas to inspire….
Da Vinci @ The Louvre
Already home to the world’s most famous painting, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, this week the Louvre is opening a brand new Da Vinci exhibition to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.
The exhibition has taken almost ten years to organise, in fact, thanks to passionate Italian objections it nearly didn’t happen. Thankfully things have been smoothed out on the condition the French definitely give them back this time. Other Da Vinci pieces for the exhibition have been borrowed from collections including ones owned by Bill Gates and Her Majesty the Queen.
To see the works up close, including his amazing sketchbooks is an incredible privilege and it’s impossible not to be in awe of an undisputed master who was centuries ahead of his time. Da Vinci was not only a painter he was also a designer, engineer and scientist.
New virtual reality technology is being used in the exhibition and by wearing a VR headset it’s possible to see the work from a different perspective. Among the things you can see is a fascinating 3D version of the Mona Lisa. What’s also interesting is the way that by scanning his paintings experts have found on a couple of occasions ideas for later paintings on the canvas underneath. For example for the angel and infant Christ beneath the surface of Leonardo’s The Virgin of the Rocks (see pic).
If for some reason you’re not a huge fan of Da Vinci, don’t worry there are lots of other pieces of art in the Louvre to enjoy. In fact if you looked at a different item in the museum every 30 seconds for 8 hours a day it would take you almost 36 days to see them all!
Leonardo da Vinci
from October 24, 2019 to February 24, 2020
Jeff Koons “Bouquet of Tulips”
Some three years after it was first announced Koons’ sculpture ‘Bouquet of Tulips’ is now on permanent display in the gardens of the Champs Élysées — between the Petit Palais and Place de la Concorde amid what has to be said, some controversy.
Jeff Koons often divides opinion and he’s never been afraid to push artistic boundaries with his work, most notably with the Italian ex-porn star and politician Ilona Staller (known as La Cicciolina).
So far the reaction to the new piece since it’s unveiling has been mixed with some commentators likening the tulips to erm… intimate body parts. Whatever your opinion, you can’t deny it’s certainly an impressive piece of work.
The 41ft tall sculpture is made from polychromed bronze, stainless steel and aluminum and its obvious visual connection with the Statue of Liberty torch (which was itself a gift to the US from France in 1886) is easier to understand when Koons explains the piece is a gift to commemorate the victims of the terror attacks that rocked Paris in 2015 and 2016.
Several prominent figures including the artist Christian Boltanski and a former culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand were against the project calling it ‘opportunistic and cynical’, but in defence the artist explained how his experience of living in New York following 9/11 has given him a strong emotional attachment to the people of Paris. Anne Hidalgo who is the major of Paris called the work “a gift from the heart”, and said vibrant debate, particularly over art, was a hallmark of Parisian identity.
Jeff Koons “Bouquet of Tulips” is outside the Petit Palais, close to the US Embassy.
Louis Vuitton Foundation
It may have taken 7 years for this Frank Gehry designed wonder to be built, but the Louis Vuitton Foundation was definitely worth the wait. Since opening in 2015 the 126,000-square-foot space has become one of ‘the’ iconic buildings of Paris. Like many Gehry designs the outside of the structure ebbs and flows and it’s positioning by water likens it to a ship. Gehry himself summed it up by saying “I dreamt of designing a magnificent vessel for Paris that symbolises France’s profound cultural vocation”. The space alone is interesting enough, but it’s also a vibrant hub of performance, art and discussion.
Recent events have included a concert by BBC Young Musician of the Year, pianist Martin Jame Bartlett and there’s currently a large-scale exhibition dedicated to Charlotte Perriand, a pioneer of modernity and a leading figure of 20th-century design who contributed to the definition of a new art de vivre. If you visit make sure you head to the roof and see the beautiful views over Paris.
Fondation Louis Vuitton
8, Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, Bois de Boulogne – 75116 – Paris
Especially without a car, Paris is a relatively easy city to get around. The metro is good and now there are lots of new transport sharing businesses all vying for customers (in the past 12 months there has been 12 new scooter startups alone). I tried out a scooter sharing service called Lime. According to their website have vehicles, bikes and scooters in over 200 countries already. It was really easy to do, just download their App and create an account (I did it in 3 mins next to the scooter). Then scan the barcode on the frame and the bike kicks into life and off you go.
The maximum speed is only about 16mph, but when you’re mingling with the enthusiastic Parisian rush hour it can certainly pump your adrenaline. Ride past the Louvre by twilight and follow the river up to the Eiffel Tower, it’s a breathtakingly beautiful city and an electric scooter is a wonderful way to discover its delights.
Another great thing is that the scooters are everywhere, plus you can leave them virtually wherever you want (annoyingly except by the Louis Vuitton Foundation and a few other places just out of the heart out of Paris). It costs about €6 for a 10-15 minute ride and you’re billed automatically once you end your trip.
Just make sure you are careful and ride sensibly (a helmet is recommended and don’t ride on the pavement or you’ll get fined) and remember not everyone is as good at driving as the British.
For more info visit www.li.me
Where to Stay
This beautiful Hotel located close to the Arc Du Triomphe down a quiet side street really encapsulates the true sense of the word ’boutique’. There are only 25 rooms, so the first thing I would say is book early!
I stayed in the ground floor ‘suite’ which is modern and bright with a cool TV area and pristine double shower. It feels like no expense has been spared and the room has a hi-tech sliding roof for privacy and the low Japanese style bed which is very (very) comfortable. Adjacent to the suite is a chic reading room and a beautiful, luxurious lounge area. If the weather gets too bad it’s a place you could happily while away an afternoon in. There is an honesty bar and free herbal tea and Nespresso coffee.
Every day there is a new homemade cake (we had yoghurt cake) for the guests to enjoy free of charge. Meanwhile downstairs there is an immaculate small spa and fitness area and it’s also possible to book a massage.
During the early evening you are welcome to take an ‘Aperitivo’. It’s an opportunity to mix your very own complimentary cocktail, with all the ingredients laid out next to the recipe. This month it is ‘Southside Fizz’. I think its a fab idea and if you don’t have bar experience don’t worry, the staff at the Hotel are really helpful. There is no restaurant, but the continental breakfast is fantastic with locally sourced produce and the best cheeses and gorgeous (proper French) croissants.
The Hotel is on a street with about five or six Oriental / Chinese / Thai Restaurants. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the one we tried but it was bustling and brilliant. On the corner of the street is a typical French cafe/bistro/wine bar where you can happily watch the world go past with a glass of red wine in your hand.
Overall Flanelles is a fantastic Hotel run by a young and enthusiastic team that genuinely seem to really enjoy working there. Definitely recommended.
Hotel Flanelles Paris
14 Rue Brey, 75017 Paris, France
La Maison Favart
The second Hotel of my visit to the city of Love is ‘La Maison Favart’. Located in a central location, in a quiet side street opposite the famous grand Opéra Comique and just 20 mins walk south to the Louvre. There are three metro stations within five minutes’ walk so getting around is very easy and there’s plenty of exclusive French department stores close by, so it’s a good base for shopaholics too.
The Hotel is steeped in Parisian history and it was originally built as the residence of Charles Simon Favart, the famous French playwright. He fell in love with a young actress known as Mademoiselle Chantilly and they lived here for many years. There are paintings of Charles and his wife in the hotel’s wonderfully elegant reception, and the 18th century decor takes you back to another time and place (but with the benefit of fast Wi-Fi).
Originally the downstairs of the Hotel was the horses stables and you can still see the wooden beams today. The bedrooms are as equally as elegant with original features such as baroque prints and stripy wallpaper. It’s possible to stay in Favart’s original living quarters, which is very grandiose indeed… (see the video below).
On the lower floor, there is a small spa with Sauna and plunge pool, it is full of character and there is also a special massage machine available for Hotel clients that uses water technology to ease tired muscles. It’s a bit weird to start, but it’s fantastic!
La Maison Favart – 5 Rue de Marivaux, 75002 Paris, France www.lamaisonfavart.com
The easiest and most convenient way to get to Paris (from London anyway) is via Eurostar. Travelling time is just over 2 hours and there are currently 10 trains per day.
For more info visit www.eurostar.com