A Day In Paris 

by Sean Hillen

It’s surprising what can be enjoyed in just a single day, even in the food and cultural mecca of Paris. To create lasting memories of a twenty-four hour visit to the City of Light here are a few suggestions.

Morning – A Taste of Culture

Home to scores of museums and art galleries, making a single choice is not easy in this culture-rich city. After breakfast, however, try somewhere different to the ever-popular Louvre and the Musée D’Orsay, somewhere where you’ll also enjoy the added advantage of not having to wait in long queues to get in.

Photo courtesy of Albert Kahn Museum.

Unique in that it combines a Japanese garden, a Vosges forest and an exhibition gallery, the Albert Kahn Museum – opened in April this year after five years of renovations – offers a documentation of the world in images and short videos inside and a world of plants outside, with seven contrasting garden styles to explore over many acres. 

More than 100 years ago, Kahn, a former philanthropic banker, paid photographers to travel far and wide in 28 countries, resulting in thousands of captivating photos in both popular and remote places. These range from the Imperial City of Beijing to the Pyramid of Gisa in Egypt. Here you’ll see landscapes, seascapes and dramatic portraits of people at work and play, including even pickle merchants plying their trade in Turkey.

Photo courtesy of Albert Kahn Museum.

The museum encourages sensory experience designed around immersive displays based on current digital technologies, including cinema and autochrome screenings. 

A second exhibition worth visiting is the Henri Cartier-Bresson Centre named after the man who pioneered the genre of street photography. Celebrating the opening of a new space, curators are now hosting a series of images of northern English society by Cartier-Bresson and Martin Parr entitled ‘Reconciliation.’ There is also an exhibition of the work of US born artist Jan Groover, including her color compositions and her still-life techniques. 

GB. England. Blackpool. 1993. Photo courtesy of Henri Cartier-Bresson Centre

Afternoon Tea At Le Meurice

Having enriched yourself culturally, you deserve to rest those tired feet and treat yourself royally. Carpe diem, aim high. Indulge yourself in an afternoon tea in one of Paris’s top hotels.

Categorised as a palace hotel, meaning above 5-star, Le Meurice fuses 18th-century splendour with modern comfort. Enter the ornate Le Dalí restaurant and stare upwards (while trying to keep your mouth closed) at the superb, hand-painted ceiling canvas depicting dancers in full flow. White Doric-style pillars line the walls and a gleaming floor reflects a combination of lush carpet and rich mosaic tiles. 

Photo by Columbia Hillen

So precise is afternoon tea here, guests are presented with small sand timers as their tea – white, black or green – is served so you can brew it to the exact amount of time required. Presentation being so important, food and drinks are served on three-tier silver trays in delicate Bernardaud ‘au naturale’ porcelain featuring butterflies, birds and branches.

Photo by Columbia Hillen

Our finger sandwiches included English muffins and pain bagnat with tuna, slice of egg-white and tomato on an olive tapenade base, as well as a blend of spinach, honey and smoked turkey on toasted bread. Scone fillings include raspberry and apricot jams and thick Normandy cream. Desserts range from miniature cups filled with Alain Ducasse’s famed chocolate to the traditional hazelnut Paris-Breast and delicious chocolate and caramel cookies. Most intriguing was chef Cédric Grole’s innovative version of reconstructed passion fruit and mini grapefruit, both literally bursting with refreshing flavour. Feeling special, try the champagne option.

Visit To The National Library

It seems strange to urge anyone to visit a library while in Paris but the National Library of France is no ordinary library, it is a museum of Baroque galleries and spectacular painted ceilings containing unique artefacts of all kinds. 

Photo by Columbia Hillen

After years of renovation, the library just opened its doors to visitors and proudly displays cabinets of ancient coins; medals, collected by kings of France since the Middles Ages; and antiques such as the throne of King Dagobert from the 8th-9th century; a coloured amphora from an Etruscan tomb dated around 540-530 BC; and Roman and Gallo-Roman silverware including statuettes of Mercury, richly cups, vials, goblets and spoons from the 1st century. Among the library’s finest treasures is one of the first examples of writing in the world, a black stone etched with cuneiform from Mesopotamia. The museum also hosts jewellery, engraved stones, sculptures and antique ceramics. Among the art works are a remarkable pencil portrait of Catherine de Medici and the original Moulin Rouge poster painted by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. 

Photo by Columbia Hillen

For me, however, the highlight of my visit was a room containing original manuscripts by some of France’s most esteemed writers. Here, under glass but easy to read, are the memoirs of Casanova; the classic novel, Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) by Victor Hugo; and In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust. To see these revered writers and their personal editing marks and notes on the pages is truly exciting.  

An Art Nouveau Dinner 

Time for dinner and for a special belle epoque experience under a richly-engraved art nouveau glass dome designed by the famed Gustave Eiffel, try the ground-floor restaurant V at Hotel Vernet close to Avenue des Champs-Élysées. 

Photo by Columbia Hillen

From the lobby, the restaurant, refurbished five years ago, looks like a jewellery box with two sections, with separate green and a blue furnishings, leather chairs and sofas and round black tables with sleek lamps that make the glasses and cutlery gleam. Here, with the cheerful service of cheerful manager, Bordeaux-born Remi Gouaichault, and culinary creations by chef Robert Robe, you can enjoy starters ranging from confit of pheasant with cranberry and Thai basil to crayfish ravioli.

Photo by Columbia Hillen

Mains are a balance of fish and meat with a vegetarian option and include root vegetables such as Asian artchioke with black truffle; scallops with rutabaga and carrot; roasted rib eye and cheek with potatoes or veal sweetbread. Feeling specially hungry, try the 7-course tasting menu.  

Time For Stand-Up Comedy 

In the mood for post-dinner entertainment? Try a stand-up comedy show. And a free one at that. In La Pomme D’Eve, an evocative subterranean bar in the Pantheon neighborhood, where Anna Ampatziani, a well-trained financial analyst from northern Greece, organises Thursday evenings filled with humor. 

Photo by Columbia Hillen

A nondescript street-level wooden door opens to some well-worn stone steps down into a charming, intimate room with a low-vaulted, brick ceiling. My companion and I joined an enthusiastic, multi-national audience for 90-minutes of free-flowing fun from a diverse range of comedians. Arrive early as seats fill up quickly.

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