Conciergerie: The Tears of Marie Antoinette

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Everyone who’s even a little bit familiar with French history knows that Marie Antoinette and her husband, King Louis XVI, were made about a foot shorter on top during the French Revolution. And you’re probably also familiar with Marie’s alleged–and oft-disputed–statement “Let them eat cake!” when told the poor didn’t have bread to eat. But what happened to her between the time of her arrest and her execution? Most of that period was spent imprisoned in the Conciergerie, a sprawling, medieval fortress-like facility on the western tip of the Ile de la Cite. And you can pay a visit to the facility—and tour the very rooms where Marie Antoinette spent her final days. Continue Reading →

A Hidden Paris Gem: Palais-Royal Gardens

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One of Paris’s most serene public parks is one not often visited by tourists to the City of Light—the gardens of the Palais-Royal, directly north of the Louvre in the 1st Arrondissement. Why is it such a secret gem? First, the Palais-Royal itself is not commonly visited by tourists—or even Parisians themselves. The former royal palace today is home mostly to a host of French bureaucracies and administrative offices. And second, the garden—though very large—is part of an entirely enclosed courtyard in the center of the complex, making it nearly invisible to passers-by. And that’s a shame because its beautiful fountain, gorgeous landscaping and iconic double rows of perfectly manicured trees lining long promenades combine to create the quintessential Parisian green space. Continue Reading →

Royal History at Saint-Germain-des-Pres Church

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If you’ve visited Paris’s chic Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood—and in particular either of the district’s historic cafes, Les Deux Magots or Café Flore—you’ve undoubtedly at least seen the Eglise de Saint-Germain-des-Pres. It was this very church—originally founded in the mid-6th century as a Benedictine abbey—that gave the name to Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Pres district as the abbey for centuries owned all of the Left Bank land in the area. Sadly, though, few tourists do more than admire the scenery or perhaps take a photo or two. And that’s a shame, because the church itself is well worth a visit if nothing other than for its rich history deeply intertwined with France’s Merovingian kings who ruled the nation for 300 years beginning in the middle of the 5th century. Continue Reading →

A Salute to Louis XIV at Place des Victoires

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A little-visited but still quite scenic—and historic—site in Paris’s 1st Arrondissement is the Place des Victoires, a circular “square” that was created to honor King Loius XIV. Place des Victoires is a short walk from the more popular Palais Royal, but few tourists make their way to this locale. And that’s mostly because aside from a large statue of Louis in the center of the circle, there’s no real “sight” to see. That’s a shame, because the circle has delightful 17th century architecture and, for history buffs, roots stretching back to the French royal House of Bourbon, and links to the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte. Continue Reading →

Puits d’Amour at World-Famous Stohrer

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Nestled among the many wonderful fish, butcher, cheese, produce and other fine-food shops on the market street Rue Montorgueil in Paris’s 2nd Arrondissement is one of my favorite pastry shops in the entire world – Stohrer. Technically called a patissier-traiteur because the shop offers a range of delicious meal and snack items in addition to desserts, Stohrer is best known for its fantastic pastries and its unbelievable history that stretches back to before the French Revolution. The shop’s two most-famous confections are the baba au rhum (a rum-soaked brioche) and the to-die-for Puits d’Amour (wells of love). Continue Reading →

The Heart of French History

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One of my favorite sights to visit in Paris is the gorgeous and historic Basilica of Saint Denis in the suburb of Saint Denis. The church and abbey have been the burial place of French royalty since the 10th century (although kings from as far back as the year 500 have had their remains moved here). Parts of the church itself were constructed more than 1,300 years ago. The history here is mind-boggling. Continue Reading →