Text and photos by Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Summer is a great time to visit Paris. After all, the days are filled with sunshine, and the city is alive with outdoor festivals and concerts, not to mention the sale season that typically starts in late June.
The weather during June to August can be nice and warm, but there are a few heatwaves that will have you longing for Manila’s relatively cooler, rainy weather.
I arrived in Paris in the middle of one hot spell, with temperatures soaring to 37 degrees. Walking around the city in the afternoon became a slow form of torture, only made bearable when you think of that ice cream you’ll be getting at the famed Berthillon by the end of the day.
I also came to the realization that not all establishments in Paris have working air-conditioning, not even an international hotel chain where we stayed. (Something to think about when you’re booking an Airbnb during the summer).
The sweltering weather may have prompted a few changes to our itinerary, but it didn’t stop us from falling in love with the City of Lights all over again.
LOUVRE WITH A GUIDE
When it’s too hot to walk outside, it’s time to take refuge at a museum. What better place than the world’s most popular art museum — the Louvre.
The Louvre receives millions of visitors a year, with an all-time high of 9.7 million in 2012. Visitors dropped to 7.4 million in 2016 amid fears of terrorism, but there are signs the tourists are coming back.
It’s tempting to rush through the galleries in search of Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa, but it’s worth it to get a personal tour guide who will give insights on many of the overlooked artworks.
We booked a three-hour walking tour of the Louvre, and our guide was a Serbian art student, Ivana Petrovich, who has lived in Paris for eight years.
“If you spend two minutes at each artwork at the Louvre, you’ll still need three months to see everything,” Ms. Petrovich pointed out as we navigated the stuffy halls filled with Chinese tour groups.
Our first stop was the lower level of the Sully Wing, where the ruins of the 13th century fortress built by King Philippe Augustus were excavated in the 1980s when the Louvre’s glass pyramid was being constructed.
The museum is huge, but the crowds are all gathered in front of the same artworks. Nowhere is it more crowded than the gallery where the Mona Lisa is located.
Be prepared to fight your way to the front to get the obligatory selfie with the woman Ms. Petrovich cheekily described as “the original Kardashian — famous for being famous.”
While most are busy taking snaps on the tiny Mona Lisa, spare a glance at the huge painting on the opposite side — Veronese’s The Wedding Feast at Cana.
Even though we checked off the “must-sees” like the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Sleeping Hermaphroditus, Louis David’s Coronation of Napoleon I, and Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Guiding the People, there’s still so much to see the next time we visit the Louvre.
Food tours are becoming more popular in Paris — a city known for its gastronomic delights. KKDay, an e-commerce platform offering unique local tours around the world, has several food tours in Paris.
For an afternoon of wine and cheese-tasting, we headed to La Vache Dans Les Vignes (The Cow in the Vines), a small shop in front of the Canal St. Martin in the 10th arrondissement.
La Vache’s friendly owner gave a brief introduction of the four wines and the variety of cheeses on the menu. We tried four wines — a rosé from Provence, a dry white from Loire Valley, a chardonnay from central France, and a light red wine from Beaujolais.
There was a good selection of cheeses, served in ascending aggressiveness. The first cheese was a Rocamadour, a light goat cheese from the southwestern part of France. This was followed by Crottin, a dense, compact goat’s milk cheese from the Loire Valley, and Comté, made from unpasteurized cow’s milk in the eastern region. The Napoleon Commingeois, an ewe’s milk cheese, had a tangy and aggressive taste, while the Herve, a Belgian soft cow’s milk cheese, had a very strong flavor.
The servings of cheese, wine and bread were quite generous, and by the time the last bottle was poured, no one could squeeze in another bite.
Perhaps sensing we needed to walk off all the cheese we ate, the owner suggested checking out the various free mini-concerts being held around the city as part of the annual Fete de la Musique.
At Place Stavinsky, located between the Centre Pompidou and Church of Saint-Merri, a Filipino band played some pop-rock tunes, while a Latin American dance troupe showed their moves on the other side.
PARIS BY NIGHT
Paris is not called the City of Lights for nothing. Exploring this magical city at night is a totally different experience. During summer though, be prepared to wait for the sun to set at around 9:30 p.m.
KKDay also offers an hour-long cruise along the Seine, plus a night tour of the city with dinner at a French restaurant.
We boarded the Bateaux-Mouches on the Seine at around 7 p.m., too early for sunset but with just the perfect chilly weather to enjoy the sights. The boat can be extremely crowded, so it’s best to grab a seat when you can.
On board, we soaked up the views of the beloved Notre-Dame Cathedral, Eiffel Tower, Orsay Museum, and one of the city’s most romantic bridges — Pont Neuf.
After the short cruise, we hopped on a double-decker bus to see how the city transforms at night. We ended the evening with a meal at Brasserie Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit, a Parisian cabaret-bar near the Champs Elysee.
If you’re a first-timer in Paris, this tour would be a good introduction. However, the bus does not have any stops and only drives around the city for a little over an hour. There’s no tour guide, only a recorded audioguide pointing out the landmarks.
It’s best to set aside an evening to enjoy the Eiffel Tower’s illumination. The next night, we had dinner at Chez Francis, located near Place de l’Alma, with the best views of the tower.
After filling ourselves with wine, foie gras, and escargots, we walked to the bridge which offered an unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower’s light show. The tower sparkles for five minutes every hour, from sunset to 1 or 2 a.m. (during summer).
Also nearby was the Flame of Liberty monument, which was given by the United States to France in gratitude for the restoration work on the Statue of Liberty. Now the Flame of Liberty serves as a makeshift memorial for the late Princess Diana, who was tragically killed in a car accident in the tunnel on Aug. 31, 1997.
There are so many museums in Paris, it would take more than just one trip to visit them all.
The Orsay Museum, housed in a former train station, is slightly less crowded than the Louvre. It is certainly more manageable, as you can go through the floors featuring works by Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Rodin, Renoir, and Degas in perhaps half a day. You can find an unbeatable view of Paris through the clock face located on the museum’s fifth floor.
The Musee National Picasso-Paris is housed in the iconic Hotel Salé in the Marais district. It has more than 5,000 works by Picasso, including drawings, photographs, postcards, and sketchbooks.
An exhibition centering on Olga Picasso, the artist’s wife and long-time muse, is ongoing until Sept. 3. Aside from the paintings and drawings by Picasso, there are also letters, photographs and Olga’s personal effects, including her Goyard trunk, on display.
If you want to enjoy more modern art, the Centre Pompidou is a 10- to 15-minute walk away from the Picasso Museum. You can’t miss the iconic building, with its exterior escalators and the brightly colored tubes. The center is known for its 20th and 21st century art collections, as well as the panoramic view of Paris from the top floor.
Currently on view at the Centre Pompidou is a retrospective on the work of British pop artist David Hockey, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year.
A sprawling (and air conditioned!) department store can provide much-needed refuge from the oppressive summer heat. And if you time your trip properly, you can shop ’til you drop during France’s sale season. The government determines the dates of the nationwide sales, which are held twice a year — usually June/July for the summer sale and January/February for the winter sale. This year, the sale season officially started on June 28.
Shopaholics should drop by the Galeries Lafayette, located on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement. Here you’ll find a large number of brands from fast-fashion favorites Zara and Topshop to luxury labels like Chanel, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. Don’t forget your purchases over €175 made at a single shop are entitled to a refund on value-added tax (VAT).
Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, the department store has a gorgeous Art Noveau stained-glass dome and a panoramic view of the rooftops of Paris.
The flagship Galeries Lafayette also has a branch of Angelina café, which is famous for its decadent hot chocolate and rich Mont Blanc dessert.
For book lovers, make it a point to drop by at Shakespeare and Company, just a stone’s throw away from the Notre Dame Cathedral. Browse through the packed shelves for hard-to-find books, which are stamped with the shop’s logo once you pay for them.
While the picturesque bookshop is perfect for your Instagram feed, photos are unfortunately not allowed inside. Instead get that perfect shot while having a cup of tea at the Shakespeare and Company café next door, which serves baked goods, and mostly organic and vegetarian fare.
And since you’re in the Ile Saint-Louis area, look for Berthillon. It’s hard to miss — just look for an ice cream shop with a long line of hot, hungry tourists.