If you pile up all the guide books to Paris, you’d have a structure the height of the Tour Eiffel, I am convinced.
So my, my, how to choose? You may want to get deeper into your own special interest than the standard Michelin, Frommer’s, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, etc., but Paris is eminently walkable, so most specialty guides focus on walking. I have previously recommended the extremely detailed Around and About Paris by Thirza Vallois particularly good for history and architecture buffs , a book of well-informed walks called the Most Beautiful Walks in the World and a terrific book for movie lovers.
Today I’m introducing two brand new walking guides–one that tracks famous people of yesteryear and the other that wanders through green spaces. (Another guide to the markets of Paris is on its way to me, but that review will come later.)
First, the truly pocket-sized guide book,
part of a series of city walk books published by Chronicle Books of San Francisco.
Word Association test. When you think of Paris, what famous person comes to mind? Hemingway? Piaf? Yves Montand? Monet? Victor Hugo? These are just a few of the celebrities covered by Christina Henry de Tessan in this little book. She even ventures out to Versailles to talk about Marie Antoinette, in case you’d like to follow that part of the doomed young queen’s life. If I have not mentioned the person who you associate with Paris–mention them in a comment and I’ll let you know if they’re included in the book.
I recently read a review of a new film about the life of Serge Gainsbourg. I had not heard of this wild performer–“France’s favorite bad boy,” but my friend Alexandra Grabbe who wrote the DVD review at Reel Life With Jane has long been fascinated by him. So when I saw his name in the table of contents of Forever Paris, I turned to that page that takes us on a Gainsbourg pilgrimage. One suspects that the man himself would scoff at a formal prescribed walk and would drop off at Stop 3, his favorite watering hole– the Ritz Hotel’s Hemingway Bar– leaving us to follow the map for the rest of his life.
Each entry has a detailed one-page map of a walk that starts and ends at Metro stops and a one- to two-page capsule of the person’s connection with Paris. The directions are clear and easy to follow, and the incidents intriguing.
The suggested walk for Ernest Hemingway is a long wander on the left bank, fitting for the man obsessed with physical fitness. A walk with Hemingway, of course, will bump into other writers–D. H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce– none of whom have walks of their own, so they’re gong to be a bit grumpy, since that crowd tended to be very competitive.
I like the fact that this book is small–actually packable and easy to carry with you. But of course being small, means that the information is sometimes very sketchy. It seemed to me that some of the walks did not have a strong enough itinerary to justify their being in the book, i.e. only three stops for the life of De Gaulle? Nevertheless, following these itineraries is one organized way to wander through some incredibly interesting territory, and the book is well done.
by Susan Cahill, bigger and therefore heavier to carry than the other book, but packed with a lot more information. Fortunately for travelers, both of these books come in electronic versions!
When I first glanced at the title, I though, “Ah, a book for garden-club members.” But that is an unfair characterization. Paris’ many lovely open areas are just one of the things that gives it charm and makes it feel so much less “big city” than most world capitols. After reading this book, you realize the importance of these spaces to Paris’ history and to the lifestyle of the residents.
Cahill features forty places, and many others in supplementary material. The book has beautiful photography, but unfortunately only one very general locator map. Each entry includes the street location, and the nearest Metro stop, but you’ll need a good city map to supplement the book. This is not an insurmountable problem, since everyone needs a good city map anyhow.
The book is divided by areas of the city, making it easy to find the gardens and parks that are near you (if you have your map). Most of these lovely spaces are indeed “hidden” but the author includes some that are definitely not secrets–like Luxembourg Gardens and Père Lachaise cemetery. I particularly like the tidbits of history that she includes in the descriptions, and references to historic personages that might have walked here before you. For instance, Square Récamier, named for Juliette Récamier, of whom Chateaubriand wrote, “In looking at your divine beauty one feels transported and it robs death of its shadows of gloom.” Récamier and her friend Germaine de Staël (my own favorite historical heroine) resisted Napoleon, and it was of them that he said, “Women should stick to knitting.”
I am always delighted to find a guide book feature a place that I DID visit when I traveled, and both these books visit the Musee Delacroix, which was only a few blocks from our rented apartment.
Wanderers will also appreciate a list of nearby places they might want to visit, including suggestions for a place to eat, including one where President and Mrs. Obama ate when in Paris.
When we were planning our trip to France, one of the best pieces of advice I got for anyone arriving on a daytime flight–instead of going to bed, as you are tempted to do, wander over to the Jardin du Luxembourg and walk around, sit on a bench and watch the people, or have a café au lait in the café. It provides an orientation, a way to reset your clock by staying outdoors, and a quick immersion in the life of Paris. The Luxembourg happened to be near us, but no matter where you are staying, you’ll find a garden in this book that you can use in the same way.
Finally, Cahill is a book lover, and any fellow book lover is going to appreciate the many quotations scattered through the book as well as footnotes referencing other guidebooks and her suggestions for reading material that will enhance your visit to Paris. There’s a lot to love in this book for all travelers, particularly those who love to read.
The publishers sent me these books for review, but the opinions are strictly my own. Links to Amazon.com are affiliate links, which means that although it costs you no more, if you shop using those links, you will be supporting A Traveler’s Library. Thanks! Why not do all your Amazon shopping that way? Pictures all belong to Ken and me–they are NOT from the books reviewed. Please respect the copyright.