If you’re in Paris for the end of the Tour de France, even if you’re not a cycling fan, the arrival on the Champs Elysées is a French sporting tradition that is not to be missed. This incredible race takes place over 3 weeks each summer and has done since 1903 (except for during the two world wars). It criss-crosses the country, taking in some spectacular scenery along the way, including incredible, gruelling mountain stages in both the Alps and the Pyrenées, and the route is lined with over 12 million spectators each year.
It’s a mythical and magnificent race, and it ends on the Champs Elysées. It’s the perfect place to watch it, they lap 8 times up and down the avenue and around the Arc de Triomphe, so you have plenty of chances to spot the yellow jersey. This year I was lucky enough to get invited to watch it from the terrace on the top of the Arc de Triomphe, and as a big fan of the Tour it was a huge treat.
Even if you’re not in Paris, if you happen to be in France in July, check the website and see if it’s coming to a place near you.
Tour de France website (in English)
The Arc de Triomphe is one of those monuments that I always tend to overlook. Generally we whizz round it in a car, peer at it through the window, and not much more. (Incidentally, when I first moved to Paris, I was told that to drive like a true Parisian I should be able to drive all the way round it without stopping and without changing gear. Believe me, it’s impossible).
However I was recently invited to take a closer look at it, and was privileged to get a personal guided tour. I arrived just as the ‘Ceremonie de la Flamme’ was ending. Every evening at 6:30pm a ceremony takes place at the tomb of the unknown soldier, commemorating those who lost their lives in war. Run by volunteers and associations, it’s a moving and thought provoking ceremony. Lit in 1923, the flame on the tomb has never gone out, even during the Occupation of WWII.
I was then given a tour of the monumental sculptures on the outside of the arch. Sculpted by François Rude, they are extremely beautiful when seen up close, the detail and power of them is incredible. Built by Napoleon 1er, construction of the arch was begun in 1826. It has become the symbol of Paris during major events: Napoleon’s funeral cortege passed under it, de Gaulle marched through it when he liberated the city in 1944, nowadays the Tour de France ends here,
You can climb to the top of the arch, the steps are actually not half as bad as they look. Otherwise there is a lift if you really can’t make it. Upstairs there is currently a photographic exhibition called ‘Soldats Inconnus’. It’s very simple, but extremely moving and is there in commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of WWI.
The views across the city from the top are spectacular, especially at night. You get wonderful views right down the Champs Elysées and the whole of Paris is lit up in front of you, including a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve realised that the Arc de Triomphe is definitely not a monument to be overlooked!
- Arch de Triomphe. Place Charles de Gaulle Etoile, 75008 Paris
Open daily 10am to 11pm.
Arc de Triomphe website
Inaugurated in 1900 for the Universal Exhibition, the Pont Alexandre III is the most elegant bridge in Paris and a great place to take some wonderful photos.
Tsar Nicolas of Russia laid the first stone in 1896 – the bridge is named after his father, the Emperor Alexandre III, and commemorates the alliance between France and Russia signed in 1891.
The setting for many famous film scenes and music videos, the bridge itself is richly decorated and is surrounded by beautiful monuments. To one side there is the Esplanade des Invalides with the golden dome of the Invalides housing Napoleon’s tomb, to the other the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, both home to a variety of excellent temporary exhibitions, and the Champs Elysées is just a short stroll away. You can also access the quays of the River Seine from here.
The avenue Montaigne is the other temple to high fashion in Paris, after the rue St Honoré. Wider and quieter than the rue St Honoré, it is home to all the major fashion houses and forms one side of the the famous ‘Golden Triangle’ (the other two being avenue Georges V and the Champs Elysées).
I prefer a stroll down this avenue if I want to look at high fashion. It runs from the Champs Elysées down to the river, and is less crowded and more fun to window shop (or really shop if you want!) It’s also home to the famous Plaza Athenée Hotel, where Mata Hari was arrested in 1917 – Marlene Dietrich lived opposite at No. 12, her apartment overlooking the room where she had stayed with her lover Jean Gabin.
I ended my walk with a visit to the studio of Yves St Laurent, nearby at 5 avenue Marceau. The Fondation Pierre Bergé is open for temporary exhibitions, but to see the studio you have to book a guided visit, and they sell out in advance so don’t leave it to the last minute! It was very special to be able to see the studio where St Laurent created so many of his iconic designs. Photos are not allowed inside, so check out their website. I can really recommend this visit, it lasts 90 minutes and provides a fascinating insight into his life and work.
Fondation Pierre Bergé
- avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris
- Fondation Pierre Bergé, 5 avenue Marceau, 75116 Paris. Metro for both: Pont de l’Alma
Running through the 1st and 8th arrondissements, the rue St Honoré is one of the mythical streets of fashion in Paris. Here you’ll find all the big names and more, and if you want to spend some serious money it’s a good place to do it! I prefer to window shop, the Hermes windows are an event every time they change, and you can also hang out in one of the most fashion forward shops in Paris – Colette at number 213.
One of the most interesting things I discovered was that Joan of Arc was injured here in 1429 whilst attempting to take the city of Paris with her army. It’s very hard to imagine nowadays, perhaps in this street more than some others. Today it’s definitely fashion that rules here.
- rue St Honoré, 75001 Paris. metros: Palais Royal Musée du Louvre, Tuileries or Concorde