The Montmarte neighborhood, in the northern part of Paris, was on our agenda so a Rick Steve-like tour, led by hubby, became our urban exercise for another day of exploration. For me, the highlight of our visit to Montmarte was a tour of the Sacré-Cœur (Sacred Heart) Basilica, sitting atop Paris’ highest natural point at 420-feet. On a clear day this five-domed Roman-Byzantine-looking basilica can be seen from many vantage points in the city.
Although this spiritual center has an ancient air to it, it’s only a century old, taking 44 years to build. We had heard that the views from the tower were not to be missed, so although it was a warm day we decided to tackle the 300 steps up a narrow circular stone staircase, this after climbing the 288 steps up to the door of the basilica. As I wound my way upward, I found myself wondering who else had traversed these worn stone steps over the past 100 years.
Back at ground level, we wandered through a local art fair, down intriguing little roads and alleyways, stopped by the Moulin Rouge nightclub, which has quite its own history, and strolled through Pig Alley, the red-light district. A local creperie became our lunch of choice before we left the Montmartre neighborhood.
After visiting the Louvre Museum we weren’t anxious to rub elbows with thousands of other tourists again, but we also weren’t willing to leave Paris without visiting Versailles, now a wealthy suburb of the City of Light, dating from the 11th century.
Versailles, once a center of government, is now a national landmark. First built by Louis XIII as a hunting lodge and private retreat for his family in 1623, it was later enlarged into a royal palace by Louis XIV. The Grand Trianon, a smaller château that sits on the grounds and within its own park, was built at the request of Louis XIV, a quiet little place where he and his guests could enjoy light meals.
Although it was interesting to tour the royal palace, we literally walked shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow tourists throughout the château. It was not surprising that we all breathed a sigh of relief as we moved into the huge gardens. Although rain was threatening, the groves, gardens, and fountains were delightful. We visited on one of the Garden of the Spectacles days, when the myriad fountains spout to the rhythm of the classical music being carried through the gardens.
We have found Paris to be magical, filled with romance, culture, beautiful sights, and fabulous foods and wines, but we were anxious to get out into the French countryside and explore some of the small villages. Our five days in the City of Light had come to an end.