By Eloisa James
For romantics looking for the perfect one-day tour of Paris and neighboring Versailles, Eloisa James, author of Paris in Love: A Memoir, has whipped up a dreamy itinerary, allowing for plenty of time to wander Parisian streets, sit in cafés, and partake in some French-inspired people-watching.
I want you to adopt the state of mind of le flaneur: someone who strolls, who wanders, who drinks in the city. There is more to being a flaneur than employing a slow method of locomotion. Baudelaire saw it as a philosophical stance, a kind of detached enchantment with life that came about only once cities grew large enough. The flaneur discovers, in author Susan Sontag’s words, "the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes." I firmly believe that you need to be looking for that landscape in order to discover it.
In the morning, set forth from your hotel and choose a sidewalk café with a long row of chairs (even if it’s wintertime, these cafés are generally equipped with heat lamps). If you have a companion, sit shoulder to shoulder, in that agreeable way of French people, who recognize that watching the passing pageant is better than any movie. When breakfast is over, take the train to Versailles.
If it’s off season (particularly during the winter months), you’ll be able to waltz right into the château when it won’t be suffocatingly crowded. At times, there are contemporary art installations on display, right alongside the golden gateways and the dauphin’s tapestry-hung bed. When we last visited, huge blue plastic bubbles hung from the gilded ceilings, and the courtyard sported a wildly futuristic depiction of a purple coach and horses dashing from the palace—a clear reference to the royal family’s desperate escape. Don’t reflexively hate the contemporary pieces; they bring past and present together in a thought-provoking, and sometimes quite beautiful, fashion. Practice your flaneur-ship and think about the aesthetics of design. And speaking of the passing pageant, it’s fascinating to watch other tourists react to the clash of the antique and the modern.
If the weather is accommodating, leave the château for the gardens and the lake. Hopefully by now, the morning crowds have waned. Buy a baguette sandwich, and then reserve a boat to row yourself out onto the lake. I found drifting on the lake, while looking dreamily at the château and gardens, to be one of the most beautiful experiences of my life (despite the egotistical, rapacious swans who will lunge at your sandwich). If you’re lucky, there may be tunes from either a live concert or a recorded waltz carrying over the water.
You had a sandwich for lunch, so I suggest rounding out the evening with splurge for dinner back in the city. One of the most romantic restaurants in Paris is La Cristal Room at Maison de Baccarat, located in a former private mansion. The setting is utterly sophisticated: delicate, sparkling chandeliers against exposed-brick walls, all of it designed by Philippe Starck. I love the tables with sofas, and the fabulous bathroom. When you make your reservation, ask for the Salon Rose; if it’s not in use for a private party, you can sit in the most romantic seat in the house, directly beneath a fabulous black chandelier dripping with chains of black crystals.
Eloisa James is the author of Paris in Love: A Memoir, chronicling her joyful year in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. A professor of English literature who lives with her family in New Jersey, she is the also the author of Midnight Pleasures and Enchanting Pleasures.
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our Paris Travel Guide.
Photo Credits: Beautiful Couple Kissing via Shutterstock; book cover: courtesy Random House
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