Paris

Paris

The 22 episodes in our Paris series take in all the main sights. Some focus on particular places, such as Notre Dame or Versailles and fill in the history and stories which will enhance your visit. Others treat a particular theme, such as Napoleon’s Paris, giving a little history, then touring the buildings most associated with him. Later episodes focus on, say, the art, cafe culture or literature of the city and explain where you can learn about those things today. In short, we have done all the background research for a visit which you’d do yourself if you had the time!


Paris Episode 01 Introduction

Bienvenue à Paris! Welcome to Paris!

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So often top of the polls when people are asked what city they would most like to visit, Paris barely needs an introduction! But here is an overview of the city, geographically, historically and culturally, to whet your appetite for the remaining 21 episodes when we will tour all the main sites, telling you the stories behind them and introducing a wealth of colourful personalities who have influenced the city over the centuries. Bon voyage!

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Paris Episode 02 The heart of the city

Île St Louis and Île de la Cité

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Surely every tour of Paris should start in the heart of the city, on the two islands which were where the very first settlers made their home, the Île St Louis and the Île de la Cité. We visit the city’s oldest buildings, the Conciergerie and the beautiful Sainte Chapelle Church, linger a little on the Pont Neuf (actually the city’s oldest bridge) and, finally, hear the poignant tale of Paris’ best-known lovers, the 12th century philosophy teacher Abelard and the girl who stole his heart, Héloise.

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Paris Episode 03 Notre Dame and the Basilique St Denis

The two Paris cathedrals: Notre Dame and the less well-known, but equally glorious, Basilique St Denis

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The fire which almost engulfed Notre Dame reminded Parisians and the world in general how precious the city’s cathedral is and this episode will explain why, touching both on significant historical events which have taken place there and on what to see when you visit. But before that, an introduction to Paris’ other, slightly older, cathedral, the Basilique St Denis. It’s less visited, being a little outside the very centre of the city, but it is a building of amazing peace and beauty in which almost every one of France’s kings and queens is buried.

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Paris Episode 04 Versailles and Louis the Fourteenth

Louis the Fourteenth’s vanity project

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A visit to the splendid palace just outside Paris which made Louis the Fourteenth the envy of monarchs all over Europe, yet whose very grandeur helped sow the seeds for revolution among his own people two generations later. A little history, some insights into the personality of a man who thought himself so deserving of pomp and extravagance and some pointers on what to look out for on a visit to the château and its glorious grounds.

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Paris Episode 05 Revolutionary Paris

Royal beheadings

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1789, the defining moment in the history of Paris, is the focus of today’s episode. Of course, the Bastille prison no longer exists but we can visit the Conciergerie, where Marie-Antoinette and so many of her subjects were imprisoned, the Place de la Concorde, where revolutionaries executed several thousand people in their quest to overthrow the authorities and the Musée Carnavalet, the city’s main history museum. There’ll be time too for biographies of the ill-fated Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette.

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Paris Episode 06 Napoleon’s Paris

The emperor who made Paris his own

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This look at Napoleon’s Paris focuses on the Emperor himself and the buildings most closely connected to him: the Arc de Triomphe, begun under his own instructions in 1805 to mark his victory at Austerlitz; the Invalides, where not just his hat and his field equipment, but also his imposing tomb is on display; and the lovely Château de Malmaison, the country retreat he bought for Josephine a few miles out of the city. We examine his legacy too, the changes he made to Paris, and, most illuminatingly, his own remarks in praise of his glories and success!

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Paris Episode 07 Montmatre

An uprising, a church and an artistic community

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We look first at Montmartre as one of the centres of the Paris Commune. After a visit to the Basilique de Sacré Coeur, built in commemoration of the city’s suffering, we consider the other important aspect of the area, its artistic heritage and a visit to the Musée de Montmartre will illuminate the lives of the artists who lived and worked here, as well as the goings-on in such well-known venues as the Moulin de la Galette and the Chat Noir.

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Paris Episode 08 The Belle Epoque and the Eiffel Tower

All the glamour and excitement of Paris in the Belle Epoque

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Impressionist painters, the Folies Bergères, the city’s art-deco style metro stations and grandest cafes all date from the Belle Époque, a 40 year period so well captured in Toulouse Lautrec’s quintessentially Parisian posters. It is the era when the Opéra Garnier, the Eiffel Tower and the Galéries Lafayette were built, a time when Paris seemed to be the centre of the civilised world. The episode looks at a little history and takes you on a tour of the places where you can still glimpse Belle Époque Paris today.

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Paris Episode 09 Impressionist Paris

A very Parisian art movement

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Can there be a city and an art movement more intertwined than Paris and impressionism? Home to many of the movement’s best-known artists, Paris itself was the subject of quite a few of their paintings, whether lovely views of the city like Pissarro’s Boulevard Montmartre on a Wintry Afternoon or canvases capturing Parisians at leisure, such as Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette. This tour of impressionist Paris visits three key sites: the Musée Marmottan, the Orangerie and the Musée d’Orsay.

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Paris Episode 10 Occupied Paris

Paris under German rule in World War Two

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There are still signs of ‘les années noires’ (the dark years) of German occupation in Paris to be found all over the city, for example the many plaques in memory of fallen Resistance fighters and of deported Jewish Parisians, which can be spotted on buildings everywhere. This episode offers a little history, some testimonies from the time and a pointer to two institutions where you can learn much more: the Musée de la Libération and the city’s holocaust memorial, the Shoah.

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Paris Episode 11 Montparnasse and the Latin Quarter

Intellectual Paris: the Sorbonne, Sartre and Hemingway

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A well-known Parisian saying tells us that the right bank may be for spending and shopping (‘La rive droite dépense’), but that the left bank is for more intellectual pursuits (‘La rive gauche pense’). This episode looks at the Quartier Latin, where the city’s best known university, the Sorbonne, has its roots and at Montparnasse, the adopted home of many of the 20th century’s best-known writers, both expats (Hemingway, James Joyce) and Parisian (Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir).

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Paris Episode 12 The Seine and the Champs Elysees

Two of the loveliest ways to see Paris

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This episode takes a wander along the Seine and a stroll down the Champs Elysées. Informed by a little history, some travel writing and a snatch or two of poetry, we take a closer look at some of the famous places you will pass on these two routes. We also make time for such highly Parisian details as the role of the bouquinistes and the reason why the Pont des Arts has always been so popular with artists.

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Paris Episode 13 St Germain

The classiest district in Paris?

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The Parisian district of St Germain oozes class and intellectual allure, being home to the Sorbonne, and also to some of the big publishing houses, the Académie Française, proud guardian of the French language, and the lovely Luxembourg Gardens, so fondly described in many a memoir. This pot-pourri of an episode also considers the area’s political importance as the home of the Assemblée Nationale and the Sénat and its artistic inheritance, centering on two museums, which were formerly the homes of the Romantic painter Delacroix and the sculptor Rodin.

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Paris Episode 14 The Louvre

A world of art in Paris

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The world’s grandest art gallery, the Louvre’s enormity presents both a pleasure and a challenge. It is said that it would take a hundred days to see everything, if you stopped at each exhibit for 30 seconds. So this is a whistle-stop and rather esoteric tour, stopping off at some pointers to French history and at some representative examples of the best of French painting, with also a very quick nod to a number of sculptures and foreign block-busters.

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Paris Episode 15 Modern Art

From Picasso to the present

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A rundown of some of the events and ‘happenings’ in Paris which celebrate modern art, plus a visit to three of the big hitter museums where you can see 20th and 21st century works: the National Museum of Modern Art in the Pompidou Centre, the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art and the Musée Picasso. To finish off, some ideas on other places to see contemporary art in all its many forms, be that painting, sculpture, sound and video installations or photography.

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Paris Episode 16 Le shopping

That most Parisian of pastimes

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Shopping in Paris is always a delight, whether you are popping to a local food market to choose some of the very best seasonal produce, wandering the ‘passages’, the maze of little covered shopping arcades dating from the nineteenth century or visiting one of the high-end department stores whose art deco interiors and piled-high top brands lure visitors from all over the world. From the macaroons of Ladurée to the latest word in fashion footwear from Christian Louboutin, you will find it all in Paris.

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Paris Episode 17 Cafe culture

Where else but Paris?

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‘The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay. I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café.’ (Oscar Hammerstein II). Paris welcomes you to its corner cafes, its bistros and its restaurants. Discover the history of the Paris café, with its properly attired waiters, its bread baskets and its cluster of little tables, spilling their contents onto the pavements. Find out about the ‘must-visit’ establishments and the famous Parisians who made them their own.

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Paris Episode 18 Buried in Paris

Where the famous are laid to rest

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Visits to the Panthéon, where Paris pays homage to France’s most respected citizens, and to the city’s cemeteries are always fascinating. The world’s most-visited cemetery, the Père Lachaise, contains the graves of, for example, Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf, those in Montparnasse and Montmartre are also the last resting place of many famous writers, musicians and artists. We also take in Passy, the burial ground at the elite end of the city and the Picpus Cemetery, with its gruesome reminders of so many victims of the Revolution.

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Paris Episode 19 Two Literary Houses

What Balzac and Victor Hugo can tell us about Paris

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We visit the two best-known literary museums in Paris, the Maison de Balzac in the 16th district and the Maison de Victor Hugo in the Place des Vosges and give an idea of what there is to see in each. In addition, brief biographical notes for each author are coupled with extracts to give a flavour of their work, from Eugène de Balzac’s novels Père Goriot and Eugénie Grandet and from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables.

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Paris Episode 20 Memoirs of Paris

Authors reminisce about their life in Paris

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This episode sets out to enjoy the work of a number of writers who loved Paris and wrote their memoirs about living or working there. Hear some gossip from 17th century high society via the pen of Mme de Sévigny, enjoy the reminiscences of past writers like Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell and find out about life in more contemporary Paris as experienced by the writer Adam Gopnik or the chef and food-writer David Lebowitz.

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Paris Episode 21 Moments of History

From the French Revolution to World War Two

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A look at Paris through history books and historical novels. Biographies of Queen Marie Antoinette or of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir can show us much behind the scenes of the places we visit in the city. So too can fiction set in the past, such as Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, or Robert Harris’ treatment of the Dreyfus Affair, An Officer and a Spy. Reading ideas abound in this episode!

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Paris Episode 22 Literary Moments

Corners of Paris lit up by fiction writers

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A last look at Paris, this time through the eyes of authors who have set their work there. Four different novelists take us from the observation of murder and its aftermath in dingy 19th century back-street Paris, to an insider’s view of an elegant 21st century apartment block and its inhabitants. We look too at some short story collections, further extending the range of writing styles, eras and corners of Paris which are covered.

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A Virtual Visit to Paris

A bonus episode to whet your appetite

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This virtual visit to Paris takes you on a tour of websites, YouTube videos and books which will bring the spirit of the City of Light alive for you even if you can’t go there right now. Tour beautiful Paris by day and then by night, find out how to market-shop and then cook like a French chef, cherry-pick from gallery websites and videos on the best baguettes, cheeses and patisserie the city has to offer. Enjoy extracts from the writings of authors who will bring aspects of Paris alive for you. It’s the next best thing to an actual visit!

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