Paris: A Perfect Delight by Danny Coy

Love Locks in Paris

I have been a photographer for a few years now and when the opportunity arose to work with Leger Holidays I was so excited.

My first assignment was to visit Paris on a 4-day coach break, taking photos for Leger’s brochures and website. Having never been to Paris before, I was awaiting this trip with such excitement. Once I had received my itinerary I knew I was in for a highly rewarding weekend.

I really enjoy walking and when the beautiful scenery matches the weather I find myself walking miles on end. The great thing about booking with Leger Holidays is that you can also make use of the excursions and really get to see everything.
The positive spirits of both the coach drivers and the passengers made for a pleasant coach journey from England into Paris. Everyone was welcoming of one another and after a couple of onboard drinks, the jokes were flying around.
The hotel I stayed in, the Inter Hotel Le Cardinal on the outskirts of Paris, was fantastic. The rooms were perfectly clean and well laid out, the staff were so friendly and more than happy to assist us with any questions and the included breakfast had plenty to keep you going.River Seine, ParisThe Louvre, ParisNotre Dame, ParisViews over ParisPalace of Versailles
On the first morning, the first major sight I saw was the Arc de Triomphe in all its glory. I couldn’t believe how big it was, and one thing that stuck with me is how the coach just fell completely silent as we drove around it. Everyone was just taken aback and it’s at this point I really felt that I was in Paris. As we came down The Avenue des Champs-Elysees somebody said, “I wonder if they have a Primark here”. The whole coach atmosphere was fantastic and everybody was so excited to start exploring.
We were able to park almost directly below the Eiffel Tower. The huge structure was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and again, it looked so massive in real life. The sun was shining through all its little gaps and it just took my breath away. The beautiful blue sky contrasted the metal wonder perfectly and everything just seemed to stop for an instant.
Just walking through the centre of Paris I could see that it was unlike any other place. The streets were lined with trees that have been perfectly trimmed so that they were all symmetrical,
historical statues stand on every corner and even the street lights look like something out of a movie.
The Louvre was definitely a huge highlight for everyone on the trip. I remember having a conversation with a passenger who said that you know the art inside is going to be good when the building itself is a masterpiece. The entrance is a huge glass pyramid and each panel seemed to reflect the suns light slightly differently.
As I followed the road and went over a beautiful bridge I reached the Notre Dame, the home of the fictional character Quasimodo. The gothic masterpiece is such a joy to behold and the gargoyles perched on the corners are almost lifelike.
The river Seine cruise is an optional extra that Leger offers and everyone on the coach wanted to do it. The gentle cruise was made even better by the gorgeous weather and a pleasant breeze. It’s a great way to see the city from below and also gain some knowledge of the history of Paris. The detail of the bridges that can only be seen from below; the little houseboats that line the edges of the river; the sound of the water lapping up the side of the boat as you glide past the Notre Dame; and the way the city
looks from the boat. It was so peaceful and tranquil and the sun shone over the top of the buildings as brightly as the smiles on the people’s faces.
In the evening, Leger had organised a three-course meal in a restaurant in the Latin Quarter. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for nearly everybody on the coach. The restaurant was tucked down a back street, without the help of Leger, we would never have found it. As soon as we walked in we were greeted by a couple of jolly locals playing the guitar and accordion. They proceeded to seat us in an underground area and brought out lots of free wine and bread.
Being in France, I decided to have the snails that were on the menu and they were delicious. I’m always happy to try new things, but in all honesty, I hadn’t expected to really enjoy them. They arrived with shells and I had to pick them out with a skewer. They were really tasty and not at all chewy, as I expected. The main course was a choice of different meats served in different sauces, so there was something for everyone to enjoy. Whilst we were eating our desserts, the guys with the guitar and accordion came down to play for us. Their English was as perfect as their sense of humour and it really capped off a brilliant evening.
The second morning began as pleasantly early as the first and we were soon off to Montmartre. Highlights in Montmartre are definitely the Moulin Rouge and the Roman-Catholic Sacre Coeur church. There was a really nice smell in the air from the abundance of patisseries.
By lunchtime, we were heading off to the gardens of Versailles and nobody knew what to expect. The thing I liked most about the gardens was the perfect symmetry of everything. I have always enjoyed things to be in order, especially in my photography, so Versailles really filled me with deep happiness. The flowers are beautifully maintained and there’s just so much colour everywhere. It’s a truly breathtaking place and a great way to round up the whole trip.
Leger Holidays made it easy for me to really experience the culture of a city. It’s great if you don’t feel up to travelling all on your own or if you want to see everything a place has to offer but you don’t want the stress of sorting it all out yourself.

I am looking forward to my next assignment.

Danny Coy

Art, architecture and tree-lined avenues: see the sights of Paris in a day

It was a warm early autumn morning, and I’d just jumped out of a taxi at one of the most famous landmarks in Paris, the Arc de Triomphe. There were people chatting, others posing for photos, cars, buses and scooters whizzing around like the horses on a merry-go-round and high above us, people walking around the top of the structure, which looked so much larger up close than it appeared in any of the photos in the brochures.

 Arc de Triomphe

I’d chosen to spend a full day in Paris – the third day of my four-day coach break – and see the sights on foot. I’d joined the guided sightseeing tour by coach the day before which gave me a good idea of where things were and decided that I’d get out amongst the hustle and bustle of the streets of the wonderful French capital. Whenever I go away, I prefer to walk around (whenever possible) – I get to see more and sometimes end up in places I didn’t intend.
So, armed with my already-crinkled city map, I was there: at the top of the Champs Elysées, on a hot September morning with the whole day ahead of me.

Champs Elysées Sign

As I strolled along past small souvenir shops and large stores displaying designer names, the morning sunshine was glittering through the trees lining the famous avenue. There were people in cafés chatting on mobile phones or with friends, enjoying a croissant and ‘cafe au lait’. Smartly dressed ladies with large sunglasses hurried past, phone in one hand and a glossy, rigid designer shopping bag on the other arm. I had entered into the world of ‘chic’.
My route took me all the way along the two-kilometre length of the Champs Elysées to one of the best-known squares in Paris: the Place de la Concorde, originally a site of execution during the French Revolution. Here, the splashing of fountains and sound of people chatting and laughing as they posed for photos filled the air, along with squeals as passers-by were taken by surprise by the statues that come to life as soon as you get near them. The scene was so far removed from what I imagine it to have been like in the late 18th century.

Champs Elysées

Fountains at Place de la Concorde

Continuing straight across to the Tuileries Gardens – an area which was once a clay quarry for tiles, or ’tuilerie’ – I turned to see the Arc de Triomphe, now a tiny archway in the distance, and the unmistakable structure of the Eiffel Tower over to the left, standing against the bright blue sky.
By now the temperature had risen quite a bit and as I entered the wide lane running through the Tuileries Gardens, linking the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre, there were people sitting around a large fountain on green steel chairs reading, sunbathing, kissing, chatting and listening to music, whilst others relaxed in the cafés under the shade of the horse chestnut trees lining the avenue.

 Tuileries Fountain

As I walked, the gentle sounds of the cream-coloured gravel crunching underfoot and birds singing above, the quiet hum of conversations and the bells of energetic cyclists ringing as they whizzed past all made for a very laid-back wonderful atmosphere.
Ahead of me was the large building of the Louvre Palace, home to one of the world’s largest museums and the modern glass pyramid which sits in the main courtyard. As I got closer I could see the long queue of people, all waiting to get in to the famous museum for a peek of one of art history’s most famous paintings, Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, perhaps or maybe the elegant sculpture of Venus de Milo?

 The Louvre Courtyard

The Louvre Palace & Fountains

By this time it was extremely hot, with people sitting on the edges of the fountain dangling their feet into the water to cool down. I joined them for a few minutes and soaked up the atmosphere of my surroundings: the impressive glass pyramids, the decorated façades of the Louvre Palace; the cooling water pools and the visitors enjoying their day. It gave me a good opportunity to update my notebook, check my camera and consult my map. With my various bags, pockets and pieces of kit to delve into, the moment turned to slow motion as I saw my video camera taking a dive! “Nnnnnooooooo!!!” I yelled, as I lunged to grab it, but it was too late. There was a loud ‘PLOP!’ and there lay the camera, in 2 feet of water like a coin tossed into a fountain by visiting tourists. I reached into the cold water to retrieve the camera – knocking my map into the pond in the process – and left it to dry on the wall, in the hope, somehow, of bringing it back to life! After a few minutes, in the heat of this beautiful September day, the map was functional again, despite being a bit soggy. The video camera, on the other hand, was not.
Sacre Coeur
Next on my list of ‘things to see’ was the Sacre Coeur Basilica – the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Peeling my map apart, I set off through the passage leading out of the Louvre courtyard and along the Rue de Louvre, heading for the Montmartre area. 45 minutes later, after asking a couple of people in shops and bars for directions and after a lot of pointing and hand gestures, I reached the Sacre Coeur. The bright building stood out against the deep blue sky, much larger than I had expected. It had been quite a long walk – especially in the heat – and a lot of it had been up hill, but it was worth it for the wonderful view over the city. As I arrived at the steps I noticed the funicular which takes weary sightseers up the hill to the basilica itself.

View over Paris

After catching my breath, I climbed the steps and followed the road around to the left of the cathedral, heading for the Place du Terte. Taking a left turn at the end of the wall, suddenly the road was really busy. The volume cranked up a notch or two, with music playing and people chatting at the bars and cafés and at the plentiful souvenir shops – there was a real buzz about the place. As I ventured through the crowds of the narrow street and out into a little square, there was an elderly woman singing along to the old music box she was playing, fed by a roll of paper with holes in it. Wearing knee-length denim trousers, a shirt and a neckerchief with a floppy, cap-style hat, the woman was attracting quite a crowd, some of them clapping along to the music while others captured it all on film.

 Souvenir shops in Montmartre

The sun was beating down as I passed the crowds and there in front of me was Place du Tertre. The square, although small, was lined by restaurants on one side and was a maze of artists – an extremely busy place where painters sat at their easels, applying oil paint to their canvas while others were busily sketching as they glanced over their thick-rimmed spectacles every so often to see if their display has any interest. There were traditional paintings and some more modern or abstract; old artists with bushy white beards, some clad head to toe in denim; others wearing neckerchiefs and shoes with no socks – the atmosphere here was wonderful. One old artist stopped mixing the colours of his palette to stand up and show us his works. I noticed he had bright green paint dotted in his wiry white beard. “I have many more – this one is quite good” he told us, showing us another of his colourful works. Behind the artists, shaded restaurants were bustling like the rest of the area, packed with contented customers.

Place du Tertre Paintings

Artist at Place du Tertre
I would’ve loved to spend much more time around Place du Tertre. I could easily have spent a day around the Montmartre area with its inviting and alluring atmosphere, just as I could’ve idled away a few hours watching the world go by from a Parisian café or strolling around the Tuileries Gardens, soaking up the sun and the wonderful atmosphere. I’d seen so much during my day in Paris: the Arc de Triomphe; Champs Elysées; Place de la Concorde; Tuileries Gardens; Eiffel Tower (OK, so this one was from a distance!); the Louvre; the Sacre Coeur; Montmartre and the Place du Tertre… and I know there’s still more for me to see in this magical city. I’ll just have to come back one day!
What’s your favourite part of Paris? Share your stories with us.
 
 
 
 

Why is Rocamadour so popular?

I’d heard of Rocamadour before and seen many photos. I knew it as the French village that sits on the top of a steep cliff above the River Alzou, but I had no idea what the place would be like until I visited it as part of Leger’s Highlights of Provence and the Dordogne tour.

It was about 10 o’clock when we finished dinner on our first night there and the village was really quiet. From what I could see, there was just one main street through Rocamadour, so I decided to go for a little stroll.
The cobbled walkway looked so lovely, lit up with soft yellow lighting from the hotels and buildings lining the street, so I decided to take a few photographs. There were very few people around but I felt quite safe walking along on my own.

An evening stroll down Rocamadours main street.
An evening stroll down Rocamadours main street.

Dancing in the street

As I set up my tripod, a small group of people appeared, walking towards me from the other side of the archway I was about to photograph. The guy in the threesome was dancing about and leaping into my shot, and as they got closer they asked what I was doing.
Before they got too carried away in their super-fast French chatter, I reached into the depths of my memory for my school-days French and asked “Parlez-vous Anglais?” Luckily for me, they continued in English, asking what I was doing: Why was I in Rocamadour? Why was I taking photos? Where was I going? When I explained that I was with a coach tour, the guy explained that he needed to get to Paris tomorrow and asked me if there was any room on our coach! I explained how, unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to give him a lift, before wishing them bonne nuit and bon voyage!
Before long, another couple appeared from the shadows of the archway. Again, the guy started dancing in front of the camera (what was it with guys and cameras?) and asked me what I was doing.
I had a chat with the couple – an English guy and his French girlfriend who were here visiting her family – before deciding to put my camera away for the night and headed back to my hotel at the end of the street. Who would’ve thought that there would be so many friendly people about at that time of night in the quiet streets of Rocamadour?

Bonjour Rocamadour

In the daylight I got to see the true charm of Rocamadour. I thought it had looked wonderful at night time, but in the day, the village really came to life. It was late April when I visited, so no doubt not as busy as it would be in the height of the summer, but the place had a lovely buzz about it. Gone were the pastel-coloured buildings with brightly-painted shutters that had been a familiar sight in other places on my trip, now replaced by rustic, biscuit-toned stone shops, restaurants, houses and hotels along the cobbled street.

Rocamadour's main street.
Rocamadour’s main street.

As I walked down the pedestrianised main street, the smell of garlic floated through the air and I could hear the bells of the little train which runs up and down the street, carrying visitors through the lovely place. The lane was lined with wonderful, little shops selling handmade jewellery, arts and crafts, soaps, pastries, chocolate, foie gras (quite popular in this area) and wine, with two or three stone archways – the main gateways being the Porte du Figuier (right next to our hotel) and the Porte Salmon.
Le Petit Train de Rocamadour.
Le Petit Train de Rocamadour.

Shopping in Rocamadour.
Shopping in Rocamadour.
Shopping in Rocamadour.
Further down the street, stone pots displaying colourful flowers lined the walkway and there was a sweet smell, which I later discovered was the small, white flower, Stephanotis, which I’d seen in planters outside a couple of the restaurants. The shop owners and locals were very friendly and welcoming. In one shop, the owner asked me to speak to her in English for a while so that she could practice her language skills!
Flower pots lined the street.

A place of history

During my trip, I learnt that the Rocamadour is known for its historical monuments and the village attracts pilgrims from many countries each year. There are many stories surrounding the origin of the name of the village and a lot of history about the chapels, abbeys and churches there. I could see a large, stone tower high above the main street, and so decided to walk up the stone steps (apparently, climbed by pilgrims on their knees even today) for a closer look. It was quite a climb but there were some excellent views along the way. Along Rocamadour’s main street I’d passed a sign for the ‘Ascenseur de Rocamadour’, the lift which would’ve taken me to the top, but I thought I’d get better views by walking. I was right.

Sanctuaire Notre Dame de Rocamadour.
Sanctuaire Notre Dame de Rocamadour.

Once through the buildings and courtyards of the château and the chapels, I entered a shady path, zig-zagging its way through the trees, known as the ‘Stations of the Cross’. The path was quite steep up to the château at the top, and at each turn there was a frieze depicting a Station of the Cross.
The zig-zagging path of Stations of the Cross.
The zig-zagging path of Stations of the Cross.

The 8th Station of the Cross.
The 8th Station of the Cross.

The best view in the village

At the top of the hill I entered the château (you need two 1 Euro coins to get through the turnstile) and walked up the stone steps for some magnificent views over the village. The battlements of the château were really narrow and jutted out over a drop of a few hundred feet – not too good if you don’t like heights! Despite my legs feeling like jelly, it was from there that I got a real sense of the size and layout of the village. I could see our hotel and the coach park amongst the two rows of terracotta rooftops and excellent views over the Alzou Valley and of the churches and village below. The climb had definitely been worth it.

Excellent views over Rocamadour.
Excellent views over Rocamadour.

Au Revoir, Rocamadour

The sun was shining in Rocamadour on the morning our party left, lighting up the hillside and the creamy stone of the churches. I popped into the hotel’s restaurant to grab a croissant and jus d’orange before heading back into the street which was very quiet for 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning. Three or four small cats stretched out on the street enjoying the morning sunshine as I exchanged a few cheery bonjours with the handful of shop owners opening their shutters.
Main street in Rocamadour.
Whether it’s for its religious connections, historical significance, charming architecture or just the impressive views, it’s not hard to see why Rocamadour is France’s second most visited site after the impressive Mont St. Michel in Normandy. For me, it was just a lovely place to visit, a great little rustic French village where you can pass a few leisurely hours amongst some fantastic scenery and friendly locals.

Au Revoir, Rocamadour.
Au Revoir, Rocamadour.

But now it was time for me to head out on the winding streets above the lovely village of Rocamadour once more, for the next leg of my Highlights of Provence and the Dordogne tour.
Have you been to Rocamadour? Share your stories with us in the comments below.