Thursday, May 10, 2007

Four Hot Panoramic Spots in Paris

In this article, Paris expert Phil Chavanne selects four elevated spots from which Paris can be best viewed.

To my friends who take the trip to Paris I always recommend to 'look up while walking'. Paris should not be visited at eye level only; there is much to be seen upstairs, just like in New York City.

Climb to an elevated position, and you've got yet another view of the French capital. A number of apartment buildings located on the Montmartre hill and in the nineteenth district offer panoramic views from their highest floors, but supply is short and not everyone can secure a temporary dwelling place with a million-dollar view.

So I picked four easy-to-access vantage points from where to admire the Parisian panorama. Some are self-obvious, others are not as well known. All are yours for the enjoyment.

Granted, some of these spots were obvious picks. But I bet you don't know a couple of them. Here is the story.

The Montparnasse Tower

The Montparnasse Tower is my first pick. As a matter of fact, it is one of the best man-made elevations you can get for the money in Paris.

The construction of the Montparnasse Tower started in 1958 and was completed in 1972 after a much heated public debate. Just like the Louvre Pyramid, and the Beaubourg Museum of Modern Art, the building of the skyscraper sparked two decades of furious controversy. The Montparnasse area used to be a small, quaint village, and the locals didn't like the idea of having a 210-meter high structure disfigure their landscape.

The huge anthracite structure towers over the Montparnasse train station, and stands at the upper end of Rue de Rennes (Rennes St.). Because it was built off-axis, the Tower gracefully avoids closing the long perspective which connects Montparnasse to the St-Germain-des-Pres district. Thank the architects for their vision.

The Montparnasse Tower counts 59 floors crowned by a terrace which is accessible by helicopter. One of its 25 elevators is the fastest in Europe: it will take you to the top floor in 38 seconds flat. There is a bar on the 56th floor where you can enjoy the view sheltered from the wind.

Eiffel Tower

OK, that one was so self-obvious, it's puzzling why I even picked it. Never mind, I like this spot as it is undoubtedly the best vantage point to view 360° of Paris.

Just a few facts: the Eiffel Tower is 324-meter high (including flagpole). Its first floor stands at 57 meters above the Seine, its second floor at 116 meters. It is 117-year old, and weighs 'only' 10,100 metric tons, concrete footing included.

Two elevators access both floors every 8 minutes. Note that this is without counting the time you spend waiting in line, since the Eiffel Tower is visited by about 6 million people each year (that means, an average 22-minute wait to enter the structure). If you have a taste for sport, take the stairs: 1665 steps to the very top - though this figure is a bit misleading since access to the third floor by stairs is restricted.

The first and second floors are home to two restaurants: Altitude 95, and Le Jules Verne, respectively. Both offer a rewarding dining experience.

Circling each floor, a map points to the monuments around you. I advise you to take a windbreaker with you; there is practically no obstacle on the platforms to shield you from the chilly wind.

Arch of Triumph

This vantage spot isn't just as well known as Mr. Eiffel's tower. Yet, it offers a very interesting panoramic view of Paris.

Commissioned in 1806 by French dictator Napoleon the 1st, the Roman-style structure was completed in 1836 under King Louis-Philippe. Its four pillars display the names of French military victories, and its base shelters the final resting place of an unknown French soldier who died on the killing fields of Eastern France during WWI.

The structure is hollow, and can be visited. The ticket booth is located under the plaza on which the Arch is built. It can be accessed at the end of a tunnel opening at the upper end of the Champs Elysees Avenue. Taking the tunnel is a much safer option than trying to cross the traffic-laden plaza on foot.

The entrance door opens into one of the two pillars facing the Champs Elysees Avenue. Several flights of stairs will lead you to the top of the Arch, which towers above the twelve avenues emanating from the star-shaped Place de l'Etoile. Inside the Arch, a small museum describes how it was built.

Telegraph Street, Belleville Park

I bet you didn't know this one! Who ever heard of the Belleville Highs? Mind you, this area is quite interesting, and it offers a good panoramic view of Paris.

The highest natural elevation in Paris stands at 40 Rue du Telegraphe (40 Telegraph St.), where the Belleville Cemetery has its entrance. The street took its name after French inventor Claude Chappe. He had picked the 128-meter high spot to set up his 'tachygraph', a precursor of the telegraph.

Just down from Telegraph St., the nearby neighborhood is dubbed "Hauts de Belleville", or "Belleville Highs". Belleville (literally "beautiful town") used to be an independent commune built on a hill outside Paris until 1860.

Though the renovation of the district has been underway since the end of the 80's, Belleville buildings still illustrate the conditions in which the poor and the working class lived in the early part of the twentieth century. Some streets of the area aren't very safe at night; I advise you to tour the area in broad daylight.

The best vantage point of the district is the Belleville Park which was opened in 1988. This expanse of land is tucked between Rue des Couronnes, Rue Piat, Rue Jouy-Rouve, and Rue Julien-Lacroix. Its grassy slopes extend all the way to the bottom of the hill. The park features The Air Museum, which offers its visitors a full explanation of how pollution affects our daily lives. Tourists can follow the guided tour in English.

A last comment in regards to the Telegraph Road: visit the area on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and you will do your grocery shopping at the local fresh produce market, between 7 am and 2:30 pm.

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