Paris From Above: An Uplifting Change
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With its wealth of history and world-renowned tourist attractions, it’s not difficult for your Paris retreat to descend into a marathon of sight-seeing and a race against the clock to consume as much culture as you can possibly stomach. Your feet won’t thank you and there is little respite to be had in a nymph-sized Parisian coffee. But that is not to say that the Paris cultural experience cannot be uplifting. For a traditional approach to sight-seeing with a liberating twist, escape the hordes and see Paris from above.
Elevated above the city you are granted a majestic view not afforded to the flightless: a sea of shimmering white punctuated by spires and domes extending into a blue haze. From here you can fully appreciate the magnitude and architectural splendour of Paris, and see some of the key touristic sights from a new angle. There are plenty of alternative panoramic sites in Paris, and the few detailed below prove that those seeking this silent and meditative beauty are not limited to the tourist-ridden Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Sacré Coeur:
• The Pantheon: A glorious neo-classical triumph sitting in the heart of the Latin Quarter, many tourists have tales of the Pantheon’s impressive interior and celebrity-stuffed crypt, but few have taken advantage of the panorama that it offers in peak months. Having mounted a seemingly-endless set of staircases, you are free to roam the columned walkway around the central dome of the building. Although the panorama is perhaps more modest than others featured in this article, the Pantheon offers an incomparable snapshot of the 5th arrondissement unfolding towards the Eiffel Tower, as well as a captivating patchwork of precarious rooftops and towers in every direction. To revive sight-seeing cheer even further, both entry into the building and a visit the top are free for EU citizens under 26.
• Montparnasse Tower: Although perhaps not the most beautiful in Paris—indeed many claim it boasts the best views of Paris solely because the tower doesn’t feature in them—the Montparnasse tower is nonetheless an iconic Parisian building. Standing at 210m, it is the only skyscraper within central Paris, not least because its creation prompted a law against the construction of any further skyscrapers within the city centre. Whether or not it is a rude mark of unwanted modernity on this historic city’s skyline, the tower offers a sensational view of Paris at all angles, and in particular those of the Eiffel Tower, Invalides, the Luxembourg Gardens, and the immediate Montparnasse area.
• Arab World Institute: Established in 1981 as an educational research centre for its 18 founding Arab countries, this institution acts not only as a bridge between Eastern and Western cultural expression but is an important symbol of cooperation between France and the Arab world. A visit affords the keen traveller cultural and artistic satisfaction, having at their disposal a museum and extensive library, as well as a rich musical, dramatic and cinematic programme. The building alone warrants a visit: with the south facade of the building made up of 240 ‘mechanical eyes’ reminiscent of mashrabiya — opening and closing in accordance with the intensity of sunlight upon them—the institute is an impressive contemporary vision of eastern architecture. A free trip to the top allows a view of Notre Dame to the west and a good view of the Bastille area to the north.
• Printemps shopping centre: If overwhelmed by the labyrinth of high fashion that is Printemps, a quick run (or preferably lift ride) up its nine floors bring you to its terrace panorama. Situated next to a cafe with surprisingly reasonable prices, the view extending across the rive droite has its own caffeine-like restorative force. With a good view of the Sacré Coeur and Opera, you are presented with a grand horizon of domes and turrets as well as a more voyeuristic view of the bustling life on Boulevard Haussmann below. Also not to be missed is the opulent glass cupola dating from the 1920s, situated just above the main restaurant; if nothing else, it’s a good excuse for a coffee break.
Best appreciated on a clear and sunny day, these destinations are sure to refresh the wavering cultural mind. However, if the views and peaceful environment still don’t quite alleviate the ails of sight-seeing, travellers will be pleased to note that cafes and restaurant facilities are in abundance in nearly all of the buildings featured. Kind to the budget and easy on the eyes, there is no reason why your chosen restorative should not be Paris en haut.
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