Though the Illinois snow tried to cancel my flight, I still made it safe once more across the Atlantic to Paris, France, just in time to welcome 2010. Parisian food, art and architecture are all pluses to bring visitors to this city, but there is also the opportunity to literally walk where kings and queens have, especially a certain queen known for her fashion sense and losing her head, Marie Antoinette.
Marie Antoinette was born Maria Antonia in Austria the year 1755. (Her name was changed to sound more French). In 1770 she married Louis XVI, in 1774 she became queen. (The same year another fashion icon, Georgiana, became the Duchess of Devonshire in England and a short time later, in 1775, our George Washington assumed command of the militia). In 1793 Marie went to the guillotine.
We shall begin tracing her steps backwards from the place she met her end, to where she spent her remaining days and finish by relishing in the full splendor of the ultimate pleasure Chateau, Versailles. Don’t worry. It’s not all about history. We will also find time to shop and
eat, bien sur!
First stop: Place du la Concorde where Marie and over a thousand others lost their heads. In fact the obelisk of Luxor marks the exact spot where Louis the XVI met his end. Metro stop Concorde will take you directly to this area. Turn one way and the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe awaits, the opposite reveals the Tuileries and the Louvre where
Mona Lisa awaits your arrival behind bullet proof glass. (That’s one lady who knows how to protect herself). If walking is not your thing, but shopping is, take metro Concorde to metro Madeline for happy little nibbles and gorgeous things at Fauchon, Hediard, La Maison du Truffle and most important, Laduree at 16 rue Royale to purchase enough macaroons and pastries to fill one of their coveted green signature bags.
Next stop: the Conciergerie a former prison which looks like a castle on the outside, but was the last place Marie called home. Cite is the closet metro stop. The Conciergerie rests on the Ile de la Cite, the same island as Notre Dame. For an energy boost take the small bridge (behind Notre Dame) connecting Ile de la Cite to Ile St. Louis for a cone of the famous Berthillon ice cream All their flavors rock, but I highly recommend the white chocolate or salted caramel. The cherry sorbet will give a pleasant pucker. On the same Rue de St. Louis en Lâ’TIle stop by Cacao et Chocolat for cocoa covered roasted cocoa beans, chocolate covered candied orange peel and luscious hot chocolate to go.
Marie had a small cell in the Conciergerie where a replica now stands where a mannequin Marie dressed in mourning garb bows it’s head in respect for Louis XVI who proceeded Marie to the guillotine. Marie insisted on wearing the colors of mourning even though it was considered
a sign of her attempt to hold onto her aristocratic position. It was her wish to wear these colors to the end, but it was forbidden. Instead she wore a simple white dress. Another area reveals a small courtyard where a patch of sky taunted prisoners who would never be free again. While looking up notice the inner courtyard is lined with spikes to dissipate thoughts of escape.
If saving money appeals to you, purchase a combo ticket for both the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle to save a couple euro. Be warned, the line to Sainte Chapelle (a Gothic chapel) takes awhile because of a
security check. If you are hungry after both visits, and you know you will be, cross the street, boulevard du Palais, to find a lovely cafe, Les Deux Palais, awaiting you with delicious, and actually quick, steak and fries.
Our final stop is Versailles. Originally, Versailles began life as a hunting lodge of sorts, and grew into a place that when you visit you will think to yourself “These people had more money than they knew what to do with.” Grass not pleasing enough? Marble the outside courtyard. Look as far as you can see; that’s just the garden. To get to
Versailles you will need to take a RER train (Rick Steve’s Paris map shows all metro and RER stops throughout the city) Purchase a roundtrip ticket, and save those tickets, you will need them to get back out. (Mine required validation at the beginning, but when I returned I needed the second ticket to get out of the turnstile at my original starting point). Go early. Go early. Go early. Got the hint? Be there at 9 a.m. for opening time, or wait in an insanely long line. My favorite spot is the Hall of Mirrors. Marie walked through here on her way to her wedding, and even the treaty to end the First World War was signed in this room in 1919. To me it is pure decadence, which is the way I prefer to remember Marie Antoinette living her life.
For more information
read Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber to see how fashion can bring about both power and destruction,
watch the DVD Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst before and after your visit to Versailles.
Victoria L. Cooksey is the author of three cookbooks including Cooking
with Cooksey. She travels as often as possible. Contact Victoria at