You may think you know Paris, but truth is, it’s a multi-faceted city, with every region teeming with things to discover, giving the sense that you are in many different places at once. Perhaps when Disneyland Paris arrived it dusted some of its magic on the city, but I think it’s always been there, if you know where to look.
We checked in to the Vienna House Dream Castle hotel in Paris, just a stone’s throw from Disney, which features a stunning wraparound garden based on the theme of The Three Musketeers, creating a haven that feels like your very own castle. It was endearing to see mini sets of steps leading up to reception desks, allowing children to ‘check in’ to the hotel on their own, as well as games and activities galore to ensure the magic never leaves.
It’s easy to plan your entire trip around Disney, but staying outside the resort encourages one to explore the regions around Paris, that you might otherwise not have noticed, or pushed yourself to do. This was my fifth trip to Paris, and it was completely unlike any other, as I rediscovered the city through places I never would have known to visit as a first timer, making them feel even more special – as there wasn’t the usual hoo-ha tourist bustle.
I was very young the last time I went to a Disney resort, and Disney isn’t usually a place you’d imagine a group of adults venturing to. However, I stand by my word that no one, regardless of their age, can help the contagious feeling of excitement that washes over them the minute they see the crisp cut grass, towering centre-piece castle and different lands to explore. Everything is so beautifully and meticulously artificially crafted to recreate and communicate the heart of Disney, or what you imagine your childhood dreams to be like, and I think this nostalgia is what draws both adults and kids alike.
Aside from the rides, entertainment such as the nightly Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, restaurants that make you feel like you are stepping in to your favourite Disney movies and character parades, make time fly. One thing that made me feel really emotional (I even surprised myself) was the Disney Illuminations show, specially re-tailored in celebration of their 25th anniversary. It is the true essence and heart of everything positive, charmed, and fairy-tailed about Disney and not to be missed.
Just down the road from Disney is La Vallée Village shopping outlet, which awakened the inner clothing addict within me. I always make a pointed effort to bring back a piece of fashion from every country I visit, and La Valee housed much more inexpensive pieces than what I had previously experienced on the main streets of Paris. Another fashion must see in France’s capital, are the streets of Montmartre, which have amazing vintage finds, also at affordable and one-off prices.
Shopping might be a bit of a cliché, but if you’re traipsing around with family members who complain when you walk through the doors of those retail monasteries, you can kindly remind them that La Vallée is also home to the incredible and newly renovated Sea Life Aquarium, which is set to introduce penguins (everybody loves penguins).
If you are a fashion lover, not so far away is the Château de Champs-sur-Marne, a beautiful estate built in the early 18th century, with one of the most show-stopping gardens you will ever see. Currently open to the public, it is a historical hothouse, and hosts exhibitions such as their current showcase of roughly 40 historical outfits, “symbolising the social changes and clothing development from these times before.” It’s a great place to explore, both inside and out, with tickets at 8 euros per adult, but free for those that are 18-25 and members of the EU, as well as French residents.
From one great love of my life to another – food is also an incredible staple of any visit to Paris, and you may as well bring a pair of trousers a couple sizes up than the ones you arrived in, due to the taste bud explosions you will experience. Food tours are becoming more prevalent and are an interesting take on the traditional city tour, allowing you to experience cities from a different angle, whilst still covering ground and seeing sights.
La Route des Gourmets organises an excellent tour, especially if you have a sweet tooth, and allowing you to explore the beautiful and rustic area of Saint Germain de Pres whilst gobbling up all the gourmet chocolate you desire. And when there is chocolate, there is cheese, and what is Paris, or France in general without cheese? This may be Paris’ best kept secret, so count yourself lucky that you’re about to discover it.
The region of Meux holds the best brie I have ever tasted in my life. I didn’t even like brie, and now I love brie, all because of the Maison du Brie de Meux. Tour guides work up your appetite for 6 euros per person, with a guided tour of the historic background as well as the creation process of brie cheese from maturing to distribution. Then the holy grail – the cheese. I can’t put its taste into words, but I can say that you will never feel the same about brie again. Meux is a beautiful area to explore, with the famous Musée de la Grande Guerre cited as a must-see attraction for history buffs, at the price of 10 euros per adult.
In keeping with the theme of food, the Château de Ferrières, is another site not to miss, especially if you love grandiose baroque historical architecture. Formally owned by Baron de Rothschild and inaugurated by Napoleon III, it is hard not to imagine those who walked the halls before you, as you explore the chateau. Currently host to the Ferrieres school – which offer bachelors and masters’ degrees in gastronomy and hotel management – they serve mouth-watering food via their two restaurants (one being a wine bar), and it is easy to make-believe that you own the place and are dining on your very own estate… just me? Okay.
There’s so many ways to get to know a city. A lot of us check destinations off our lists once we’ve been there, but how much of a place and its cultural gems can you actually see in one trip? Is there more that you could be missing out on, beyond the traditional capital landmarks and tourist hotspots? Vienna House Dream Castle is a great place to start in Paris, and one that is sure to add a bit of sparkle to your stay in a city full of surprises.
Words: Julia Cohen
Photos: As Credited