Fodor's Paris - Fodor's (2016)
Side Trips from Paris
Previous Chapter | Next Chapter | Table of Contents
Updated by Jennifer Ladonne
With so much to see in Paris, it may seem hard to justify a side trip. But just outside the city lies the rest of the fabled region known as Ile-de-France: there, along with gorgeous countryside and quiet towns, you can find spectacular Versailles, the immense Chartres cathedral, and a little region unto itself where a mouse named Mickey is king.
Plan to spend an entire day (at least) at Versailles, perusing the manicured gardens that make up one of the largest parks in Europe, and touring the palace, which includes the Hall of Mirrors and Marie-Antoinette’s private retreat in an enclave of the royal park. The charming town of Chartres is a lovely day or half-day outing from Paris. Its main attraction is Cathédrale de Chartres, an awe-inspiring Gothic church that looms like a great fantasy ship on the horizon and is world renowned for its stained-glass windows. Disneyland Paris arrived in 1992, but the magic was slow to take effect. The resort opened with the uninspiring name of EuroDisney and further baffled the French, for whom no meal is complete without wine, with its ban on alcohol. After the ban was lifted in the park’s sit-down restaurants and the site’s name was changed, Disneyland Paris became France’s leading tourist attraction, drawing sellout crowds of Europeans seeking a kitschy glimpse of the American Dream—and of American families stealing a day from their museum schedule.
Previous Map | Paris Maps
Traveling to Chartres, Disneyland Paris, and Versailles from Paris is easy. Although each side trip is within an hour’s drive, we strongly recommend taking the train from the city rather than renting a car. If Disneyland is your destination and you don’t plan to visit Paris, there are shuttle buses that will take you directly from the airports to the park.
The château of Versailles is closed Monday. Disneyland Paris gets extremely crowded on summer weekends, so plan your trip during the week, and early, if possible.
Previous Chapter | Beginning of Chapter | Next Chapter | Table of Contents
Previous Chapter | Next Chapter | Table of Contents
Exploring | Where to Eat | Where to Stay | Nightlife and Performing Arts | Shopping
16 km (10 miles) west of Paris via A13.
It’s hard to tell which is larger at Château de Versailles—the world-famous château that housed Louis XIV and 20,000 of his courtiers, or the mass of tour buses and visitors standing in front of it. The grandest palace in France remains one of the marvels of the world. But this edifice was not just home to the Sun King, it was also the new headquarters of the French government (from 1682 to 1789 and again from 1871 to 1879). To accompany the palace, a new city—in fact, a new capital—had to be built from scratch. Tough-thinking town planners took no prisoners, dreaming up vast mansions and avenues broader than the Champs-Élysées
Versailles has three train stations, but its Rive Gauche gare—on the RER-C line from Paris, with trains departing from Austerlitz, St-Michel, Invalides, and Champ-de-Mars—provides the easiest access and puts you within a five-minute walk of the château (45 mins, €3.45).
Versailles Tourist Office. | 2 av. de Paris, | 01-39-24-88-88 | www.versailles-tourisme.com.
Château de Versailles. Pl. d’Armes, Versailles | 01-30-83-78-00 | www.chateauversailles.fr €18 general admission; €25 all-attractions pass; €10 Marie-Antoinette’s Domain; park free (weekend fountain show, €9, Apr.-Oct.). On 1st Sun. of month Nov.-Mar. all palace tours are free. Palace Apr.-Oct., Tues.-Sun. 9-6:30; Nov.-Mar., Tues.-Sun. 9-5:30. Trianons Apr.-Oct., Tues.-Sun. noon-6:30; Nov.-Mar., Tues.-Sun. noon-5:30. Garden Apr.-Oct., daily 8 am-8:30 pm; Nov.-Mar., daily 8-6. Park Apr.-Oct., daily 7am-8:30 pm; Nov.-Mar., daily 8-6.
Around the back of Notre-Dame, on Boulevard de la Reine (note the regimented lines of trees), are the elegant Hôtel de Neyret and the Musée Lambinet, a sumptuous mansion from 1751, with collections of paintings, weapons, fans, and porcelain (including the Madame du Barry “Rose”). A tearoom, open Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons, provides an elegant way to refresh after an intensive round of sightseeing. | 54 bd. de la Reine | 01-39-50-30-32 | www.versailles.fr/culture-et-patrimoine/etablissements-culturels/musee-lambinet | €4 | Thurs.-Tues. 2-6.
If you have any energy left after exploring Louis XIV’s palace and park, a tour of Versailles—a textbook 18th-century town—offers a telling contrast between the majestic and the domestic. From the front gate of Versailles’s palace turn left onto Rue de l’Independence-Américaine and walk over to Rue Carnot past the stately Écuries de la Reine—once the queen’s stables, now the regional law courts—to octagonal place Hoche. Down Rue Hoche to the left is the powerful Baroque facade of Notre-Dame, built from 1684 to 1686 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart as the parish church for Louis XIV’s new town. | | Versailles | notredameversailles.org.
WHERE TO EAT
Fodor’s Choice | L’Angelique.
$$$ | MODERN FRENCH | Régis Douysset’s refined yet unfussy French cuisine attracts the Versailles gourmet crowd. The dining room, in a restored 17th-century town house, is serene and comfortable, with white walls, wood-beam ceilings, dark wood paneling, and tasteful artwork—and the meals served here are among the best in town. A seasonally changing menu offers a good balance of seafood and game: picture a delicate perch fillet with spaghetti de mer (in a shellfish bouillon) or venison shoulder with grilled turnips and a spätzle of girolle mushrooms. Desserts alone are worth the Michelin star—the tart feuilletée, with candied peaches, cardamom, and peach sorbet, is ethereal. | Average main: €31 | 27 av. de Saint-Cloud | 01-30-84-98-85 | www.langelique.fr | Closed Sun., Mon., 1 wk Christmas, 1 wk Feb., and 2 wks Aug.
Le Saint Julien.
$$ | BISTRO | It’s not just convenience that draws a mix of locals, expats, and tourists to this pleasant corner bistro, close to the château in the old Saint Louis quarter. In terms of both decor and cuisine, Le Saint Julien mixes the traditional and the modern; hearty dishes like lamb confit and rabbit parmentier (a riff on the classic beef-and-potato casserole) are complemented by tender foie gras-stuffed ravioli or velvety mushroom soup. For lighter fare, the menu always includes a fish and a vegetarian dish. Helpings are generous, but try to leave room for an impressive cheese plate or one of the famously decadent desserts. | Average main: €22 | 6 rue Saint Julien | 01-39-50-00-97 | www.lesaintjulien.fr | Closed Sun. and Mon. | Reservations essential.
Fodor’s Choice | Lenôtre.
$ | MODERN FRENCH | Set in the glamorous Cour des Senteurs, this handsome café (a branch of the renowned Paris pastry shop ) fills a much-needed gap in Versailles dining. The warm, English-speaking staff and excellent, well-priced food—combined with a prime location amid elegant boutiques and beautiful gardens—make it a lovely choice at lunchtime, teatime, or just about any other time. The outdoor terrace is a fine spot on temperate days. Don’t miss the sublime jasmine-scented macaron, specially created for the Cour des Senteurs. | Average main: €12 | 8 rue de la Chancellerie | 01-39-02-60-13 | www.lenotre.com.
WHERE TO STAY
Le Cheval Rouge.
$ | HOTEL | Built in 1676, this unpretentious option is in a corner of the market square, close to the château and strongly recommended if you plan to explore the town on foot. Some rooms around the old stable courtyard have their original wood beams; several have been brought up to date and redecorated in pastel colors (the most spacious, No.108, is also one of the few rooms with a bath rather than just a shower). Pros: great setting in town center; good value for Versailles. Cons: bland public areas; some rooms need renovating. | Rooms from: €94 | 18 rue André-Chénier | | 01-39-50-03-03 | www.chevalrougeversailles.fr | 40 rooms | No meals.
Trianon Palace Versailles.
$$$ | HOTEL | Like a modern-day Versailles, this deluxe turn-of-the-20th-century hotel is a creamy white creation of imposing size, filled with soaring rooms (including the historic Salle Clemenceau, site of the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference). Now part of the Waldorf-Astoria brand, the once faded “palace” is aglitter again with a health club (the pool is poised beneath a glass pyramid), a Guerlain spa, and a lobby glammed up with Murano chandeliers and high-back leather armchairs. The hotel headliner these days is famed, foul-mouthed, super-chef Gordon Ramsay, who has remade both its posh restaurant and more casual eatery with a big splash. As for the guest rooms, try to avoid the newer annex (the Pavillon Trianon), and insist on the full treatment in the main building. Request one of the even-number rooms, which look out over the woods near the Trianons. Pros: palatial glamour; wonderful setting right by château park; Gordon Ramsay’s on-site restaurant. Cons: lacks a personal touch. | Rooms from: €166 | 1 bd. de la Reine | 01-30-84-50-00 | www.trianonpalace.fr | 176 rooms, 23 suites | No meals.
NIGHTLIFE AND PERFORMING ARTS
Académie du Spectacle Equestre.
On most weekends (and on certain weekdays during school holidays), you can watch 28 elegant white horses and their expert riders perform balletic feats to music in a dazzling hour-long show directed by the great equine choreographer Bartabas. Fodor’s Travel Talk Forum readers rave about the spectacle. If you can’t make it, try catching a morning practice session. Both are held in the converted 17th-century Manège (riding school) at the aptly named Grandes Écuries (grand stables). Located opposite the palace, the structure was built for Louis XIV’s royal cavalry. | Av. Rockefeller | 01-39-02-62-75 | www.bartabas.fr | Shows €25; morning practice €12.
Centre de Musique Baroque.
An accomplished dancer, Louis XIV was also a great music lover who bankrolled the finest musicians and composers of the day—Lully, Charpentier, Rameau, Marais. So it’s only fitting that France’s foremost institute for the study and performance of French Baroque music should be based at Versailles. An excellent program of concerts is presented in the château’s Opéra Royal and chapel; the latter are free of charge. | | | 01-39-20-78-01 | www.cmbv.com.
Fodor’s Choice | Opéra Royal de Château de Versailles.
One of the most beautiful opera houses in Europe was built for 14-year-old Marie-Antoinette on the occasion of her marriage to Louis XVI, and entering this extravagantly gilded performance hall from the hewn-stone passageway can literally take your breath away. But the beauty is not just skin deep—the intimate 700-seat venue is blessed with rich acoustics. Home to the Royal Opéra, it also hosts a world-class roster of orchestral and chamber concerts, as well as modern dance and ballet performances. For arts lovers, this spot alone will justify the quick trip from Paris. | Château de Versailles | 01-30-83-78-89 | www.chateauversailles-spectacles.fr.
This charming, highly rated confiserie (candy shop) offers a cornucopia of chocolates and traditional French sweets. | 14 rue Hoche | www.auxcolonnes.com | Closed Mon.
Fodor’s Choice | La Cour des Senteurs.
At the threshold of Versailles’s Old Town, the beautiful Cour des Senteurs—Courtyard of Fragrances—celebrates the town’s status as the birthplace of the modern perfumer. Tiny Maison des Parfums charmingly recounts the history of perfume via a timeline and interactive displays, while the exquisite Guerlain boutique —only the second in the world after Paris’s Champs Elysées original—carries the company’s signature fragrances and cosmetics, plus a new jasmine-and-bergamot-based perfume you’ll find only here. Couture glove maker Maison Fabre has a limited-edition perfumed glove in honor of Marie-Antoinette, along with a line of stylish handmade gloves crafted from luxury leathers; and the fabled Diptyque boutique sells all the scented candles, home fragrances, and perfumes that are beloved by chic Parisians. | 8 rue de la Chancellerie | 01-39-51-17-21 | www.parfumsetsenteurs.fr.
Les Délices du Palais.
Everyone heads here to pick up homemade pâté, cold cuts, cheese, salad, and other picnic essentials. | 4 rue du Maréchal-Foch | www.charcuterie-lesdelicesdupalais.com | Closed Mon.
Previous Chapter | Beginning of Chapter | Next Chapter | Table of Contents
Previous Chapter | Next Chapter | Table of Contents
Exploring | Where to Eat and Stay
39 km (24 miles) southwest of Rambouillet via N10 and A11, 88 km (55 miles) southwest of Paris.
If Versailles is the climax of French secular architecture, Chartres is its religious apogee. All the descriptive prose and poetry that have been lavished on this supreme cathedral can only begin to suggest the glory of its 12th- and 13th-century statuary and stained glass, somehow suffused with burning mysticism and a strange sense of the numinous. Chartres is more than a church—it’s a nondenominational spiritual experience. If you arrive in summer from Maintenon across the edge of the Beauce, the richest agrarian plain in France, you can see Chartres’s spires rising up from oceans of wheat. The whole town, however, is worth a leisurely exploration. Ancient streets tumble down from the cathedral to the river, lined most weekends with bouquinistes selling old books and prints. The streets are especially busy each year on August 15, when pilgrims and tourists flock in for the Procession du Vœu de Louis XIII commemorating the French monarchy’s vow to serve the Virgin Mary.
Both Transilien and main-line (Le Mans-bound) trains leave Paris’s Gare Montparnasse for Chartres (50-70 mins, €15). The train station on place Pierre-Sémard puts you within walking distance of the cathedral.
Chartres Tourist Office. | Pl. de la Cathédrale, | 02-37-18-26-26 | www.chartres-tourisme.com.
The whole town, with its old houses and quaint streets, is worth a leisurely exploration. From Rue du Pont-St-Hilaire there’s an intriguing view of the rooftops below the cathedral. Ancient streets tumble down from the cathedral to the river, lined most weekends with bouquinistes selling old books and prints. Each year on August 15 pilgrims and tourists flock here for the Procession du Vœu de Louis XIII, a religious procession through the streets commemorating the French monarchy’s vow to serve the Virgin Mary.
If you need an incentive to linger until dusk, “Chartres en Lumieres” (Chartres’s festival of lights) provides it: 28 of the city’s most revered monuments, including the glorious Notre-Dame Cathedral, are transformed into vivid light canvases.
Fodor’s Choice | Cathédrale Notre-Dame (Chartres Cathedral.)
Worship on the site of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, better known as Chartres Cathedral, goes back to before the Gallo-Roman period—the crypt contains a well that was the focus of druid ceremonies. In the late 9th century Charles II (aka “the Bald”) presented Chartres with what was believed to be the tunic of the Virgin Mary, a precious relic that went on to attract hordes of pilgrims. The current cathedral, the sixth church on the spot, dates mainly from the 12th and 13th centuries and was erected after the previous building, dating from the 11th century, burned down in 1194. A well-chronicled outburst of religious fervor followed the discovery that the Virgin Mary’s relic had miraculously survived unsinged. Motivated by this “miracle,” princes and paupers, barons and bourgeoisie gave their money and their labor to build the new cathedral. Ladies of the manor came to help monks and peasants on the scaffolding in a tremendous resurgence of religious faith that followed the Second Crusade. Just 25 years were needed for Chartres Cathedral to rise again, and it has remained substantially unchanged ever since.
The lower half of the facade survives from the earlier Romanesque church: this can be seen most clearly in the use of round arches rather than pointed Gothic-style ones. The Royal Portal is richly sculpted with scenes from the life of Christ—these meticulously detailed figures are among the greatest created during the Middle Ages. The taller of the two spires (380 feet versus 350 feet) was erected at the start of the 16th century, after its predecessor was destroyed by fire; its fanciful Flamboyant intricacy contrasts sharply with the stumpy solemnity of its Romanesque counterpart (access €6, open daily 9:30-noon and 2-4:30). The rose window above the main portal dates from the 13th century, and the three windows below it contain some of the finest examples of 12th-century stained-glass artistry in all of France.
As spiritual as Chartres is, the cathedral also had its more-earthbound uses. Look closely and you can see that the main nave floor has a subtle slant. It was designed to provide drainage because this part of the church was often used as a “hostel” by thousands of overnighting pilgrims in medieval times.
Your eyes will need time to adjust to the somber interior. The reward is seeing the gem-like richness of the stained glass, with the famous deep Chartres blue predominating. The oldest window is arguably the most beautiful: Notre-Dame de la Belle Verrière (Our Lady of the Lovely Window), in the south choir. The cathedral’s windows are gradually being cleaned and repaired—a lengthy, painstaking process—and the contrast with those still covered in the grime of centuries is staggering. It’s worth taking a pair of binoculars along with you to pick out the details. If you wish to know more about stained-glass techniques and the motifs used, visit the small exhibit in the gallery opposite the north porch. Since 2008, the cathedral has been undergoing an ambitious €20-million renovation that will continue through 2017. To date, two major chapels (the chapels of the Martyrs and the Apostles) have been completely restored, as have the two bays of the nave and the lower choir and the transept windows. For those who remember these dark recesses before the restoration, the difference is nothing short of miraculous (or alarming, depending on your perspective); an estimated 160,000-square feet of original plasterwork is now visible, and many of the sublime details for which the cathedral is famous have been returned to their 13th-century state. The restoration includes a layer of creamy paint, gilding, and trompe l’oeil marble over the church’s entire interior sandstone surface, but changes this sudden and drastic are inevitably accompanied by controversy. For some the transformation is transcendent, for others it’s a travesty. It’s best to judge for yourself. To help you do this, try to arrange a tour (in English) with local institution Malcolm Miller, whose knowledge of the cathedral’s history is formidable. (He leads tours twice a day Monday through Saturday, April-October, and once a day November-March at noon. You can contact him at 02-37-28-15-58 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.) The vast black-and-white labyrinth on the floor of the nave is one of the few to have survived from the Middle Ages; the faithful were expected to travel along its entire length (some 300 yards) on their knees. Guided tours of the Crypte start from the Maison de la Crypte opposite the south porch. You can also see a 4th-century Gallo-Roman wall and some 12th-century wall paintings. | 16 cloître Notre-Dame | 02-37-21-75-02 | www.chartres-tourisme.com | Crypt €3; tours €7.50 | Cathedral daily 8:30-7:30; guided tours of crypt Apr.-Oct., daily at 11, 2:15, 3:30, and 4:30; Nov.-Mar., daily at 11 and 4:15.
Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum.)
Just behind the famed cathedral, the town art museum is housed in a handsome 18th-century building that once served as the bishop’s palace. Its varied collection includes Renaissance enamels, a portrait of Erasmus by Holbein, tapestries, armor, and some fine (mainly French) paintings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. There’s also a room devoted to the forceful 20th-century landscapes of Maurice de Vlaminck, who lived in the region. | 29 cloître Notre-Dame | 02-37-90-45-80 | €3.40 | Wed.-Sat. 10-12:30 and 2-6, Sun. 2-5.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
Fodor’s Choice | Esprit Gourmand.
$ | FRENCH | On a picturesque street close to the cathedral, this quaint bistro is a life-saver in a town sorely lacking in quality dining. The traditional French favorites it serves—like roast poulet with buttery potatoes, sautéed filet of dorade with grilled vegetables, and braised pork that’s crisp on the outside and meltingly tender inside—are perennial crowd pleasers. The dining room, though small, doesn’t feel cramped, and there’s a charming garden terrace for outdoor eating in summer. It’s wise to reserve ahead, as fine cuisine and excellent service assure a full house at every meal. | Average main: €17 | 6 rue du Cheval-Blanc | 02-37-36-97-84.
Fodor’s Choice | Les Feuillantines.
$$ | FRENCH | The adventurous cuisine served at Les Feuillantines (one of Chartres’s few gastronomic restaurants) rarely falters and very often soars. Try the superb house-made terrine with tangy cornichons to start, followed by duck risotto topped with caramelized shallots or beef ravioli perfumed with lemongrass and smoked tea. For dessert, the copious cheese plate, vanilla-flecked baba à rhum, and divine melted-chocolate cake all hit the spot. In warmer months, the garden is an added bonus, as is a good, if slightly unimaginative, wine list. The location (on a tiny street near the cathedral) is convenient, and in terms of quality for price this cozy spot can’t be beat. | Average main: €22 | 4 rue du Bourg | 02-37-30-22-21 | Closed Sun. and Mon. | Reservations essential.
Best Western Le Grand Monarque.
$$ | HOTEL | On Chartres’s main square, not far from the cathedral, this converted coaching inn warmly evokes the 19th century; many guest rooms are outfitted with brick walls, attractive antiques, lush drapes, and modern bathrooms (the best are in a separate turn-of-the-20th-century building overlooking a garden, while the most atmospheric are tucked away in the attic). Downstairs, the stylishly decorated—and Michelin starred—Georges Restaurant serves such delicacies as pheasant pie and offers prix-fixe menus. It’s closed Monday and there’s no dinner Sunday, but the hotel’s La Cour brasserie is open daily. Pros: its old-fashioned charm still works today; the spa and fitness center offers beauty treatments and massage. Cons: best rooms are in an annex; uphill walk to cathedral. | Rooms from: €143 | 22 pl. des Épars | Chateauneuf-de-Grasse | 02-37-18-15-15 | www.bw-grand-monarque.com | 50 rooms, 5 suites | No meals.
Fodor’s Choice | Château d’Esclimont.
$$$ | HOTEL | One of France’s most spectacular château-hotels lies northeast of Chartres in the town of St-Symphorien. With its pointed turrets, moated pools, and checkerboard facade, the 19th-century Esclimont domaine—built by La Rochefoucaulds—is well worth seeking out if you wish to eat and sleep like an aristocrat. Luxuriously furnished lodgings are adorned with reproduction 18th-century French pieces; note, though, that rooms vary in size (many are loftily dimensioned, others snug in corner turrets). Carved stone garlands, cordovan leathers, brocades, and period antiques grace the public salons; the superbly manicured grounds cradle a heated pool. As you’d expect, the cuisine is sophisticated: quail, suckling pig, and foie gras with prunes in Armagnac top the menu at the restaurant, La Rochefoucauld (dinner reservations are essential, and a jacket and tie are required, as is a very fat wallet). Pros: the grand style of a country château; wonderful rural setting. Cons: service can be pompous; off the beaten path and not easy to find. | Rooms from: €200 | 2 rue du Château-d’Esclimont | St-Symphorien-le-Château | 24 km (15 miles) northeast of Chartres via N10/D18 | 02-37-31-15-15 | www.grandesetapes.fr | 48 rooms, 4 suites | No meals.
Previous Chapter | Beginning of Chapter | Next Chapter | Table of Contents
Previous Chapter | Next Chapter | Table of Contents
Exploring | Where to Stay | Nightlife and the Arts
68 km (40 miles) southwest of Pierrefonds via D335, D136, N330, and A4; 38 km (24 miles) east of Paris via A4.
Disneyland Paris is probably not what you’ve traveled to France for. But if you have a child in tow, the promise of a day with Mickey might get you through an afternoon at Versailles or Fontainebleau. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Disney fan, you’ll also want to make a beeline here to see how the park has been molded to suit European tastes (Disney’s “Imagineers” call it their most lovingly detailed one, and it simultaneously feels both decidedly foreign and eerily familiar). And if you’ve never experienced this particular form of Disney showmanship before, you may want to put in an appearance simply to find out what all the fuss is about.
Take the RER-A from central Paris (stations at Étoile, Auber, Les Halles, Gare de Lyon, and Nation) to Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy—the gare there is 100 yards from the Disneyland entrance; trains operate every 10-30 minutes, depending on the time of day (40 mins, €7.50). High-speed TGV train service (www.tgv.com) links Disneyland to Lille, Lyon, Brussels, and London (via Lille and the Channel Tunnel). Disneyland’s hotel complex also offers a shuttle bus service connecting it with the Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports; in each case the trip takes about 45 minutes and tickets cost €20.
Disneyland Paris Reservations Office. | 01-60-30-60-90, 407/939-7675 in U.S. | www.disneylandparis.com.
Fodor’s Choice | Disneyland Paris.
A slightly downsized version of its United States counterpart, Disneyland Paris is a spectacular sight created with an acute attention to detail. Disney never had quite the following here as it did Stateside, so when the park first opened, few turned up; Walt’s vision, however, eventually won them over. Today the place is jammed with families from around the world reveling in the many splendors of the Disney universe.
Some of the rides can be a bit scary for little kids, but tots adore Alice’s Maze, Peter Pan’s Flight, and especially the whirling Mad Hatter’s Teacups. Also getting high marks are the afternoon parades, which feature music, introductions in five languages, and huge floats swarming with all of Disney’s most beloved characters—just make sure to stake your place along Main Street in advance for a good spot (check for posted times). There’s a lot here, so pace yourself: kids can easily feel overwhelmed by the barrage of stimuli or frustrated by extra-long waits at the rides (also be aware that there are size restrictions for some). The older the children, the more they will enjoy Walt Disney Studios, a cinematically driven sister park, where many of the newer attractions can be found.
Disneyland Park, the original part of the complex, consists of five “lands”: Main Street U.S.A., Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Discoveryland. The central theme of each is relentlessly echoed in everything from attractions to restaurant menus to souvenirs. The park is circled by a railroad, which stops three times along the perimeter. Main Street U.S.A. goes under the railroad and past shops and restaurants toward the main plaza; Disney parades are held here every afternoon and, during holiday periods, every evening.
Top attractions at Frontierland are the chilling Phantom Manor, haunted by holographic spooks, and the thrilling runaway mine train of Big Thunder Mountain, a roller coaster that plunges wildly through floods and avalanches in a setting meant to evoke Utah’s Monument Valley. Whiffs of Arabia, Africa, and the Caribbean give Adventureland its exotic cachet; the spicy meals and snacks served here rank among the best food in the park. Don’t miss Pirates of the Caribbean, an exciting mise-en-scène populated by lifelike animatronic figures, or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a rapid-fire ride that re-creates some of this hapless hero’s most exciting moments.
Fantasyland charms the youngest parkgoers with familiar cartoon characters from such classic Disney films as Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. The focal point of Fantasyland, and indeed Disneyland Paris, is Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty’s Castle), a 140-foot, bubble-gum-pink structure topped with 16 blue- and gold-tipped turrets. Its design was allegedly inspired by illustrations from a medieval Book of Hours—if so, it was by way of Beverly Hills. The castle’s dungeon conceals a 2-ton scaly green dragon that rumbles in its sleep and occasionally rouses to roar—an impressive feat of engineering, producing an answering chorus of shrieks from younger children. Discoveryland is a high-tech, futuristic eye-popper. Robots on roller skates welcome you on your way to Star Tours, a pitching, plunging, sense-confounding ride based on the Star Wars films; and another robot, the staggeringly realistic 9-Eye, hosts a simulated space journey in Le Visionarium. Other top Discoveryland attractions include the Jules Verne-inspired Space Mountain Mission 2, which pretends to catapult exploronauts on a rocket-boosted, comet-battered journey through the Milky Way; and Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, which challenges kids to blast the villain Zurg with their own laser gun from a whirling star cruiser.
As you’d expect, Disneyland Paris has lots of dining options, ranging from snack bars and fast-food joints to five full-service restaurants—all with a distinguishing theme. If your child has his or her heart set on a specifically themed restaurant, say, Pirates of the Caribbean (a dark corsair’s lair that looks over the titular ride) or the Auberge de Cendrillon (Cinderella’s Inn, where the nasty stepmother and sisters themselves bustle through the aisles), make sure to make advance reservations in person or online. In addition, Walt Disney Studios, Disney Village, and Disney Hotels have restaurants open to the public. But since these are outside the park, it’s not recommended that you waste time traveling to them for lunch. Disneyland Paris serves wine and beer in the park’s sit-down restaurants, as well as in the hotels and restaurants outside the park.
Walt Disney Studios opened next to the Disneyland Park in 2002. It’s divided into four “production zones.” Beneath imposing entrance gates and a 100-foot water tower inspired by the one erected in 1939 at Disney Studios in Burbank, California, Front Lot contains shops, a restaurant, and a studio re-creating the atmosphere of Sunset Boulevard. In Animation Courtyard, Disney artists demonstrate the various phases of character animation; Animagique brings to life scenes from Pinocchio and The Lion King, while the Genie from Aladdin pilots Flying Carpets over Agrabah. Production Courtyard hosts the Walt Disney Television Studios; Cinémagique, a special-effects tribute to U.S. and European cinema; and a behind-the-scenes Studio Tram tour of location sites, movie props, studio interiors, and costumes, ending with a visit to Catastrophe Canyon in the heart of a film shoot. Back Lot majors in stunts. At Armageddon Special Effects you can confront a flaming meteor shower aboard the Mir space station, then complete your visit at the giant outdoor arena with a Stunt Show Spectacular involving cars, motorbikes, and Jet Skis. La Place de Rémy, the newest addition to Walt Disney Studios, opened in 2014. Appropriately, it’s a mini-land—complete with ride and restaurant—themed around the Paris-based Pixar flick Ratatouille. | | Marne-la-Vallée | 01-60-30-60-90 | www.disneylandparis.com | €80, or €169 for 3-day Passport; includes admission to all individual attractions within Disneyland or Walt Disney Studios; tickets for Walt Disney Studios are also valid for admission to Disneyland during last 3 opening hrs of same day | Disneyland mid-June-mid-Sept., daily 9 am-10 pm; mid-Sept.-Dec. 19 and Jan. 5-mid-June, weekdays 10-8, weekends 9-8; Dec. 20-Jan. 4, daily 9-8. Walt Disney Studios daily 10-6.
WHERE TO STAY
$$$$ | HOTEL | Ranging from superluxe to still-a-pretty-penny, Disneyland Paris has 5,000 rooms in five hotels, but your best bet on all counts may be the Sequoia Lodge—a grand re-creation of an American mountain lodge, just a few minutes’ walk from the theme park. Past towering evergreens, you enter a charming lobby, replete with an open fire crackling on a giant stone hearth in the Redwood Bar. Guest rooms have natural wood furniture that’s meant to evoke log cabins; books yours in the main Montana building (overlooking Lake Disney) rather than one of the smaller annex “lodges.” For youngsters there’s a children’s corner, outdoor play area, and video-game room. For food, the choice is between the family-oriented, buffet-service Hunter’s Grill and the more upscale Beaver Creek Tavern. As at all Disneyland Paris hotels, free transportation to the park is available. Note that room prices can fluctuate widely depending on season and school vacation periods—keep hunting to find lower-priced days. Pros: package deals include admission to theme park; cozy, secluded feel; great pools. Cons: restaurants a bit ho-hum; many rooms do not have lake view. | Rooms from: €300 | | Marne-la-Vallée | 01-60-30-60-90, 407/939-7675 in U.S. | www.disneylandparis.com | 1,020 rooms | No meals.
NIGHTLIFE AND THE ARTS
Nocturnal entertainment outside the park centers on Disney Village, a vast pleasure mall designed by American architect Frank Gehry. Homesick kids who’ve had enough of croque-monsieur sandwiches will be happy to hear that vintage American-style restaurants—a diner, a deli, and a steak house among them—dominate the food scene here. | | Marne-la-Vallée | www.disneylandparis.fr.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
One highlight within Disney Village is Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, a two-hour dinner extravaganza with a menu of sausage, spareribs, and chili. The entertainment component includes performances by a talented troupe of stunt riders, bronco busters, tribal dancers, and musicians; plus some 50 horses, a dozen buffalo, a bull, and an Annie Oakley-style sharpshooter, with a golden-maned “Buffalo Bill” as emcee. A re-creation of a show that dazzled Parisians 100 years ago, it’s corny but great fun. Tickets for shows, which start nightly at 6:30 and 9:30, cost €60. | | Marne-la-Vallée | 01-60-45-71-00 for reservations | www.disneylandparis.fr.