Famous paintings, food and architecture in Paris with Take Walks

There are many France cultural gifts to the world. French art, French food and French architecture are aspects of French culture many visitors seek out on a trip to Paris. On my recent Paris visit I had the opportunity to experience some of the best famous paintings, food and architecture in Paris with Take Walks and Devour Tours.

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Incredible Devour Tours food tour

While Take Walks offer a range of food tours via their partner organisation, Devour tours, I was excited to be invited on their highly desirable Paris Pastry and Chocolate Tour.

This tour runs in the morning which is great – no need for breakfast. Our rendezvous point was a quiet area of the 3rd arrondissement, well off the tourist trail and the southern part of the Marais where other food tours often start. There were a number of spots nearby to buy a quick coffee before we started. Our guide, Julia, an English expat who had lived in Paris for 30 years, was there in plenty of time and was very easy to find. We were a small group of 6, and because everyone was ready to go a little early, we were able to head off ahead of schedule.

Our first stop was a small artisan bakery around 5 minutes walk from our meeting point. This place is so popular that Julia had stopped by earlier to make sure our croissants had been put aside – and just as well too – there were only two left on display when we arrived.

Our croissants were exactly what is good croissant is – flaky, buttery and satisfyingly golden on the outside. They were certainly a tasty start to our tour.

Famous paintings, food and architecture in Paris with Take Walks Flaky croissants in a Paris bakery

Our second pastry tasting was only a few minutes’ walk away, but we stopped off on the way to see and hear about that famous Paris institution, the Wallace fountains. Julia told us about the history of Wallace fountains in Paris and how to find them. A number of the members of our group took the opportunity to fill water bottles.

Our second tasting was at a pâtisserie for a Paris brest tasting. The owner of the pâtisserie is a bit of a celebrity with cookbooks and a popular YouTube channel. We learned about the history of the Paris brest – a choux pastry ring filled with hazelnut cream. The choux pastry was incredibly light, and the hazelnut cream was full of flavour and not overly sweet. One of the things I was a bit anxious about was whether I would find an all sweet menu too sweet and too heavy, but by this stage I was feeling confident that if everything we tried was so well balanced I would definitely manage.

Famous paintings, food and architecture in Paris with Take Walks A traditional Paris brest pastry

Julia had promised us coffee at our next stop which was about 10minutes walk away. The bakery we visited was an excellent example of French tradition combined with a modern twist – it looked incredibly modern on first glance, but looking more closely there were distinct 19th century architecture and decoration visible. Julia told us about how there had been a bakery in this building for well over a hundred years and how when it was renovated last, much of the traditional ceilings had been kept.

It was quite charming and with its pretty interior was a good choice to stop for coffee and that French after school tradition, the flan. For the uninitiated, flan is a set vanilla custard tart with a light, pastry case – a bit like a Portuguese tart. Ours was very tasty with a good vanilla flavour. And again, it was light and not too sweet.

Famous paintings, food and architecture in Paris with Take Walks traditional flan and coffee in a Paris bakery

After our coffee and flan we had a bit of walk to our next stop. But that was perfectly fine by me – I’d had a sit down and was ready for more walking. We walked through a number of covered walkways and hidden passageways – some of which were certainly new to me. As we walked, Julia told us about the history of these important parts of Paris architectural heritage.

Finally we arrived at our next Paris food destination, and finally we had arrived in a part of the city I knew (even as a regular visitor, I’d been in unknown parts till now). It was also getting close to lunch time but before our sweet lunch of a crepe and some cider, we were having a little pre lunch snack – a traditional French macaron. Macarons are well known to many Paris visitors, so Julia made things more interesting by offering us an apricot flavoured macaron – a flavour I’d never had before. Again it was not too sweet, with a bit of acidity coming from the filling.

Right on midday we landed at our lunch destination – a restaurant specializing in crêpes. Because we were on a sweet tour, our crêpes were lemon and sugar rather than savoury. Washed down with a glass of cider (alcoholic or non-alcoholic according to age and choice) it was an excellent choice for a sit down “lunch”.

Famous paintings, food and architecture in Paris with Take Walks Traditional French crepes on a white plate with a glass of cider in a Paris restaurant

Five Paris food treats down and one to go. And finally it was chocolate time. Boy, was it chocolate time. Our final stop was a nearby artisan chocolate shop that prides itself on its “bean to bar” philosophy. In the atelier we could see staff processing cocoa beans as well as making the chocolate goodies. On the shelves were all sorts of chocolate choices – each with the origin of the cocoa beans and the cocoa content listed. It was certainly no ordinary chocolate shop!

Famous paintings, food and architecture in Paris with Take Walks French chocolate tart with cocoa nibs

We finished our tour with a slightly bitter and light as a feather dark chocolate tart as well as some plain dark chocolate. It was a perfect finish to a fun and educational morning. And I don’t think I was the only one on the tour who may have bought a little something for later………

What I thought of the Devour Tours Pastry & Chocolate tour

This is an excellent tour for sweet tooths. While the tastings focus on well known classics I still think this tour is a valuable option for repeat visitors as well as first time visitors to France. Repeat visitors will appreciate finding some wonderful new, artisan producers in largely non-tourist streets and first timers will get an excellent understanding of what good French pastry and chocolate should be like. I was worried about it being a sweetness overload, but my fears were completely unfounded – everything we tried was not too sweet and was very light.

Walking on this tour was moderate, and all on the flat – I would suggest that children from around 6-7 and upwards would manage it admirably. Julia was a friendly and engaging guide who certainly understood the products and the local area well. Serving sizes were appropriate – I passed on lunch and just ate a salad for dinner.

You can find out more about the Devour Tours Pastry and Chocolate tour here >>

Meeting the Impressionists at the Musée d’Orsay

Impressionism is probably the most famous school of French art, and a visit to the Musée d’Orsay is on the Paris itinerary for many visitors. I’d visited the Orsay just once before and it was on my own, so was thrilled to be offered a Take Walks tour to meet the Impressionists.

Famous paintings, food and architecture in Paris with Take Walks The clock inside the Musee d'Orsay Paris France

Our Canadian guide Adam started the tour by getting everyone to introduce ourselves and provided us with a detailed briefing of what to expect inside. I must admit I was a bit unsure why we needed to spend time having eighteen people introduce themselves, but after the briefing I started to see why. Adam explained that the Orsay is a “battleground”, and that Team Adam always wins the battle. He explained how Team Adam needed to work and how we needed to work together as a team to achieve our mission. It was actually a fun way to engage the group, and certainly when we got inside I started to understand exactly why we were all on Team Adam.

Because we were on a Musée d’Orsay guided tour we were able to use the dedicated museum entry which had no queue. This meant we were in and security screened in no time at all. It actually took longer to organise our headsets and check they were working than to enter the museum.

Our tour started on the ground floor where Adam explained the origins of the building (it was briefly a railway station) and how it was saved from demolition to house Impressionist art. Because the interior of the Orsay is so charming understanding its history is certainly an important part of the visit.

Interior of the Musee d'Orsay Paris France showing ceiling and clock

Our tour of the art started on the ground floor in the pre-Impressionist part of the exhibition. Adam engagingly explained about how the Paris art world worked in the nineteenth century and how it contributed to the malcontent among young artists that led to the development of the Impressionist movement. We also learned about how it stifled artistic creativity and was reflective of a very unequal society.

Adam explained classic French art techniques and showed us some excellent examples to illustrate his point. We also studied some classic nineteenth century art looking at themes, and interestingly, how in particular women were portrayed. It was incredibly interesting, and having visited the museum before, I could see how educating us about the pre-Impressionists would give us a better appreciation and understanding of what was to come.

Painting of young woman with her hand outstretched
We learned why although this piece may look very traditional, it was also quite subversive

Although it was very crowded, Adam proved adept at getting us right up close to the art he wanted us to see, and was very good at checking everyone was keeping up with the group.

Once we understood how they came to be, it was time to go upstairs and actually meet the Impressionists. But first we stopped off on the landing to take the “must have” photo of the Orsay interior.

Painting by Vincent Van Gogh of his room in the mental asylum in Arles

As we moved through the galleries and met the Impressionists, Adam spoke about the artists as real people as a way of understanding and appreciating their art. We learned about Van Gogh’s mental health struggles and family background, as well as important health and other influences on other artists. We also learned why we weren’t spending much time looking at Degas. From a subject matter point of view we learned why the Impressionists chose the subjects they did and even how the term Impressionist was considered an insult which the young artists appropriated with pride.

We studied and learned to appreciate some very well known pieces, but interestingly, we also spent time looking lesser known pieces that showed us important features about the artist and their art – turkeys anyone?

Impressionist painting of turkeys with tour guide
Adam teaching us the mysteries of painting turkeys and what this painting tells us about how the Impressionists played with paint colours to create light and shade

We finished our tour among the Impressionists and rather than usher us out, Adam took our headsets and invited us to stay longer to find our own hidden treasures and enjoy this wonderful collection in our own time.

Thoughts on the Meet the Impressionists tour

Adam was one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had the pleasure of being on a tour with. He was fun, seriously funny, but also impressively knowledgeable. He was excellent at getting us up close to the art, and showing it off to really experience and understand it. He spoke about the artists as people and how that influenced their art. Rather than just telling, he showed, asked and taught us how to truly understand it. We experienced more than just a meeting with the Impressionists – at the end our tour I felt I’d been afforded a masterclass in art history and art appreciation. All in two hours. Team Adam for the win!!

Because of the subject matter in the Musée d’Orsay there are a number of nudes on this tour, and by extension, discussion about women’s anatomy, sex and sexuality. Adam handled these topics in context, sensitively and highly professionally, but if you are visiting with young children or find these topics not to your taste or in keeping with your personal values, this may not be the right tour for you (and to be honest, maybe the Orsay is not the right Paris museum for you).

You can book your Meet the Impressionists Take Walks Tour here >>

Are you planning a trip to France? My France Travel Planning Facebook group is a vibrant and friendly group where you can ask questions, learn from others and get great advice. You can join here >>

A Versailles Tour by Take Walks

While I appreciate it is not in Paris, Versailles is certainly on the Paris itinerary for many visitors to the city. I was thrilled to be invited to the Small Group Versailles Tour from Paris with Garden Show. It was many years since I’d visited Versailles and was interested to see the promised fountain and water show.

This tour set itself apart from its competition right from the outset – rather than travelling by RER train to Versailles and then walking to the Château, we were picked up by minivan and deposited right at the entry gates. We met our guide Anne Claire at the entry and after a briefing and headset check headed to the gardens. We had our allocated time for the Château entry later in the morning.

Famous paintings, food and architecture in Paris with Take Walks Orangerie garden at Versailles France

Entering the gardens Anne Claire took us to a quiet, sunny spot to talk about the Château and the gardens. We learned about how Versailles came to be on a hill and why, along with its original purpose as a hunting lodge. Interestingly we learned about how even though Versailles is considered so emblematic of French architecture it is largely a Roman and Italian copy.

While all this discussion of French architecture was interesting, it was the fountains and music that were the main reason for our Versailles gardens tour. Shortly after 10.00am the fountains started to trickle into life and the classical music started. We learned about the how music was incorporated into the gardens while it was a working palace. Anne Claire was very adept at taking us to different parts of the gardens to show us different fountains which really made it feel like the gardens themselves were rooms of a palace in their own right. She even found us a squirrel – which was exciting for the sole non-North American on the tour (me).

Famous paintings, food and architecture in Paris with Take Walks

Particular highlights of the gardens were the gardens where the fountains seemed to “dance” in time to the music and the garden amphitheatre where Louis XVI (an accomplished ballet dancer) performed for his guests.

After a break for a drink and sit down (the cafe seating area came complete with its own chandeliers), it was time to head to the Château. While Anne Claire went to get our tickets we were able to absorb what was happening with entry queues. There were two queues – one for people with timed entry tickets and one for those with tickets that weren’t timed entry (we had already noted there were no tickets available for sale by 9.25am when we initially arrived). Both queues were extensive – almost back to the entry gates…….

By being on a guided tour we were able to bypass both queues and went straight into the Château. The Château was extremely crowded in parts, but Anne Claire managed to keep us moving, and ducked and weaved so we could see her. Thank heavens for our audioguides – we wouldn’t have had a hope of hearing her without them. I felt sorry for those on tours without one.

We learned about how to tell the difference between public rooms and private rooms, as well as the rooms that were decorated at the time Versailles was a palace, compared to when it became a national museum in 1830. I was thrilled to be able to visit the Queen’s bedroom which was not open to the public the last time I had visited.

Anne Claire lingered in the Hall of Mirrors which wasn’t as crowded as I had anticipated, so we had plenty of opportunity to take photos and really take in what is one of the most famous architectural features of Versailles.

Famous paintings, food and architecture in Paris with Take Walks - inside the Hall of Mirrors Versailles France
The not so crowded Hall of Mirrors

What I thought of the Take Walks Versailles tour with fountains and music

I really need to say upfront that with so many visitors to Versailles currently, I think anyone who wants to visit Versailles really should take a tour. Despite booking in advance, unless you are on a guided tour of Versailles, you will have an extensive wait to enter the palace. On that basis, the question is really whether this Versailles tour is worth it?

Multiple queues of people waiting to enter the Palace of Versailles, France
Queues of people as far as the eye can see

This is a very good tour, and despite it just lasting a morning you are welcome to return to the gardens (keep your ticket when you enter) and spend the rest of the day exploring their depths (just make sure you know how to walk to the station and buy a ticket back to Paris).

We spent most of our time out in the gardens which really were delightful, and Anne Claire found us some lovely spots to enjoy. She was a knowledgeable and friendly guide who did an excellent job successfully navigating us through an incredibly crowded Chateau.

Shady green walkway in the garden of Versailles

While there was quite a bit of walking on this tour, and there are stairs, this tour is suitable for most visitors. If I was doing this tour with children, I would pack a picnic lunch and return to the gardens for lunch after the formal part of the tour, to give the kids a run around.

If you are interested in this tour, do check that the minivan transfer is still operational as I gather this is a new feature for 2023.

You can book the Small Group Versailles Morning Tour with Fountains >>

Famous paintings, food and architecture in Paris with Take Walks – general observations

Take Walks and Devour Tours offer good quality tours that offer a unique perspective to what are otherwise well known Paris tourist attractions and aspects of French culture.

When you book a Take Walks or Devour Tours tour you will receive a ticket which includes detailed instructions, a map and a photo of the joining point to make finding your tour easy. All Take Walks and Devour Tours representatives were easily identified exactly as per the joining instructions.

I don’t know if it is typical, but none of my tours were full, so groups were quite intimate. At the Orsay, Team Adam was the perfect way of keeping the larger group together without feeling like we were being herded around or following the flag like on some tours.

All three tours covered exactly what the description of the tour said. At the Orsay and Versailles it was easy to extend the visit beyond the tour, which is a great value add.

Author’s note: I was a guest of Take Walks and Devour Tours. As always, all opinions are my own.

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