Europe

Rail Europe: Riding the Rails in France and the U.K.

written by | Posted on July 1st, 2009

A unique travel experience is always an adventure. Combine that with visits to two of the most exciting cities in the world—Paris and London—in addition to Rail Europe day excursions to popular attractions outside of those cities, and your clients will have a travel experience that’s second to none.

A recent trip with Rail Europe to those classic cities proved there’s no more perfect way to experience the seamless efficiency of a Rail Europe vacation than combining sophisticated, classic European cities, with the opportunity to reach out and enjoy nearby historical treasures such as Reims, or the cultural attractions of the Champagne region in France. The Eurostar enables clients to shoot across—or under, as the case may be—the English Channel to bustling London and contrast that exciting city with day trips to blue collar Manchester and the wonderfully charming and ancient city of York—all in a whirlwind six days.

After an overnight flight from Newark to the Charles De Gaulle Airport on the outskirts of Paris, tell clients it’s an easy commute into the center of Paris aboard an RER train, a regional train network with stops at major railroad stations and metro hubs in Paris. From the RER platforms at CDG Airport, you can reach the Gare du Nord, Chatelet-Les Halles, Saint-Michel, Luxembourg, and other stations of RER Line B. From Chatelet, where we disembarked, it was just a brief, economical cab ride to the Hotel Lutetiaon Boulevard Raspail.

The Lutetia, by the way, is a classic, Left Bank luxury Parisian hotel—originally built in 1907 in the Belle Epoque period that’s lost none of that traditional sense of opulence—boasting 230, sound-proofed, no less, rooms, including 60 jr. and full suites. This is a four-star, going on six that’s traditionally upscale Parisian with service that’s unparalleled.

Since this is France, the focus on the hotel cuisine here is heavy on the gourmet side, led by Michelin-star chef Philippe Renard who’s been heading up the dining options for over 13 years and it shows. Its lead restaurant, Gourmet Restaurant Le Paris, is an intimate, but elegant bistro uniquely decorated in a 1930s luxury liner style that seats 30—all with an emphasis on traditional French cuisine with what the chef calls, “a creative twist.” In the Brasserie Lutetia, up to 160 diners can enjoy traditional fare and regional dishes with a focus on seafood while the Lutetia piano bar serves up sandwiches and drinks in a more casual environment. WiFi, a full-service business center, a fitness center and 10 meeting rooms with a capacity from 10 to 300 people round out the hotel offerings.

But while the hotel is a treasure, this is, after all Paris and a walk to the Louvre on a beautiful morning is a great way to start off the day in the City of Lights. Paris is a walking city and here in the fashionable Saint-Germain-des-Pres district with its endless collection of boutique shops and home to the famous Bon Marche department store, it’s a wonderful opportunity for people-watching and the streets are filled with shoppers scurrying about like the Mad Hatter in “Alice in Wonderland.”

Too soon, we arrive at the Louvre and meet up with our guide who dutifully leads us through this massive edifice, literally filled with treasures from around the world and with throngs of museum-goers from all over the globe. While it’s impossible to see even a fraction of the incredible artifacts displayed here in the few hours we have available, the guide focuses on the fascinating history of this one-time royal palace. Originally built as a defensive fortress in the late-12 century before it was turned into a royal residence in the 14th century and home to a number of French kings until 1678 when Louis XIV moved out to Versailles, the Louvre has been a mirror of French history for over 800 years, becoming a museum in 1793 and expanding even more in the mid-18th century. The modernization project of the Musee du Louvre, as it’s formally known, began in 1981 with the eventual addition of the famous glass pyramid in 1989, an edifice that’s become a Parisian icon in just 20 years.

Urge clients to take a guided tour as it will save hours of hunting down the highlights and there’s a huge amount of interesting museum history and lore that can only be learned on these guided tours. It’s truly amazing how many classical treasures the museum has compiled over the centuries—from the “Winged Victory of Samothrace” and “Venus de Milo” sculptures, to Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” a surprisingly small painting that he brought from Italy to France where it adorned his own home there until his death. There’s even a Da Vince Code program that highlights the adventures of Robert Langdon from the book and 2006 film of the same title.