You ve posed for a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower, checked out the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and walked to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. If you think you ve done it all in Paris, don t worry, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path adventures for your return.
Away from landmarks, tourist crowds and flashing cameras, a few guides will take you on unusual tours behind the scenes, literally, in a movie tour, or to discover artists havens in Belleville, fountains of famous gardens and eco-friendly initiatives around town. Alongside curious locals, you ll get a glimpse of a different Paris.
Meet the Artists and Residents
http://www.paris-prm.com, $17 (?12), offered several times weekly.
Just a few metro stops away from the city s major monuments lies an overlooked neighborhood that s worth the detour, especially in the company of Angenic Agnero, who runs the nonprofit organization Paris par Rues Meconnues (Paris Along Unknown Streets).
Agnero has been walking the streets of the neighborhood for 10 years interviewing its residents. She now holds the keys – or rather the door codes – to many buildings, allowing visitors to discover a hidden side of the area. Walking up narrow streets, Agnero reveals flowery inner courtyards concealing old sculptures, where artist installations and murals have been added. Once the door closes, it s easy to imagine you re miles away from Paris, in the quiet countryside.
Although unknown by many, Belleville has had its share of fame. La vie en rose singer Edith Piaf reportedly started her career here singing in the streets. Olivier Dahan s 2007 film La Vie en Rose with French actress Marion Cotillard tells the story of the poor girl who became the country s biggest star. Many years before her, a young boy chased a balloon through the cobbled streets in the 1950s movie The Red Balloon.
Working-class Belleville is now home to many of Paris ceramists, mosaic artists and various artisans. Instead of lecturing on the area s long history, Agnero introduces you to her friends and shares stories, including one about a man who traveled to France by boat illegally and named his bar Le Petit Navire (the small boat) to show his gratitude. While you re here, pick up locally made hats, gifts and made-to-measure leather shoes.
http://www.pavillondeleau.fr, $7 (?5), offered several times per week. Each tour departs from a different area.
A knowledgeable guide takes small groups on a walk through a chosen neighborhood focusing on water. Although not obvious at first, the water theme is present everywhere around the Jardin des Tuileries, designed by Andre Le Notre, a landscape architect, in the 17th century.
Here, artists made rivers come to life through sculptures. The Loire and the Loiret Rivers become a man and a woman.
Water has always been a problem, said guide Hugues Meles, explaining that although the Seine river provided plenty of water, it was also used as a sewer and unsafe to drink.
In 1807, there were only 56 fountains for approximately 647,000 inhabitants. Napoleon built the Canal de l Ourcq and the Canal St. Martin in 1808, following advice that in order to make Parisians happy, you d have to give them water.
Outside the garden s walls, as if laid out on a map, eight statues represent the largest harbor cities in France. Marseille is a woman with grape headgear sitting on a boat, holding an olive tree branch, a symbol of peace and the Mediterranean.
At Place de la Concorde, Meles tells you about the obelisk – a present to Paris from Egypt – and the two fountains that surround it.
You ll learn that the popular Wallace fountains used by Parisians to quench their thirst on hot days were named for an English philanthropist who was shocked to find out one had to pay for a glass of water in Paris. He built fountains around the city to provide free water to all.
And if the tour has made you thirsty, ask Meles about the free water available for bottling in the 16th arrondissement.
http://ecovisitparis.com, $113 (?80), offered daily. Starting at Place de la Concorde.
If you can spring for it, let Erwann Maizy take you on an air-conditioned visit of the city of lights in his stylish Prius, recognizable by the colorful print of a gingko biloba tree, the world s oldest tree.
In the comfort of a hybrid car that zooms silently through the busy intersections, the nature enthusiast points out air sensors that help AIRPARIF, an air monitoring system, measure the quality of the air Parisians breathe daily.
Maizy explains that Le Notre designed the Champs Elysees in 1670 to allow for the sun to set at the end of it. Today, the Arc de Triomphe becomes a frame for the sunsets twice a year – around May 8 and Aug. 1.
On the avenue where crowds gather to see the end of the Tour de France, Maizy also points out the world s first LED-lit building now owned by French newspaper France-Soir.
With 100,000 trees lining the boulevards, Paris has become the most wooded European city, according to Maizy. As he drives slowly though the streets to recharge his car battery, he talks about the vertical garden at the Musee du Quai Branly and 50 other gardens most people don t know about.
Opera Garnier won t look the same once you know there are beehives on its rooftop. And if you re feeling hungry or simply looking for an unusual souvenir, ask Maizy to stop at the Opera s gift shop or at the popular Fauchon store to pick up a jar of the urban honey.
http://www.tourisme93.com, $12.75 (?9), offered on Sundays. The group meets in front of the MK2 movie theater on the Quai de Seine side of the canal.
Led by movie buff and actor Lula Suassuna, you ll learn that one out of two French movies is filmed in or around Paris these days. Suassuna points out quotes on the walls of the movie theater, famous lines from movies like You talkin to me? from Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. First reading the lines, he then acts out parts of the scenes, setting the mood for the tour.
Traveling by boat to the outskirts of the city, the small group listens to the driver and his assistant talk about the construction of the Canal Saint Martin and Canal de l Ourcq in 1808 by Napoleon. On the edges of the canal, people bicycle and walk quietly.
Going past bridges, with the help of Suassuna, you recognize one on which the sweet title character from Amelie spent afternoons skipping stones on the water.
Suassuna tells the story of the two yet unknown brothers who traveled from the southern city of Lyon to Paris in 1895. The Lumiere brothers showed their first film at the Grand Cafe on Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement. They made more than 100 movies in Paris. The brothers supposedly believed their contraption was a fun invention but one that had no commercial value.
The Seine-Saint-Denis is home to companies that did special effects for movies such as Spider-Man, Fight Club, and the three last Batman movies. In 2012, Fifth Element film maker Luc Besson will open a large film academy here that will include studios and a film school.
I thought this would be a great alternative to a shopping weekend, said Elodie Emsallem, a Marseille native who moved to Paris eight years ago. I feel like I m on vacation.
Before you embark on this French cinema stroll, you ll probably want to see a few movies so you know what Suassuna is talking about, including Dobermann, Amelie, Hotel du Nord, Delicatessen, Le Peril Jeune and 99 Francs. Non-French speakers beware, although the guide speaks English and Portuguese, the tour is usually offered only in French.
2cv Driving Tour: http://www.4roues-sous-1parapluie.com/, starting at $30 (?19). With the popular French Citroen 2CV car as your means of transportation, the tour called 4 roues sous 1 parapluie (which means four wheels under one umbrella ) takes visitors on a tour of the capital. The quirky tour comes complete with a beret-wearing driver.
Private Paris: http://www.parisprive.com, starting at $565 (?400). If money is no object,
Paris Prive opens the most coveted doors. See the Eiffel Tower and Versailles after hours, get a whiff of custom-made perfumes in the city s most well-known luxury boutiques, or master French cuisine thanks to the help of a starred chef.