About Our Tour
Marie Antoinette. The aristocrat who despised the poor. The wife who cuckolded her husband. The queen who brought down the monarchy. Her name is legend, and few figures in history conjure such drama: extravagant, decadent, sensual, cruel. Yet is all of it—or even any of it—true? This is your chance to find out. (Spoiler alert: she never said, “Let them eat cake.”) On this tour we’ll follow the story of Marie Antoinette and her times—from her early childhood in Austria to the French Revolution that shook the world.
We’ll discover how she became the most hated woman of her day, the subject of rabid conspiracy theories and vicious, pornographic pamphlets that make Fox News look like the New York Times. We’ll learn about the mobs that threatened to kill her; the desperate attempt to flee the country for her life; the bloodshed and savagery that shook France during her reign; and her tragic, noble end, as she was carried past the silent crowds of Paris to lose her head on the guillotine. Our classroom will be Paris, and our text will be its art: the magnificent paintings, sculptures and buildings that illuminate the cultural interests, political views and astonishing events that characterized this fascinating woman and her fascinating times.
Tentative Dates: August 1-5, 2018
We’ll discover how she became the most hated woman of her day, the subject of rabid conspiracy theories and vicious, pornographic pamphlets that make Fox News look like the New York Times.
- Charming and central hotel
- Excellent meals
- Paris’ most elegant 18th century house museum
- Pastry by Stohrer (founded by Queen Marie Leszczynska’s pastry chef in 1730!)
- Walking tour of Revolutionary Paris
- A Marie Antoinette tour of the Louvre
- The Conciergerie prison
- A full day at Versailles
The tour starts in the afternoon, with a visit to the most complete 18th-century residence in Paris—an early 20th century reconstruction of the Petit Trianon, filled with a dazzling collection of furniture, artworks and objects. In addition to learning about how France became the byword for elegance and style throughout Europe, we’ll discover the Proustian world of the wealthy Jewish collector who built the museum, as well as the tragic end of his family in World War II. From there we go for a stroll in the adjacent Parc Monceau, the heart of Paris’ most elegant neighborhood. Then it’s off for afternoon tea—and what a tea! We’ll be in the most beautiful café in all of Paris, under a ceiling painted by Tiepolo, and enjoying the city’s most exquisite pastries—confected in a shop founded by the personal pastry chef of the wife of Louis XV. After tea it’s back to our hotel for a free evening, to enjoy all the dining and culture that Paris has to offer—don’t hesitate to ask for our recommendations!
We start our morning with a walking tour of Revolutionary Paris, from the Place de la Bastille, where the Revolution started, to the Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine stood during the Reign of Terror. We’ll learn about Marie Antoinette and other aristocrats during the Revolution, but also about the artisans, shopkeepers and fearsome mobs that drove it to its bloody conclusion. After lunch, we visit the Louvre—not to see the usual “greatest hits,” but to discover the magnificent galleries of the 18th century. We’ll learn about the styles and personalities of the age, view some of its great canvases, and see personal objects that actually belonged to the Queen herself (as well as some royal mistresses!). At the end of the afternoon we leave the Louvre for a visit to the Conciergerie, the grim medieval prison where Marie Antoinette, among many others, was imprisoned during the Terror. It was from here that she was taken to her execution, and the chapel on the site of her cell is one of the most moving spots on the entire tour!
Today we concentrate on a more cheerful side of Marie Antoinette’s story, on an excursion to Versailles. We will spend the entire day in the royal domain, the palace (or set of palaces) built by Louis XIV, the Sun King—the splendid symbol of France’s absolute monarchy in its greatest age, imitated by every monarch or potentate across Europe who could afford to do. In the morning, we visit the main palace and see the public spaces such as the renowned Hall of Mirrors, as well as the private apartments of Louis XV and XVI. After lunch at a quiet restaurant set among the gardens, we spend the afternoon visiting the Petit Trianon and the adjacent “hamlet.” The Trianons were small chateaux built in the woods as a retreat from the court in the big chateau (which had originally been built as a retreat!). The Petit Trianon was a kind of pleasure pavilion, built for Louis XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, and passed on to his next mistress, Madame du Barry. When Louis XVI ascended to the throne, he gave the Petit Trianon to Marie Antoinette as her own private space—with a gate that opened only at the Queen’s invitation. Here Marie Antoinette spent time with her friends, apart from the court and without court etiquette. She even built, as we will see, a fake peasant village in the chateau’s gardens, where she and her friends could milk cows! Sadly, while her need for escape may seem comprehensible to us, the closed gate bred rumors and resentment….
This morning we go to the suburb of St. Denis to visit the Royal Basilica, the burial site of French kings from the 10th century to the 18th. The Abbey is a fascinating place for many reasons. It was among other things the first Gothic building! But it is mainly famous for the crypt and the great royal monuments (which were saved from the Revolution by and intrepid museum curator!). Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were not originally buried here: the Revolutionaries buried them in a trench near the Madeleine and covered their corpses with quicklime. But their remains were brought here in 1830 to a new Bourbon crypt, and a monument was erected which is generally considered one of the most accurate likenesses of the Queen. After our visit we return to Paris for a free afternoon, to explore its museums, its elegant shops (an “industry” fostered by Marie Antoinette!), its patisseries…. In the evening, we will gather for a farewell dinner, in one of Paris’ most charming bistros.
Our tour concludes with breakfast today, but we are happy to help you with the rest of your travel plans. Please let us know about your return flight, especially if is today, so we can help with your arrangements.