Shady Ladies of Paris

Let Shady Ladies Tours introduce you to the royal
mistresses and courtesans of Paris' history, from
Madame de Pompadour to the (real!) Lady of the Camellias.
Discover them with Professor Andrew Lear,
world-renowned scholar of sexuality and art,
and founder of our company.

Our hotel, the Edouard VII on Avenue de l'Opéra, is a charming boutique hotel in the heart of Paris' museums and shopping. It has a fascinating, racy history—making it the ideal headquarters for the Shady Ladies tour—but has been stylishly updated, with excellent sound-proofing and air-conditioning.

Our Shady Ladies of Paris Tour Itinerary

  • Not surprisingly for the capital of France, Paris has a rich history of seductive women who rose to the top. From royal mistresses like Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry, to courtesans like the (real!) Lady of the Camellias, the Shady Ladies of Paris reigned over the so-called demi-monde, a glittering section of high society that—even if it had to glitter in the shade—was often the true center of power. Let Shady Ladies Tours introduce you to this intriguing side of Paris, from the Renaissance to the Belle Epoque. You will be guided by Professor Andrew Lear, world-renowned scholar of sexuality and art, and founder of our company. We’ll see famous sights (such as the Musée d’Orsay) from a whole new angle; we’ll discover hidden gems that reveal the lives of women who were singers, painters, and leaders of literary salons across the ages; and we’ll dine in restaurants fit for a queen. Topped with a stay in a luxury hotel that has its own racy history, as well as a charming visit to a perfume museum, this tour gives you Paris the way Madame de Pompadour herself would want you to see it. Discover the City of Light for the first time, or see it again from an entirely new perspective. Whether you make it a fun long weekend with friends, or as part of a longer trip to France, Shady Ladies of Paris will create memories to last a lifetime.

  • Featured Highlights On This Tour Of Paris

  • - Stay in a hotel where the Prince of Wales kept his love nest.

  • - Eat in a restaurant famous for courtesans

  • - Take the 'Shady Ladies' tour of the Orsay Museum

  • - Visit the Castle of the Women, Chenonceau

  • - Plus lesser known sights, such as the glamorous Paris Opera and the tomb of the Lady of the Camellias

  • - A wine tasting, a macaron tasting, a perfume testing, and more!

  • The Tour Begins

    Our tour begins at our hotel—where Queen Victoria’s ne’er-do- well son the Prince of Wales kept his love nest—right across from the Opéra, the center of high society in the 19th century. Meet Professor Lear and our Paris guide, and set off for a walking tour around Montmartre. This area, still famous for the Moulin Rouge, was the great neighborhood for courtesans and artists during the Impressionist revolution. We will see a host of sights and visit three: the Musée de la vie romantique, a hidden gem with momentos of the very racy set that gathered around lovers George Sand and Frédéric Chopin; the Monmartre cemetery, site of the grand tomb of Alphonsine Plessis, the abused and illiterate farm girl who almost overnight became Paris’ most glorious courtesan (memorialized by her lover Alexandre Dumas as the Lady of the Camellias, and by Verdi as La Traviata); and a chic new hotel in a renovated 1908 bordello, where will end our tour with a drink at the harem-themed bar! We then proceed to our welcome dinner, at one of the best-preserved of Paris’ Belle Epoque restaurants.

  • Day 2 Of Our Tour

    This morning we experience yet another of the tour’s highlights, Professor Lear’s Shady Ladies tour of the Musée D’Orsay. We’ll see how close the world of art was to the demi-monde, from Clesinger’s so-called Women Bitten by a Serpent to Cézanne’s self-mocking New Olympia. After our tour, we relax over lunch at a fashionable restaurant near the museum before heading off for another of Paris’ lesser known gems: a museum above the famous Belle Epoque restaurant Maxim’s. Here we browse designer Pierre Cardin’s collection of 19th century antiques—many of them possessions of famous courtesans—arranged as the apartment of a Belle Epoque courtesan. We then end our afternoon with two great artisanal experiences. First, we visit Paris’ premiere perfume museum, where you learn about both the technique of making perfume and the history of beautiful perfume containers. Next we skip over to Ladurée, one of Paris’ leading patisseries since 1862 for a tasting of the world’s finest macaroons. The evening is free for you to explore Paris’ culinary scene on your own, but ask us for advice!

  • Excursion into the countryside

    Today we take an excursion into the countryside, to visit the famously beautiful Loire Valley, where France’s kings built the world’s most spectacular castles. Upon arrival, we stop to see the market of Amboise, one of France’s most picturesque medieval towns, and have lunch with a tasting of the Loire’s famous white wines. We then head to Chenonceaux, to visit the best-preserved and most interesting of the valley’s castles, Chenonceau, “the castle of the women.” Its name is well deserved, as it boasts a history that involves Henri III’s mistress (and unofficial co-regent) Diane de Poitiers, his jealous wife Catherine de Médicis, her scandalous daughter and daughter-in- law, Queen Margot, and Mary, Queen of Scots, among many others. At the end of the day, we return to Paris for another free evening.

  • Day 4 Of Our Tour

    This morning starts with another kind of palace: the mansion of La Païva, one of the most famous courtesans of Belle Epoque Paris. Born Esther Lachmann, to a Jewish family in Russia, she ended her days with two aristocratic titles and on the way built this spectacular jewel-box, famous in Paris for its freestanding yellow onyx staircase. The house—now the only remaining private mansion on the Champs Elysées—is today one of Paris’ most elegant private clubs, but we have arranged an exclusive visit for our tour. Then we’re off to the Paris Opera house for another insider’s visit: famous for many reasons, the Opera has a hall of mirrors that far outshines Versailles (the most over-the- top interior you will ever have seen!) and is of course the inspiration for the Phantom of the Opera. This afternoon we leave you free for your own explorations: amazing museums, shopping, patisseries, Paris has it all. Finally, in the evening we gather for a farewell dinner at one of Paris’ most fascinating restaurants, a favorite of legions of French authors and artists, such as Victor Hugo. Before settling in for our gourmet meal, we’ll visit the private rooms upstairs, where 19 th -century gentlemen entertained their courtesan mistresses, who scratched their diamonds on the mirrors to see if they were real. You can still see the scratch marks today….

  • Who is Professor Lear?

    All of our art museum tours are led personally by Professor Andrew Lear, a leading scholar on the history of sexuality and a master guide. With a B.A. from Harvard and a Ph.D. from UCLA, Professor Lear is one of the foremost experts on the erotic in Greek and Roman art. His book on Greek vase-painting won widespread praise for its erudition and accessibility, and was hailed by the American Journal of Archaeology as “destined for Classic status.” First and foremost, however, Professor Lear is a teacher. He prides himself on his ability to make high culture accessible to everyone, honed through years of teaching at Columbia, NYU and Harvard—where he won the Harvard Certificate for Excellence in Teaching four times. With his groundbreaking work on the history of art, his expertise in bringing the past to life and his long experience as a scholar and teacher, Professor Lear is your ideal guide to the always exciting, often racy, world of great art. “Professor Lear's expertise and knowledge is phenomenal. A master host, engaging, exciting, with a fine sense of humor. I look differently at art now, looking for hidden connections Professor Lear opened my eyes to.”—Natalia N. (Trip Advisor review)

  • What is our hotel?

    Shady Ladies Tours chooses its hotels for a combination of historic charm, up-to-date elegance, and central location. We stay in carefully chosen 4 and 5 star properties. In Paris, our hotel is the Edouard VII, right by the Opera, and it fits our style perfectly, with its racy history and modern comfort.

  • What meals are included?

    Shady Ladies Tours multi-day tours include breakfast every day and generally one main meal each day, according to itinerary. On the Shady Ladies of Paris tour, we include a welcome dinner on day 1, a farewell dinner on day 4, and lunch on days 2 and 3.

  • What is included?

    Our tour starts and ends at our Paris hotel. It includes hotel accommodation; 4 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 2 dinners; services of escort and local guides; admission to all sights on the tour, and transportation to them (by taxi, minibus, and train).

  • Will we have any free time to explore on our own?

    In each city, we include a free afternoon, so you can explore, shop, or visit museums not included in the tour.

  • Is this a good tour for people with difficulty walking?

    All of the main sights in the tour are visited on foot, on walking or museum tours. There may be uneven ground, for instance in archaeological sites, and steps in some museums or historic houses. The amount of walking is not, however, excessive: we rarely exceed 2 miles a day. We travel from site to site by train or air conditioned bus (or at times, in major cities, in fleets of taxis or limousines).