If you ever are in France in mid-September, be sure to take advantage of les Journées du Patrimoine, or Heritage Days. Museums offer free entry, but even better are the government and private buildings that open their doors for these days only.
I used to go regularly in Paris, and found it’s good to go with a guide to get the backstory on the history of the place, with amazing details pointed out. It’s also fun to hear the French argue over the dates of various kings–as an American, I cannot imagine having to learn the names and dates for rulers going back to 486. My school spent about a week on everything up to 1776, then the rest of the year it was all pioneers all the time, until a week or two before summer break, when we caught up to World Wars I and II. I longed to know about kings and pharoahs, but all we got was covered wagons, year after year.
On one visit, I saw gorgeously painted ceilings, I think it was at the Hôtel de Marle, in the Marais. The Hôtel de la Marine houses the boudoir of Marie-Antoinette, overlooking Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine was situated during the Revolution. The building was turned into a museum in 2014, so now you can visit any time.
And there was the home of Marie Touchet, the mistress of King Charles IV, whose house in the Marais doesn’t face a street; you have to enter through another building’s courtyard, which is private. But it opens for the Journées du Patrimoine.
It was hilarious to see very prim, perfectly dressed Parisiens get down on their hands and knees to examine the underside of the antiques in the Banque de France. One gentleman even thought to bring a flashlight. No better way to educate oneself!
This year, we went to a château in a small village near Carcassonne where there also was a food and craft fair (yes, all fairs in France include food and wine). The château hosts large meetings of the Conseil Général, or the department’s council. Apologies for the photo quality–the lighting wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t possible to set up a tripod.
The first two floors have been restored, but the top floor and attic haven’t. I don’t think anybody went through without dreaming of how it could be fixed up into a gorgeous hotel. In fact, I overheard one couple discussing as much.
Have you visited during the Journées du Patrimoine? What was your favorite discovery?