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A ‘Da Vinci Code’ getaway in Paris

SmarterTravel

This summer, all roads lead to London, Edinburgh, and especially Paris, as Da Vinci Code fans flock to Europe to see the story’s famous sights firsthand. Whether you were a fan of the book or just want to see what all the hype is about, know that there are plenty of resources around to help plan a Da Vinci Code trip.

And like the “dark con” in the book, make sure you’re not conned into paying more than you should. While tourism demand will be high, we’ve found strategies for planning a great trip.

This article focuses solely on Paris’ Da Vinci attractions, using the story’s local highlights as a springboard for a fun Parisian getaway. For getaways in London and Edinburgh, see the listings on The Da Vinci Code tourism site.

Must-sees

“In Paris, must-sees are obviously the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens, and St. Sulpice Church,” recommends Ethan Gilsdorf, a Boston-based writer who recently left Paris after a five-year residency. “The Louvre is magnificent, as always, but visitors seeking the shadowy, cloak-and-dagger atmosphere of the book will be bummed out by all the crowds. And visitors obviously can’t chip away at the Louvre’s inverted pyramid!”

John E. DiScala, founder of JohnnyJet.com, suggests a walking tour to familiarize yourself with the attractions. “Classic Walks offers a really good one every day at 10 a.m. in Place Vendome at the Paris Ritz. That’s how you should start out your day—it’s two hours for €20 ($26). You’ll see the Louvre, St. Sulpice Church, and the Tuileries, and then you can go back and see [the places in more detail] on your own.”

“Everyone seems to be offering Da Vinci Code walking tours these days,” agrees Gilsdorf. “If you want something more individual and customizable—perhaps working in some DVC sites with non-DVC sites like gardens, top cafes and bars, shopping, etc.—try Secrets of Paris for a private tour. A do-it-yourself tour is best done with a book like Fodor’s Guide to the Da Vinci Code.

“A fun treasure hunt,” Gilsdorf continues, “is looking for the 135 bronze disks, emblazoned with an ‘N,’ ‘S,’ and ‘Arago,’ that mark the Paris Meridian (what Dan Brown mistakenly calls the ‘Rose Line’), the precursor to the Greenwich’s Prime Meridian. These disks, glued into asphalt, cobble, and cement, bisect the city right through the Louvre.”

You may also want to stop by the Ritz Paris hotel, where Robert Langdon stayed. Rooms start at €680 ($863), while suites go for €900 ($1,142) per night. If that’s too much of a splurge, you can always go to the hotel’s Hemingway Bar for an “Opus Dei” cocktail for €23 ($27).

Another spot of interest is Chateau de Villette, about 30 minutes outside of Paris, where a good portion of the book and movie takes place. “But it’s kind of expensive,” cautions DiScala. “A stay at the Chateau is €3,900 ($4,981) to €4,300 ($5,492) for the week.” For a more affordable visit, DiScala recommends having a meal there, although even that is still rather expensive. “Lunch is about €168 ($215) per person or dinner for €216 ($276).”

Regardless of what sites you visit, make sure you don’t use the book as your primary map, and reserve time for exploring beyond the book’s hot spots. “Much has been said about Dan Brown’s fictionalizing of the geography and Paris streets, so his novel can’t be followed word-for-word as a guided tour,” says Gilsdorf. “But just soaking up the Paris ambience should be enough to please most tourists. Whether folks will feel pleased or duped by the hype depends largely on whether they see Dan Brown’s novel as a guilty pleasure and diversion, or gospel truth.”

Other sites of interest

Use the Da Vinci Code as your launching point for exploring Paris, as there’s so much to see and do. For Da Vinci exhibits beyond the Mona Lisa, Gilsdorf notes that the Louvre has “one of the best collections of his works anywhere, including two versions of St. John the Baptist, The Holy Family, and The Annunciation.”

You can also venture beyond Paris to Chateau du Clos Luce, Da Vinci’s last home, two hours away in Amboise. The property has Da Vinci exhibits, a boutique, a restaurant, and park. Admission rates range from €9 ($11) to €12 ($15) for adults, depending on season.

Visit the SmarterTravel.com Paris guide for the latest advice and current reviews of sales, or the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau for more resources on planning a visit.

Ways to save

When looking at any Da Vinci Code travel offer, be it a hotel package, guided tour, or themed item, pause before buying to make sure it’s a good value to you. Could you have the same experience (or better) by purchasing items a la carte, taking your own tour with a good guidebook, or shopping around first? Do a little legwork, like Robert and Sophie, before buying the hype.

And sometimes, the best value may be not to go at all—for the moment, at least. “My big advice: Avoid Paris, London, and Rosslyn Chapel this summer,” recommends Gilsdorf. “They will be mobbed. Wait until fall—or wait until 2007. Or another decade.”

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