On the Champs-Élysées

The legendary Avenue des Champs-Élysées where chestnut trees shade the wide sidewalks

The Experienced Travelers confess that the vast Champs-Élysées is not a favorite destination in Paris. But despite our personal preferences, we felt we owed it to the dear Readership to investigate the legendary avenue.  This way you are fully informed when you loiter there on a café terrace and spend twice as much money for the dubious pleasure of doing so.  There.  Have we made our feelings known?

Melinda outside Restaurant Fouquet, where 30 euro buys you a smoked salmon starter and you can rub elbows with the elite. Fouquet is an historical monument.

Extending 1.8 miles from the Place de la Concorde to the Place Charles de Gaulle, the Champs-Élysées begins peacefully with lovely gardens.  Then just beyond the Grand Palais, it bursts into the frenzied madness that gives the ETs a case of vertigo.  But the Champs-Élysées has it’s fans and you may well become one of them if you have energy to spare and a penchant for shopping and clubbing.

The Champs-Élysées decked out for Christmas. Perhaps the ETs could be persuaded to love the avenue if they got a ride on that ferris wheel. Photo by David Monniaux

A walk down the avenue lit by fairy lights for Christmas might soften the ETs feelings.  Or maybe we should wake early to catch a morning vista that highlights the Historical Axis, a miracle of urban planning with the perfect alignment of the Petit Carrousel, Tuilleries gardens, Luxor Obelisk, Arc de Triomphe and La Grande Arch at La Défense.

Louis Vuitton’s store window. This talented zebra tosses exquisite handbags with aplomb. You can take one home, but the zebra stays…

I recently read an article that described the Champs-Élysées as a the urban equivalent of an airport duty-free mall. (I wish I could remember where I read that…).  Several high-end stores are there – Cartier, Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton – but so is Disney, Gap and Nike.  We suppose it’s an egalitarian mix, but the French government is taking steps to limit the encroachment of chain-style retail in an effort to restore the old girl’s reputation.

See and be seen in 1903 on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

With a little imagination,  the grandeur that recalls her proud and elegant history is still there.  As the city expanded westward through the late 1800s, the wealthy built fashionable town homes with elaborate gardens along the avenue and it was the perfect promenade for the elite.  The Élysée Palace, home today to the  new French President Hollande, was once owned by the Marquise de Pompadour.  Were she alive today, we suppose she would gleefully drop Louis XVs Found Money down the street at Benetton. (Alas things didn’t work out for La Pomp, but that’s another post)

A relatively quiet moment at the Place de l’Étoile. Buckle up and prepare for a crazy ride. Barbara and Christine took this picture on our last visit.

Napoleon commissioned the crowning glory of the avenue, the magnificent Arc de Triomphe.  It now serves as a giant traffic roundabout that Parisian drivers regard as a eight-lane NASCAR track.  On a clear day, the trip to the top is rewarded by the excellent view.

In the dark days of the Occcupation, the Nazis staged regular military parades.  Four years later, the Free French and Liberation forces took back the avenue with triumphant marches of their own.  Now, Bastille Day celebrations on the Champs-Élysées are a riotous time and a legitimate reason for champagne before noon.

Risking personal safety for the sake of a photo. It only took one valium to prepare me for my mission.

Today the triumphant marches down the avenue are Manolo Blahnik-shod  troops of shoppers liberating handbags, clothing and glittering bling from locked display cases in stores. If your exchange rate against the euro is better than our dollar, you can help free France from the daunting European financial crisis. Do your part and shop for the good of la belle France!

Resting at the Cafe Roma. Would Mme. de Pompadour care to join me?

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5 Responses to “On the Champs-Élysées”

  1. Tim Dineen Says:

    We were on the Champs-Élysées for the 60th Anniversary of VE-Day and saw one of the most moving parades, ever. And we had our cup of fabulously-expensive espresso at Fouquet while watching an 80+ year old woman dressed to the nines and perfectly coiffed – sipping champagne at 10am.

    I doubt we will spend any time there on our next trip to Paris, but I’m glad we experienced it…

    • Julie Says:

      Tim seeing the V-E Day celebrations must have been fabulous. Love the champagne-sipping lady – it rounded everything off perfectly.

  2. agzack Says:

    Your travelogues are a breath of fresh air and a great diversion from the every-day elements of life. Plus, you make me laugh :))

  3. Terry Says:

    Like Tim, I had an “anniversary” experience on the C-E — a Bastille Day parade 50 years after the liberation. The French family I was staying with insisted I go (alone), assured me I wouldn’t see a thing (I do recall fighter jets trailing blue, white and red exhaust), and promised to record it. They were right that I needed to have that experience. Fast forward to 11 days ago, my first time back (to the Champs) since. Absolute madness. It wasn’t until we returned to the crowded rue Mouffetard that I realized the problem wasn’t the number of people — it was the aimless wandering of large groups of predominantly tourists. The crash onto the sidewalk of a plateful of poulet fermier avec pommes frites — the waiter unable to make it across the crowd from the restaurant proper to the dining terrace was iconic of the chaos to be found along the entire stretch. Nonetheless, like the ETs, we did our time on the Champs, although I believe we got away without leaving any euros behind!

    • Julie Says:

      Your comment reinforces that everyone should do the Champs at least once – and follow your Austerity example of observing without overspending!

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