The Most Jeffersonian Day in Paris Ever. Mon dieu!
Jefferson’s years in Paris were some of the happiest of his life: he dined, shopped, attended concerts, debated philosophy, tried wines, prowled bookstores, admired art, shopped some more, and somehow even found time for his day job as ambassador.
But what if you don’t have much time to experience the City of Lights? Here is the most Jeffersonian 24 hours I could come up with. Your challenge is to “make a job of it… and gulp down [the sights] in a day,” as TJ put it to Lafayette.
(If you actually complete this itinerary in a day, or a close approximation of it, let me know and send pictures! The first person to do so will receive a free copy of In Pursuit of Jefferson, inscribed with a message of awe and respect. Mere mortals can do some or all of these recommendations at their leisure.)
7:30 a.m. Wake up in the Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, a stylish boutique hotel in the Marais district, named after the playwright who once lived there (Jefferson saw Beaumarchais’s Marriage of Figaro.) Revel in the 18th century period furnishings. But not too long, for you have work to do!
Smiling because the next stop has coffee.
9 a.m. Time to caffeinate! Gulp down what Jefferson called the “favorite drink of the civilized world” at the nearby Caféothèque of Paris, where a sommelier de café keeps his discerning eye on the beans as they roast away. Or, if you want to go further afield, head up to the Pâtisserie Stohrer, which has been serving up flaky croissants and tartes au citron since 1730. Jefferson returned home from Paris with a taste (and a recipe) for macaroons.
9:30 a.m. C’est parti, we’re off! First stop, the Hotel de Ville, Paris’s city hall. Jefferson witnessed some of the early, democratic triumphs of the French Revolution (when noblemen still had their heads) here.
10 a.m. Taxi up to the Palais Royal—TJ’s favorite spot in Paris. It was an enclosed shopping arcade with fabulous shops and restaurants.
Admire Le Grand Véfour restaurant, dating from the late 18th century, where everyone from Napoleon to Victor Hugo has dined. If you have a few hundred Euros in your pocket and a few hours to kill, ditch the rest of this tour, wait for it to open, and go have the meal of your lifetime. If not, continue on with me.
Happy diners, waiting for the onslaught of food that is to come.
10:30 a.m. Stroll down to the Louvre, but DO NOT GO IN, or we won’t see you for the rest of the day. Note the colonnades on the outside of the building, which inspired Jefferson. Years later, he’d line the University of Virginia with rows of columns.
11:00 a.m. Head over to the Tuileries garden, where TJ would sit in a lawn chair and watch the magnificent Hôtel de Salm being built. Today the building houses the Palace of the Legion of Honor.
11:30 a.m. Cross the Seine over the Passerelle Léopold Sédar Senghor… and guess who has a statue at the end of the bridge! Definite photo op time. Do not look to your right under any circumstances (the Eiffel Tower is too modern for this tour).
Noon Time for lunch on your own. Don’t worry, you won’t go hungry in Paris. Just remember how Jefferson liked his food—“in good taste, and abundant.”
2 p.m. Wander over to site of the Pentemont Abbey (rue de Grenelle and rue de Bellechasse) where TJ’s daughters went to school.
3 p.m. Afternoon book shopping! “[W]hile residing in Paris I devoted every afternoon I was disengaged, for a summer or two, in examining all the principal bookstores, turning over every book with my own hands,” TJ wrote. You can do the same at the bouquinistes of Paris, the famous stalls with used books that line either side of the Seine.
One of the many bouquiniste boxes we visited.
4 p.m. Roam the Latin Quarter. Here, Jefferson had his book Notes on the State of Virginia published and found a shop that sold graph paper, which he used for his architectural drawings. Make sure to see the neoclassical Pantheon, which was the Church of St. Genevieve in Jefferson’s time.
Looking for the Pantheon on a map (turn left!).
5:30 p.m. For those with lots of energy and/or a love of the history of moose: head over to the Jardin des Plantes. So as to provide tangible proof of the great size of American mammals, Jefferson once shipped a gigantic stuffed moose from New Hampshire to the garden’s director. The moose has never been heard from again.
For everyone else: have a well-earned apéritif near the Seine.
7:30 p.m. Dine at Café Procope, which dates back to 1686. If you have enough of le courage, order the calf’s head!
9:30 p.m. Hail a taxi or call an Uber and say to the driver, “chez Monsieur Jefferson, s’il vous plaît). (In case they don’t know, it was at 92 Champs-Élysées.) Find the plaque marking where his mansion once stood. Contemplate the passage of time and perhaps a certain je ne sais quoi.
10:30 p.m. Return to your room, exhausted. Consider all the culture you gulped down and how pleased the one-time ambassador to France would have been with your efforts.
Get a good night’s sleep, for tomorrow it’s time to follow Benjamin Franklin.