Your feet will ache when you do the Louvre. The museum has over five miles of corridors and over 30,000 works of art - but the experience is amazing. To see so much great art in one place will blow you away, and a visit is a must just to see one of the biggest palaces in Europe smack in the middle of Paris. Now that it has been spiffed up in Presidents Mitterand''s grande project, the place looks spectacular. Your first glimpse of the great courtyard of the Ceour Napoleon with its glittering pyramid and fountains will take your breath away. And along with the worlds greatest art collection (sorry Prado or Hermitage..")it is a contender for best museum in the world...
President Mitterand wasn''t the first to make his mark on the Louvre. There''s been a royal palace on this sight since 1205. Successive monarchs added to the place including Catherine de Medici who added the Tuilerie gardens, but it was King Louis IV who used Bellini to construct it the way it looks today - and that is absolutely spectacular(see photo). A vast sand-coloured Renaissance palace grouped around the gravel courtyard of the Coeur Napoleon. The renaissance architecture is like something out of ''The Three Musketeers'' and its very Frenchness is overpowering particularly with statues of kings and saints under the hundreds of windows. But the pieste de la resistance is the glass pyramid - it was a stroke of genius to make the entrance to the museum under the I M Pei''s glittering pyramid. The contrast between its sharp modernistic lines and the Ancien regime architecture makes it one of the most memorable vistas in Europe.
Even if you don''t like art - I suspect you will do the Louvre on your visit to Paris - and it is best to come early. The crowds especially in summer are suffoacating and the entrance queue stretches all around the Ceour Napoleon. Stumbling across the Louvre for the first time is one of the great pleasures of Paris, and I cannot recomend one approach above another as they are all spectacular - probably the one through the Tuileries gardens is best. Two metro stations stand next to the museum; Palais Royale/Louvre de Musee and Louvre Rivoli, both take you to the surface. Place Richelieu takes you through the northern wing of the museum and there are plateglass windows allowing you to see the artworks from the street such as the horses of Marly (see photo). But I think the walk across the footbridge of the Pont des Arts is best - especially for views up and down the river.
You enter through the great glass pyramid and descend glittering steel spiral stairs to the atrium - Halle Napoleon. From there escalators take you to the three wings Denon, Sully and Richelieu. Denon has all the great artworks including the Venus di Milo and the Mona Lisa so the crowds usually sprint there - that often means you can have great swathes of the museum to yourself. You have to determine how desperately you want to see them, and if you do, see them early in the morning or late at night. And despite the crowds the Mona Lisa is rather special. I was entranced by the huge Davids which covered the walls in this area - including Napoleon''s self-coronation in Notre Dame. The Louvre is mostly filled with looted artworks from other countries. So next time someone wags their finger at the British Museum for hoarding the worlds treasures - point them in the direction of Napoleons misbegotten gains here in the Louvre.
As you move through the galleries great windows provide views of the Ceour Napoleon and as you continue there will be great works by Boucheron, Poussin, Giotto, Botticelli, Michaelangelo, Constable, and Rodin - all the big names. The dutch masters were their usual glum selves with endless pictures of windmills and cows. The French were much juicier and one of my favourites was one by Poussin with a Parisian woman watching her baby being taken by a lion. Her reaction was so dramatic that her breasts were popping out - a recurring theme. I liked the dark paintings best especially ''The Raft of the Medusa'' and ''Noahs flood'' with people trying to escape the deluge - wonderfully overdramatic.
After so much art you will need some fresh air. Next door is the Tuileries gardens. Created by Queen Catherine Medici (If you have ever seen the film ''La Reine Margot'', she is the Queen mother who plots against and poisons everybody)they still retain their renaissance splendour. Entered through the bright pink Arc de Carousel (another of Napoleons legacies)the gardens are exquisite with gravel drives, plane trees, classical statues, boating ponds and bright flower beds. My best advice is find a bench, tuck into a baguette and watch the world go by. After all, your feet will probably be aching by now...