Any traveller needing a guidebook to Paris is likely to be spoilt for choice. Anyone interested in walking the streets of France's capital city and discovering less well-known sights, however, would find "History and Mystery: Paris" a delightful book. The guide gives details of twenty-four walking tours in various districts of Paris; the titles of these tours range from "Pyramids and Palaces" to "Down and Out in Paris" or "How the Other Half Live".
Each walk has an introduction about half a page long that gives a historical overview of the walk. A map clearly shows the route to take, and the distance (in both miles and kilometres) is given along with the amount of time to allow. Starting and finishing points for each walk are almost always metro stations. Most of the walking tours are intended to take around two to two and a half hours, perhaps a little more, but it would of course depend on how fast you walk and how often you stop. The longest tour is four kilometres (just under two and a half miles) and is the one that includes the Eiffel Tower, "The Iron Lady of Paris".
Each walking tour is divided into a series of numbered stages. These begin with a few lines of text in bold type giving clear directions as to the routes to follow, mentioning street names and obvious landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe or the Forum des Halles. Following this is a paragraph that goes into historical details of interesting buildings and monuments that you can see on that part of the walk.
Walking does of course work up a traveller's appetite, and there is an insert for each tour suggesting three restaurants to visit. As well as the name and address, there is a telephone number and an indication of the type of cuisine that the establishment offers. Prices, however, are not indicated, perhaps because they are liable to fluctuate. Careful thought has been given to variety: Aux Cerises de Lutece in the Latin Quarter, for example, is a tearoom and antique shop, whereas Troumilou in the Marais is a traditional French bistro.
"History and Mystery: Paris" is beautifully illustrated with full colour photographs; there are ten double-page spreads and each walking tour contains three or four photographs, some of which are a full page. Many of them do of course illustrate the capital's spectacular sights and monuments such as the Opera House interior or the River Seine. Others, however, depict markets, bakeries or chocolates in a shop window, giving the full flavour of the city of Paris.
Whether you want to discover Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral or delve into the lesser known attractions of Paris, this is a fascinating book. There is a wealth of information about the streets and their monuments, from the reputed haunting of the Tuileries Gardens or the origin of the Quinze Vingts Hospital founded by Louis IX for blind soldiers. The introduction suggests which walking tours are a must for a first visit to Paris, namely those covering the Marais, Montmartre, the Latin Quarter and the Ile de la Cite. It also explains in what order to follow the walks if you wish to discover the history of Paris chronologically. With the exception of Montmartre, the walks are mainly flat.
The authors of "History and Mystery: Paris", Peter and Oriel Cain, have lived in Paris for twenty years and in 1994 set up their company, Paris Walks. They offer theme-based tours by knowledgeable English-speaking guides, details of which can be found on their website, www.paris-walks.com
"History and Mystery: Paris" is an original and intriguing guide to France's capital. Even visitors who don't intend to do a great deal of walking will find plenty of ideas for sights to visit. For those who do enjoy the pleasure of discovering a city on foot, this is the ideal book for planning routes. It is beautifully presented in quite a small format that will fit easily into a bag or backpack. Highly recommended for those visiting Paris for the first time, as well as those returning and hoping to discover lesser-known places of interest.
History & Mystery: Paris
by Peter and Oriel Caine
Paperback, 176 pages
Automobile Association, 2008