Paris: The Mona Lisa room in the Louvre
In the Denon Wing of the Parisian museum, a certain buzz presides over the Salle des États, whatever time of day you visit. Completely renovated and endowed with a magnificent glass ceiling, it holds one of the treasures of world painting: the Mona Lisa. Everyone tries to jostle their way as best they can to the middle, ducking the countless selfie-sticks, to get a glimpse of the masterpiece, whose size certainly does not make things easy. At just 77 cm by 53 cm, some 20,000 admirers flock to see the diminutive painting every day!
Fortunately, the Louvre has 40,000 other works of art on display which you can contemplate in complete peace and quiet. So, leave the Denon Wing behind and take an artistic stroll far from the madding crowd as you discover the museum's other departments. With this in mind, there is a one-hour itinerary on offer called “Another Louvre”; this takes you to the Richelieu Wing where you can wander amongst Oriental antiquities, objets d'art, sculptures and other lesser-known paintings. Your exploration takes in the huge winged bulls with human heads from Mesopotamia. In a nearby room, take a look at the Susa dog, a tiny gold pendant 1.4 cm long and 5,000 years old. It is the first known example of soldering in the history of mankind.
Another treasure can be found on the ceiling of the Henri II room in the Sully Wing. When the ceiling was renovated in 1953, Georges Braque was called on to paint two birds on a bright blue background. Painting and poetry make their presence felt in the royal antechamber. In Paris, crowds certainly flock to the Louvre in their droves, but the museum only shows its true colours when you leave them behind and explore all the rooms with their myriad works of art.
Place du Carrousel
+33 (0)1 40 20 50 50
Barcelona: Las Ramblas
The most symbolic street of Barcelona and its hectic atmosphere, Las Ramblas stretches from Plaça de Catalunya to Port Vell where the column dedicated to Christopher Columbus rises. With its mix of residents and tourists from all four corners of the world, the most popular kilometre in the Catalan capital is always crowded. Finding a terrace with a free seat in the middle section can be something of a challenge.
So, veer off from Las Ramblas and head to the neighbourhood of El Raval, located to the west. This barrio bears witness to the city's long history and cultural richness. Several religious buildings stand in line with the Palau Güell, the first imposing palace designed by Gaudí, all the way to the Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona. The MACBA sits opposite the gloriously Gothic Convent dels Àngels. One is an echo of the past, while the other is a modernist expression of huge glass facades allowing light to pour into the galleries. Inside the museum, 14,000 m2 of space are devoted mainly to works from the mid-20th century onwards. Spanish and international artists, including Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, take you on a voyage of discovery into contemporary art in all its forms.
Your journey continues outside the museum. Architect Richard Meier actually redesigned the square around the building to make it a place to meet up and chat. Delve deeper into the charm of this neighbourhood by taking a break in the shade of the orange trees in the garden of the former Hospital de la Santa Creu, which has been standing there for five centuries. Just a stone's throw from Las Ramblas, you really get to experience the life and cultural diversity of Barcelona.
Palau Güell (Palace)
3–5 Carrer Nou de la Rambla
+34 934 725 775
1 Plaça dels Àngels
+34 93 481 33 68
Hospital de la Santa Creu
56 Carrer del Hospital
Montreal: The village of Tadoussac
Accessible from Montreal, whale- and dolphin-watching is attracting more and more curious tourists seeking the wonders of unspoiled nature and unique marine life. The village of Tadoussac on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River is one of the best-known places to see these creatures. The village's 850 inhabitants are overrun every year by coachloads of tourists.
If you really want to watch these huge marine mammals in peace and quiet, go instead to Les Bergeronnes, 15 km away. The village is an eco-tourism destination where you can admire baleen whales and other rorquals from a sea kayak in complete harmony with the local ecosystem. Just imagine floating a few metres away from one of these gigantic mammals, in the capable hands of a professional guide. You can hear it expel air through its blowhole, see its tail rise from the waters… This magical occasion fills you with wonder.
Alternatively, you can choose to go whale-watching from the rocks of the Cap-de-Bon-Désir which juts out over a 300-m-deep underwater trench, an astonishing playground and hunting ground for wildlife. Guides are on hand to tell you all about the complexity and therefore fragility of this ecosystem which must be preserved at all costs. Activities such as cycling, hiking and snowmobiling round off your up-close-and-personal experience with nature along the marine coastline of the Saint Lawrence River.
G0T 1G0 Quebec
Cap-de-Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre
13 Chemin du Cap-de-Bon-Désir
G0T 1G0 Quebec
Thailand: Phang-Nga Bay
Phang-Nga, a bay in southern Thailand, is overrun with mass tourism from every corner of the globe. Packed beaches, ecosystems damaged by the crowds… Head east to Koh Kut and Koh Mak instead. These two islands offer an entirely different atmosphere for a nature-rich trip within easy reach of Bangkok.
Start with Koh Kut. Once you step of the plane after your 45-minute flight, you will get around by scooter as distances between places are short. Head to the fishing village of Ban Ao Yai. Built on stilts, it gives you a pretty accurate idea of the island's traditional activity. When you need to cool down, zip over to Klong Chao waterfall or chill out on the beach of the same name. A bit further on, in Bang Bao, lunch at The Fisherman Hut is a must; you pick out the fish you want yourself and it is then grilled for you.
To reach Koh Mak, jump on board a catamaran. The journey takes just over three hours, a pleasant trip as the gentle scenery floats by. You immediately fall under the charm of the small island and its utter tranquillity. Your stay provides the perfect excuse to laze around on its pristine beaches lapped by crystal-clear waters. And make sure you try a pad Thai at Aimmy Seafood along with a papaya salad.
Ban Ao Yai
23000 Koh Kut
Klong Chao waterfall
23000 Koh Kut
The Fisherman Hut
53/1 Moo. 2
23000 Koh Kut
+66 92 494 3600
23000 Koh Kut
23120 Ko Mak
+66 87 136 8085
Santorini: The village of Oia
After visiting the Parthenon in Athens, you fancy paying a visit to the Cyclades islands. There, white houses with blue roofs, rugged clifftops and stunning sunsets are the stuff of dreams. The caldera at Oia on Santorini is famous for its breathtaking colours… and that is why you will share the experience with hundreds of other like-minded people. In summer, you have to jostle with the crowds for a place to stand.
If you prefer a more intimate ambiance, but do not want to forsake this sensational sight, go instead to the island of Milos. Less well-known, it too basks in the beauty of its translucent waters, paved streets overflowing with flowers and dazzling white churches… For panoramic views, climb the stone steps to the Kastro or castle, which takes about 15 minutes. The view from the top of the rocky outcrop is glorious and the play of reds and oranges on the sea defies description. A bit further down, in the centre of Plaka village, Cafe Utopia boasts a gorgeous terrace where you can admire the sunset while sipping a house cocktail. The cafe's atmosphere is friendly and good-natured. If you are spending the night on Milos, breakfast at the cafe gives you the chance to admire the view once more, this time with the colours of the Aegean Sea in their fresh morning glory.
Wine lovers will make a bee-line for Santo Wines where the best wines from Santorini and other Cyclades islands are served by a sommelier as the sun sets over the bay. If you feel the cold, bring along a shawl so you can enjoy the show comfortably seated on the cooperative's terrace. You can hear the waves in the distance, as the waters take on a warm palette of colours before dusk falls.
+30 2287 023678
+30 22860 22596