Tour Paris on two wheels
Ride around Paris to get the best view. Picture: Railplus

If you want to see as much of Paris as you can in half a day, there's only one way to travel - on two wheels.

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It's amazing how much ground you cover in a leisurely four hours - 7km, to be exact.

But it's not in the least tiring because crepe-flat Paris is made for bikes, and you stop frequently for a commentary on the district you are in. You get some exercise (working off those delicious patisseries - making room for more), do your bit for the environment, never get stuck in traffic and learn a lot along the way.

Is it safe? Most of it is along the less-travelled back streets. Put it this way: my nine-year-old daughter was fine. It's the perfect way to get a feel for the geography and layout of the city, so you can return at your leisure to spend some time inside some of the buildings you pass.

Our tour starts and finishes under the gothic spires of Notre Dame cathedral, located on the Ile de la Cite, the area of Paris that divides the city's right and left banks of the Seine River.

We weave back and forth across the Seine a few times, past the Louvre, Bastille Square, the Latin quarter, the Tuileries gardens and the Pompidou Centre.

We start pedalling at 10am, have a baguette lunch en route and are back by 2pm.

A good example of one of our stopping points is the Allee Des Justes (Alley of the just) in the Marais, a former marsh that's now in a very well-heeled arrondissements.

It's where 11,000 Jewish children were rounded up, including 500 from the ecole de garcons or boys school in front of you, bound for the World War II gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Not your typical tour stop, but an important history lesson. There's a wall inscribed with the names of French people who helped save Jewish lives here. Some are very late additions because it took until 2001 for the French government to admit official collaboration with Hitler's Nazis.

Another stop is at the charming Place Des Vosges, in front of smart three-storey terraces including Victor Hugo's former residence. They're so in vogue they're hardly ever sold but one fetched 20 million euros ($A24.59 million) after squatters were evicted from it a few years ago.

You'll also see a revolutionary cannonball stuck in the facade of the Hotel de Sens, and the house where The Doors front-man Jim Morrison lived, and died in the bathtub.

As we whizz past go-slow traffic, and see pedestrians slogging it out under the summer sun, I realise this is 30 of the best euros I am going to spend in Paris.

We make the obligatory visit to the Eiffel Tower another day. Booking ahead of time can save you a very long wait for an elevator. You can ascend the first two floors by foot for nothing if you're feeling fit. From there it only costs 5 euros ($A6.15) for the lift to the very top, which affords indescribable views of the city.

If you have time for a day trip into the country, a visit to Monet's garden at Giverny is a must, not just for fans of the impressionists.

It's clear this man was a gardener who liked to paint a bit on the side. His flowers and his artworks both make an impression on me.

"La couleur est mon obsession quotidienne, ma joie et mon torment," said the great bearded one - colour is my daily obsession, my joy and my torment.

Not one of his paintings remain at his old house. All are hanging in galleries elsewhere.

It's a special treat, having seen his beautiful Japanese bridge and lily pond, to see the actual paintings he made of them in the National Gallery in London. Entry to the gallery is free, and it completes a magical circle.

The writer was a guest of CIT in Paris, and the Citadines apartment hotel at Montparnasse.


FACT FILE

• Bike tours operate every day from February 5 - December 1 at 10am; from April 6 - May 14 there are additional 3pm tours on Sat and Sun; from May 15 - September 16 there are 10am and 3pm tours every day. Cost: 30 euros ($A36.88) per person.

• Eiffel tower tours operate every day from 9.30am to 11pm, and from 9am to midnight in summer. Booking online can help save waiting in queues.

• Monet's garden at Giverny, about an hour's drive from Paris, is open daily from April 1 - November 1, 9.30am to 6pm. Tickets at the gate for unguided tours cost 9 euros ($A11.07) for adults and 5 euros ($A6.15) for children. More expensive are fully escorted bus tours from Paris, often including lunch, with options to see other attractions such as Versailles.

• For further information: CIT Holidays 1300 380 992 for a free brochure.

• Also visit www.cit.com.au ; www.bikeabouttours.com ; www.eiffel-tower.com ; www.giverny.org/gardens ; www.citadines.com .

The West Australian

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