Saturday, October 23, 2010
As my press trip to Hotel Le Bristol continued, I didn’t think there could be anything more impressive outside of the hotel than inside. How could they top the gorgeous suites, the excellent cuisine, and the relaxing spa treatments? By giving us access to things we couldn’t get on our own, that’s how. This came in several forms, the first of which was a private after-hours tour of the Louvre. Normally reserved for the hotel’s VIP guests, we were the first press group to experience this luxury firsthand.
When we arrived at the Louvre, our tour guide and a representative from the Louvre’s partnership office met us outside of I. M. Pei’s famous glass pyramid. A guard carefully let us pass through the entry barrier, making sure that none of the crowd behind us came along for the ride. We felt very privileged to be entering the Louvre on a day when the museum was closed to the public.
Once inside, our bags were checked and we were given visitor badges to wear. From there we went down the escalators into the cavernous entry hall. It was eerily quiet, and the interior looked stark in the absence of the usual crowds.
Our tour began in the Denon wing, which we learned was named after the first director of the Louvre. Our footsteps echoed off the empty halls as we made our way up the stairs. When we arrived at the top, we found ourselves in a silent room full of sculptures. We still couldn’t believe we had the whole museum to ourselves.
Our guide took us through several famous works of art in the room, including Canova’s Cupid and Psyche and Michelangelo’s The Slave. In the absence of the normal throngs that surrounded these sculptures, we were able to get a close look and learn about their history from our guide.
From there we moved on to the famous Winged Victory of Samothrace, then down empty stairs and quiet corridors to the Venus de Milo. It was hard to believe how much amazing art we were seeing in the absence of other onlookers. I kept reminding myself to appreciate how unique the experience was, not least because I would be longing for it if I could ever bring myself to visit the Louvre on a normal day again.
After the sculptures, we moved on through several of the historically-preserved rooms in the Louvre, then came to a place that I had never seen before: the moat. A moat in the Louvre? Yep. The original foundations of the former fort were still surprisingly intact, and they were right there below all of the art on the upper floors. On that particular day they were the backdrop for a contemporary Russian art exhibition.
After learning about the history and construction of the moat and seeing a scale model of the former fort, we moved onto the paintings. The room we saw was a large one that had 24 huge paintings of the life of Marie de Medici. They were all painted by Rubens, who apparently took two years to complete the cycle. As our guide took us through the key paintings in the room, I couldn’t help but feel like we were having a private audience with the queen herself.
Speaking of royalty, we next visited the treasury, where we saw Charles V’s sceptre and the coronation sword of the French monarchs. Then the royal tour continued in Napoleon III’s apartments. The opulent rooms were decorated in sumptuous, over-the-top decor that reminded me of their counterparts in the Hermitage in St Petersburg. The Grand Salon was the most impressive, with its gold-and-burgundy furniture and massive chandelier.
Between seeing all of the royal possessions and being privileged on our after-hours tour of the Louvre, we were beginning to feel like royalty ourselves. The illusion was kept up back at Hotel Le Bristol, where dinner at the 3 Michelin starred restaurant awaited us. But more on that in another post. We (the royal we) need a break first. To be continued…