All French cities have a lot to offer. During these two days, Heritage Days are a way to discover or rediscover all kinds of wonders in France. From Paris to Nantes, Strasbourg, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, Air France Travel Guide sheds a light on unmissable locations, or, on the contrary, small secrets that can only be accessed during summer's last weekend.
In Paris: exceptional visit of the Élysée Palace
Is the Élysée Palace intriguing to you? Have you ever wondered what goes on in the residence of the French President? Each year, Heritage Days are a perfect occasion to go backstage. Built between 1718 and 1720, it was originally the Count of Évreux's townhouse. The palace became residence to the Kings of France in 1848.
Enter through the Porte du Coq (the Cock's Door) as the visit starts in the garden. Inside the building, you'll observe various rooms such as the Murat Room, used every Wednesday for cabinet meetings, the Hall of Festivities where State dinners are held, and of course the President's office. There, imagine yourself in the shoes of French presidents, making memorable decisions.
During the tour, you can also gaze at the Grand Master of Legion of Honour decoration, presidential vehicles and various items that have been offered to the country's highest dignitary.
Palais de l'Élysée
Grille du Coq
In Strasbourg: the Neustadt inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage
During heritage Days this year, you'll visit the most secret spots of the famous Neustadt district (meaning new city in German), the construction of which, in the early 20th century, allowed the Alsace capital to triple in surface area. After the Grande-Île neighbourhood in 1988, it has been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage on July 9th. This is therefore a perfect opportunity to open up to the exceptionally rich former imperial district!
You can start with an audio tour of a special kind: the Bruit qu'ça coûte company (meaning the noise it costs) provides an Écoutarium (listenarium), a poetic device that reveals the unsuspected sonic landscapes of the Neustadt. Afterwards, you'll visit the Palais du Rhin, inaugurated in 1889 by German Emperor Wilhelm II. Once again, a chance to see it under a new light. Then walk the few yards that separate you from the National and University Library, which treasures you'll explore at your convenience. You can even enter the restoration workshops where ancient books undergo “rescue” missions every day.
Palais du Rhin
1-3, place de la République
Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg
6, place de la République
In Lyon: from Fourvière to the Maison de la Danse
The Fourvière Basilica stands proudly on top of the eponymous hill. Its large size makes it easy to spot all around the city, and its terrace offers an incredible view onto all of Lyon. On this 3rd weekend of September, you'll have a chance to discover the basilica like never before, thanks to guided tours organised by themes: Bible and symbolism, or Fourvière and its place in the history of Lyon for instance. You'll also be able to visit hidden areas of the holy construct, like the big tribune gallery, the carillon and the St Michael terrace.
Keep on with a visit of Lyon's famous traboules (typical passageways between buildings) – on the steps of ancient silk workers – in the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood. Then head to La Guillotière in the 3rd arrondissement, where you'll easily find the Djébraïl Bahadourian square, named after an Armenian grocer well known in Lyon and whose three sons have perpetuated the family business. One of them, Armand, owns a famous oriental bazaar and will lead you through its secrets cellars, like a modern Ali Baba treasure trove.
Finally, in the 8th arrondissement, the Maison de la Danse (House of Dance) will exceptionally open its doors to the public. Conceived by architect Pierre Bourdeix, this unique architectural ensemble will take you backstage... and let the whole family dance!
8, place de Fourvière
+33 (0)4 78 25 13 01
20, rue Villeroy
Place Djebraïl Bahadourian
Maison de la Danse
8, avenue Jean Mermoz
In Marseille: soap opera at the Fer à Cheval soap factory
In the 19th century, soap factories turned Marseille into soap city. Among them, Fer à Cheval (Horseshoe in English) is still active today, hence the oldest in the city. For more than 160 years, the small factory has perpetuated an ancestral savoir-faire, in keeping with traditions. It was furthermore designated a Living Heritage Company. Master soap makers still work the old way, carefully choosing raw materials and using ancient cauldrons.
During Heritage Days, the Fer à Cheval soap factory will open its doors for free so that you can witness how real Savon de Marseille is being made. The various manufacturing steps – pasting, graining out, boiling, washing and liquidation – will hold no more secrets for you! It is also the occasion to leave with one of the “real” Marseille soaps still available today.
Savonnerie du Fer à Cheval
66, chemin de Sainte-Marthe
+33 (0)4 91 10 30 95
In Nantes: in the mystery of the masonic temple
Don't you wish you could break the mystery behind the Freemason society? It has been subject to a lot of speculation over centuries, regularly accused of conspiring or pulling strings in the shadows. As something out of the ordinary, the Freemason temple in Nantes opens its doors for guided tours provided by one of its associations. It will be an opportunity for you to ask questions and understand how this initiatory order works. We won't spoil the surprise for you: the secret will remain until the very last minute for you to enjoy that day. Look for number #33 on Rue Jean-Jaurès and don't be fooled by the ordinary façade!
You only have to know that Freemasonry exists since the Middle Ages, and since 1725 in France. This visit will allow you to deepen your knowledge of this discreet society, its evolution and its actions.
Temple maçonnique de Nantes
33, rue Jean-Jaurès
In Bordeaux: human heritage
Established in 1551 by a rich merchant, the Charles Perrens hospital owes its name to a professor of the Medical School. In the 19th century, it became the Château-Picon psychiatric institution, before reverting to its current name in 1974. The change in the wording goes in sync with the evolution of the practice in the field of mental health. The visit of the old psychiatric ward will be a chance for you to learn about the evolution of treatments and care. On the program, expect conferences, screening of documentaries and exhibitions... An occasion for the openhearted and philanthropists to discover this aspect of medicine. If you are especially curious and eager to help out, this excursion is made for you!
Centre hospitalier Chares Perrens
121, rue de la Béchade
+33 (0)5 56 56 34 34