Taking a summer holiday in Paris isn’t a hard decision, but working out how best to see the city most certainly is. Simply put, you're spoiled for choice.
Paris tourists are faced with a bewildering array of options, from the exhausting but rewarding walking tours through to the relaxing but limited boat tours and open-topped bus rides – and everything in between.
New to that ‘everything’ category is a chance to see the city from the insides of an original Citroën DS – or simply DS, as they’d prefer you to call it now the brand has been relaunched as a standalone entity.
The tour is run by the same people who have developed a similar scheme for the 2CV in recent years, which means you get a local driver with an enthusiastic knowledge of the city. There’s a choice of one and a half or three-hour tours, and enough room in the car for four tourists plus the driver.
It’s not cheap, but based on my experience it is worth it. The shorter tour is €240, the longer one €400. It’s a lot, for sure, but if there are four of you, getting the famous Bateaux Mouche along the river costs around a third as much and (in my estimation) delivers an experience about one tenth as informative or thrilling.
The opportunity to clap eyes on an original DS 21 is a thrill in itself. Sliding onto the sofa-like seats and experiencing the suspension at work for the first time is truly a right of passage, but getting to do so while rumbling up the Champs Elysees or past the Louvre just makes the whole experience even more special. Our trip was taken in August when the majority of locals leave the city, which gave the added bonus of the streets being mostly empty, too.
Great though the car is – and believe me, sitting in a DS really is one of life’s great moments for everyone from car enthusiasts through to anyone with a passing interest in French culture – what makes or breaks these tours is your driver and tour guide.
In our case, that meant Renaud, who arrived in his own co-owned DS and came armed with a passion for the city developed from living on a houseboat there all his life. His passion for the city was incredible, as was his knowledge of sneaky routes around the best bits, but he also had another trick up his sleeve.
When he wasn’t doing tours, Renaud was an industrial designer for the PSA Group. At one time, he’d worked on the cars, designing parts of the DS Numero 9 concept, but now his focus was on non-automotive projects. Not only did he know the city, therefore, but he was also intrinsically in love with the DS brand’s history and future. Presumably not every driver has this depth of experience – but I’m assured each driver is encouraged to bring a unique perspective to the tour.
Which sights you see depends on the length of your tour. With two young children on board, we opted for the shorter trip and the cluster of sights stretching from the Arc de Triomph east across to Notre Dame in the west, with a few hidden gems thrown in - mostly around the brotherhoods of the Illuminati and suchlike and their role in the city. As well as admiring landmarks from the car, there were also several opportunities to hop out and get a closer look at some of the more interesting architecture.