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Every Paris tour should include some major sights: even if you’ve seen them before, you can always see new sides. Plus some wonderful food of course. Our Shady Ladies Paris tour includes both of those, with a “Shady Ladies” tour of the Orsay Museum highlighting the racy sides of the collection (on the model of our well-known tour of the Metropolitan) and some truly excellent meals; also a tasting at the patisserie that is most famous for macarons. But we also include a bunch of sights in our Paris tour that you probably haven’t seen—lesser-known sights that even Parisians think it would be cool to see.

La Païva’s mansion

women's history Paris tour
La Païva’s staircase

As we follow our Shady Ladies theme around the city on our Paris tour, we will for instance visit the mansion of “La Païva” on the Champs Elysées. Both the house and the lady are fascinating. Born to a Jewish family in Russia as Esther Lachmann, Thérèse (as she was later known) married twice, first to a fake Portuguese marquis and then to Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck, a German count and one of the wealthiest men in Europe. Aside from showering her with famous jewels, such as the yellow Donnersmarck diamonds (our feature image—each about the size of a person’s eye), he built her her mansion, a symbol of Belle Epoque opulence famous among other things for its yellow marble spiral staircase, which is now the only remaining private mansion on the Champs Elysées and generally closed to the public—except for us of course.


The Real La Traviata’s tomb

women's history Paris tour
La Traviata’s tomb

“La Païva” had a terrible reputation in 19th century Paris:  people spoke of her as a kind of heartless, avaricious automaton. Was this fair, or did it reflect their xenophobia and antisemitism as much as anything about her? It’s hard to tell. But as much as Paris loathed Thérèse, it adored Marie Duplessis—maybe because she was French, and of course because she died at 23, so she was the object of guilt, remorse, etc. She was memorialized by her lover Alexandre Dumas fils in his most famous novel, called, in different versions, The Lady of the Camellias (La dame aux camélias) and Camille (as in the movie version with Greta Garbo), and then transformed by Verdi into La Traviata. She was in short the original hooker with the heart of gold, the girl who really loved her man, despite the supposedly heart-deadening effects of her profession. How different was she really from La Païva? It’s hard to tell.  But we can visit the elaborate tomb that one of her lovers had built for her in the Montmartre cemetery, where we also see the tombs of Dumas fils and other fascinating people, such as Degas and Nijinsky.
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La belle Otéro’s bar

women's history Paris tour
La Maison Souquet

We can’t walk around forever, though. Sometimes we have to sit down and have a drink. So where better for the Shady Ladies Paris tour to do it than at the harem-theme bar? But even better, the chic hotel at whose bar we will have our reception was made out of a turn of the century bordello (a ‘maison close’ as they were called) where another one of Paris’ great courtesans, “la belle Otéro” worked early in her career, before Europe’s reigning monarchs began lining up at her door.


In short, one of the great things about following a fun theme around a city like Paris is that you get to see interesting sights that you otherwise would probably miss. And what city could be better for the Shady Ladies theme—courtesans and royal mistresses—than Paris? Curious? Find out more about our Paris tour at:

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