I want to share a few hidden gems from some European trips, just in case any of you are day dreaming about a visit to Europe when we are allowed to safely travel again.
I’m sure you all know how to find the iconic, major sites, but you may not come across some of these less popular museum and exhibit spots. Or more likely, you may be aware of them but might not make the time to see them. I want to put in my two cents and say, “Get there, it will be well worth it!”
Let’s start with Paris, because, well, ...it's Paris!
There is a stunning mansion museum, the Musee Jacquemart-Andre,,from the Belle Epoque period, situated very near the Champs Elysées. We visited the museum after sunset, on a weekday and were literally the only guests there. We roamed the home as the evening descended and felt unrushed and able to explore at a relaxed pace. The design is exquisite and every inch of the mansion is worth admiring. You will instantly be aware that the art on the walls is not the only aspect of this mansion which makes you feel fulfilled and inspired. The architecture and finishes are gorgeous and are as much a part of the museum as is the artwork.
Édouard Andrés was the wealthy son of a banker who spent his fortune on collecting art. He built this mansion, designed by the famous architect Henri Parent, in 1875 to display his collection. Nélie Jacquemart was an artist who had painted Andrés’ portrait and then ten years later, they married. The couple traveled to Italy each year to complete the collection for their mansion. After Andrés passed away in 1894, Jacquemart continued to travel and collect, and left the estate to the Institut de France.
The museum is divided nicely into sections of the Formal Apartments, Informal Apartments, Private Apartments, Winter Garden, and The Italian collection. There are works on display by Botticelli and Rembrandt, as well as a remarkable fresco by Tiepolo that was brought from Italy, piece by piece, and re-installed in the wall above the helix spiral staircases.
When you feel overwhelmed by the museums and the crowds in Paris, take a couple of hours to visit the Jacquemart-Andre and I promise, you will feel both relaxed and rejuvenated. The museum is currently open by advanced ticket/appointment, masks are required, and your temperature will be taken upon arrival.
Boulevard Haussmann, 75008 Paris, France
The Atelier des Lumières is not in a neighborhood, (11 arrondissement) that you would typically visit while in Paris, so you may not organically come across this gem. It was, by far, one of the biggest highlights of our most recent trip to Paris in December of 2019. The venue is an old iron foundry, turned tool manufacturing factory, turned cultural space. The building was renovated specifically to create a digital art space and opened in 2018.
It is difficult to describe the magical experience you will find at Des Lumières. The massive industrial space is filled with digital images that cover the walls, ceilings, and floors all the while music is piped in, filling your senses. The show we saw is no longer being shown, however, the website advertises a current Monet, Renoir, Chagall exhibit that I wish I could see!
We saw the Van Gogh and Japanese Art piece. Picture yourself, jetlagged and needing a bit of down time before dinner, but you don’t want to sleep or miss out on being in Paris. Take an uber to the Atelier and transform into another dimension. You can wander, sit on the floor, or do both. No one is really speaking, so you can feel alone in the presence of masterpieces. Van Gogh’s life’s work was projected on all surfaces in a slide show that comes to life and grows and shrinks and submerses you into his sunflowers and starry night. From string quartets to Janis Joplin to Puccini, the music fits the program perfectly. We all found it very moving and brilliantly executed.
You can watch the whole thing on YouTube to get you inspired to visit as soon as you are able! The museum is currently open by advanced ticket/appointment, masks are required, and your temperature will be taken upon arrival. Here is a short preview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIc_533Uf54
38 Rue Saint-Maur, 75011 Paris, France
Now on to Vienna!
Ah, Vienna at Christmas time. You can imagine the perfection of that! Museums, the opera, Mozart’s house, and the Christmas markets. We loved that city, its people, and its remarkable cleanliness. The surprise came when our daughter found an advertisement for a strudel making show! Yup, and guess what? It happens at the Schönbrunn (Summer) Palace! So, you can see the palace and a strudel show in one visit. The palace is about a 20 minute ride from the city center and well worth the uber or taxi fare. (When traveling with a family, it is almost always less expensive and more convenient to take an uber. Plus, it was pouring rain).
We were in time for the final strudel show of the day. Upon arrival, after purchasing the very inexpensive tickets, we were given a choice of coffee or hot chocolate with our giant pieces of apple strudel. Not gluten free and no decaf to be found, but so delicious and hugely generous portions! We were seated at round tables in a kitchen area with about 30 other strudel fans. In walks chef Svetlana speaking some combination of German, Russian, English, or Strudel-speak that no one can understand. Of course, it didn’t matter because she is the happiest, funniest, sweetest chef you have ever met! If she had her own cooking show, she would definitely go viral. She demonstrated the mixing, the rolling, the stretching, and the baking of the dough. You honestly have to see her walking around stretching giant strudel dough to believe it. We laughed and smiled while enjoying our strudel and became big Svetlana fans for life. It appears as though the Schönbrunn Palace is currently open, however, not likely that the Café Residenz and Strudel Show are open to the public right now. If going to Vienna some day, this is a must do!
Schönbrunn Palace’s Café Residenz, Vienna
Switzerland has the Alps, but it also has watches. On to Geneva.
You can’t go to Switzerland and ignore the watch culture. Even if you are not as big a watch fan as my husband, (he is obsessed) I highly recommend a few hours in Geneva to visit the Patek Phillip Museum. It was an unexpected highlight of our brief time in Geneva. I would absolutely return back for another visit because it was a lovely and fascinating place. It has been open since 2001 and is housed in a stunningly renovated art deco building near the majestic Lake Geneva and the Jet D’Eau fountain.
The watch collection dates back to the 16th century and continues to the newest models from present day. There are some "one of a kind" time pieces and the "most complicated watch ever made." Of course, the museum takes you through the luxurious history of 175 years of Patek Phillip watches and has over 2000 watches to see. You begin the tour on the top floor and easily flow through the museum at your own pace. There is a lot of security staff milling about, but barely any visitors, and we even were able to eaves drop on a tour guide giving a private tour in English! The museum is currently open by advanced ticket/appointment, masks are required, and your temperature will be taken upon arrival.
Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 7, 1205 Geneva, Switzerland
The Golden Triangle of Madrid
There is a spot in Madrid known as the Golden Triangle of art because three museums are very close to each other, The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museo Nacional, and of course, the Museo Nacional del Prado. Guess which one gets all the visitors and attention? Yes, the Prado is amazing, but it is also massive and overwhelming! Much like the Louvre, it could take days and weeks to see all that you are interested in. As a family, we do best in those situations to find the brochure that offers the “top ten” pieces. We self-tour, maybe with an audio guide, and then sit down for a cold drink after we check off number 10.
We found a really fun exhibit across the road from the Prado at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museo Nacional. Similar to the Jaquemart-Andre, this is another museum created by a couple who loved to collect art and then donate it to the public. In their case, from the impressionist era. Our favorite! This museum is accessible in that it flows simply and comfortably from floor to floor and you don’t feel like you are missing anything important along the way.
The special exhibit we happened upon was called Vogue Like a Painting. If you haven’t met my child, she was born with a Vogue magazine in her hands, so this was one of those serendipitous travel moments, a dream come true. The show provided over 60 Vogue magazine fashion images that were inspired by art. We all devoured the exhibit and still had plenty of energy and time for the rest of the museum. Don’t be overly consumed by the Prado when you visit Madrid, I don’t want you to miss the Thyssen! The museum is currently open, face masks are mandatory and social distancing measures and precautions are taken.
Paseo del Prado, 8, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Now that you have had about eight cups of decaf while reading through all this, start planning a post quarantine, post vaccination trip! Let us know if you have been to any of these spots or know of more gems we should all explore!