Paris to the Past: Traveling through French History by Train

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Overview

In one of the most inventive travel books in years, Ina Caro invites readers on twenty-five one-day train trips that depart from Paris and transport us back through seven hundred years of French history. Whether taking us to Orléans to evoke the miraculous visions of Joan of Arc, to Versailles to experience the flamboyant achievements of Louis XIV, or to the Place de la Concorde to witness the beheading of Marie Antoinette, Caro animates history with her lush descriptions of architectural splendors and tales of ...
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Paris to the Past: Traveling through French History by Train

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Overview

In one of the most inventive travel books in years, Ina Caro invites readers on twenty-five one-day train trips that depart from Paris and transport us back through seven hundred years of French history. Whether taking us to Orléans to evoke the miraculous visions of Joan of Arc, to Versailles to experience the flamboyant achievements of Louis XIV, or to the Place de la Concorde to witness the beheading of Marie Antoinette, Caro animates history with her lush descriptions of architectural splendors and tales of court intrigue. Organizing her destinations chronologically from twelfth-century Saint-Denis to the nineteenth-century Restoration at Chantilly, Caro appeals not only to the casual tourist aboard the Metro or the TGV but also to the armchair reader of Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. Caro's passion for and knowledge of France—its soaring cathedrals, enthralling history, and sumptuous cuisine—are so impressive that Paris to the Past promises to become one of the classic guidebooks of our time.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The French rail system makes the country and its history a day-tripper’s delight in this enchanting travelogue. Historian Caro (The Road from the Past: Traveling Through French History) recounts daylong outings from her Paris base camp to points near, by Métro, or far, by high-speed train. French architecture and civilization unfold through the buildings and towns she visits: churches progress from the first Gothic cathedral at St.-Denis to the secular temple of the Panthéon; grim medieval fortresses give way to airy Loire chateaus and splendiferous baroque palaces. Writing with a keen eye for the design and atmospherics of these places and their surroundings (especially local restaurants), Caro makes them way stations on a sprightly tour of French history, regaling readers with piquant stories of the people who built, conquered, and remodeled them. Almost despite itself, the book is a seductive evocation of the ancien régime: aristocrats were rapacious brutes, Caro allows, but she can’t resist their castles, tastes, and sexual intrigues. ("'Kill him! Here, take my garters and strangle the wretch,’" was the sentence Marguerite de Valois pronounced to one lover who murdered another.) The result is a charming, rapturous guide to la Belle France that tells you where to go—and why. (June)
Gay Talese
“Ina Caro's Paris to the Past has convinced me that I must visit France again very soon, and this time I know who my guide will be. Even the most hardened Francophobe won't be able to resist Caro's charms and infectious enthusiasm for the great stories of French history. This is one of the most captivating and original travel books in years.”
Doris Kearns Goodwin
“It is hard to imagine a more enchanting or more brilliantly conceived book. With Ina Caro as your guide, you will fall in love with French history. Ancient castles and cathedrals come to life through her marvelous stories; biographical gems capture the lives of memorable kings and queens. But most of all, you will fall in love with Ina Caro herself—with her infectious love of history, food and architecture, her husband and life itself.”
Ron Chernow
“This book is animated by love on every page: love of French history, love of ancient pageantry, palaces, and cathedrals, and love of the historian husband who accompanies her on her wanderings. Paris to the Past is guaranteed to enrich the experience of both newcomers to France and veteran travelers alike.”
Robert Massie
“Read Ina Caro's wonderful Paris to the Past, fall in love again with the most beautiful city in the world, and start packing your bags.”
Brenda Wineapple
“With charming humor and easy erudition, Ina Caro’s Paris to the Past is an exuberant journey from the City of Light to the outlying monuments of its storied, glorious, peculiar, and even culinary past. Ushered from Romanesque church to Gothic cathedral, from gilded bronze doors to walled cities, from Joan of Arc to Marie de Rohan to Rochefoucauld, we travel with our companionable, piquant narrator into the vagaries and unexpected corners of time and place. This is a gem of a book— part history, part travelogue, part love affair—impossible to put down, until that is, we pack it for Paris.”
Library Journal
While researching her previous book, The Road from the Past: Traveling Through History in France, Caro discovered that a great deal of French history could be visited by train from Paris in 90 minutes or fewer. Her newest book is both a travelog and a history written in a conversational style, which makes for an excellent jumping-off point for any traveler interested in French history. Caro summarizes 700 years of French history and combines it with excellent descriptions of examples of architecture from each period, from well-known sites like Versailles to such gems as the cathedral at Chartres. She also recommends her favorite restaurants and lets readers know which sites are best left alone. Descriptions of train stations, metro lines, and regional transit trains are enough to get one going, but many may find an additional guidebook helpful in locating accommodations and particular stations. VERDICT While lacking hard travel details, the book combines historical information and delight in travel in a way that renders it an excellent guide for those traveling to France, whether by plane or armchair.—Sara Miller, Atlanta-Fulton P.L. Syst., Roswell, GA
Jonathan Yardley
Caro’s enthusiasm for France is appealing…
—The Washington Post
Los Angeles Times
“[Caro] is an unabashedly enthusiastic guide. Her love for the places she visits is contagious.”
Wall Street Journal
“A keen, if sometimes breathless guide to monarchical France and its architecture.”
NPR
“Ina Caro . . . has spent her life studying and writing about France, and she has crammed all of her knowledge into this delightful travel guide.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393078947
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/27/2011
  • Pages: 381
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Ina Caro
Ina Caro, author of the best-selling The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France, is an authority on medieval and modern French history. She lives in New York City with her husband, the acclaimed biographer Robert A. Caro.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps xv

Prologue: Two Love Affairs 3

Part 1 The Middle Ages: Cathedrals and Fortresses

1 Saint-Denis: The Monarchy and the Gothic Cathedral 23

2 Laon: Early Gothic 48

3 Chartres: The High Gothic Cathedral at Chartres 54

4 The Coronation Ceremony at the Cathedral of Reims 68

5 The Louvre: A Late-Twelfth-Century Fortress 86

6 Angers: Blanche of Castile's Early-Thirteenth-Century Fortress 95

7 Sainte-Chapelle in Paris 111

8 Vincennes: A Fortress of the Hundred Years War 121

9 Joan of Arc: 1429 and the End of the Hundred Years War at Orléans 128

10 Rouen: Joan of Arc and Monet 142

Part 2 The Renaissance: Cities and Castles

11 Tours: The Rebirth of Cities After the Hundred Years War 157

12 Blois: A Sixteenth-Century Renaissance Château 170

13 Francis I and the Renaissance at Fontainebleau 183

14 Henry IV in Paris: The Hôtel de Sens, the Place des Vosges, and the Luxembourg Gardens 200

15 The Siege of La Rochelle and the End of the Reformation in France 213

Part 3 The Age of Louis XIV: Seventeenth-Century France

16 Magical Vaux-le-Vicomte 231

17 Versailles 244

18 The Secret Castle of Maintenon 254

Part 4 The Coming of the French Revolution: Paris in the Eighteenth Century

19 Parisian Sights: Palais-Royal, Hôtel Carnavalet, Hôtel de Soubise, École Militaire, the Panthéon, Place de la Concorde 267

20 The Petit Trianon of Madame de Pompadour and Marie-Antoinette 301

21 The Conciergerie 309

Part 5 The Empire and Restoration: The Bourgeois Century

22 Napoleon as Consul at Malmaison 317

23 Napoleon at Compiègne 319

24 The Restoration (1815-1848) at Chantilly 333

Coda: My Favorite Emperor and Me 345

Acknowledgments 351

Source Notes 353

Index 363

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 5, 2012

    Highly recommended

    Even this devoted Francophile (who lived in Paris for 10 years) learned many interesting tidbits from reading Ina Caro's delightful book, with its novel way of looking at French history (through day trips from Paris to famous castles and towns, in chronological fashion). I especially enjoyed the chapter on Vaux-le-Vicomte (which I would put at #1 most beautiful French castle, while the author lists it among her top 3): as a college student in France many years ago, I wrote a paper on that famous night in August 1661 when Louis XIV visited Vaux; 40 years later, Ina Caro has filled in many of the blanks! One small quibble: the author could have omitted repeated mention of her lack of language skills: French pronunciation is not THAT hard! Otherwise, a very enjoyable read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 6, 2012

    This is an excellent book, personal enough to be charming, yet a

    This is an excellent book, personal enough to be charming, yet accurate and filled with facts. It's so easy to overwhelm readers with historical information (and I admit, I'm still a little fuzzy about all those kings and their female companions) but Ina Caro manages to intersperse architecture and history with restaurant and hotel suggestions. (I saw one and two star reviews that had no text; I doubt the writers read the book.)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2012

    Excellent book if you are traveling to France

    I found this book fascinating and informative. In addition to providing historical background for each of the sites she visited, Caro gives useful travel information, including what to see and what to avoid. I seldom read every word (or even page) of a travel book; I could not put this one down. I highly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2011

    Highly recommended

    Whether you use this as a richly informative travel guide, or as a source of armchair enjoyment, this book deserves a place in your library. Caro maps out journeys from Paris to sites rich with historical importance -- and because she organizes the trips by chronological order of the historical importance of the sites, as you read you get a good feel for the sweep of French history. Delightfully readable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2011

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