In Part I, which starts at the Gambetta entrance, we will cover one third of the 44 hectares of this immense park. Of the three walks, this one is of medium difficulty, with mostly straight pathways and level ground, and a tricky patch in the middle where you need to pay strict attention to directions.
We will visit the final resting places of luminaries Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Alice B Toklas, Ettore Bugatti, Amadeo Modigliani, Edith Piaf, Henri Salvador, Beaumarchais, Anna de Noailles, the Carton family, Quintin Craufurd, Victor Noir, Sarah Bernhardt, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Isadora Duncan, Stéphane Grappelli and a Dragon.
In life, many of our hosts were connected to each other in surprising ways. This first tour explores political intrigue, forbidden love, and, of course, sex.
Gambetta gate, the dome of the Columbarium, the tomb of the dragon and the bronze of Victor Noir.
The entrance you should use for this tour is at 56 rue des Rondeaux, 75020 Paris. This is known as the ‘Gambetta Entrance,’ and offers an easier, quicker and flatter start. DO NOT go to the gate at the 20-block of boulevard de Ménilmontant, which is at the bottom of a hill, far from public transportation, and a long, steep walk from the start of this tour. I want you to begin fresh and full of energy, because I have so much I want to show you!
The best way to get here is by taking Line 3 of the Métro toward Galleini to the East. Get off at the Gambetta Métro station. Resist the temptation to get off at the Père Lachaise station, one stop before, which is on the wrong side. From the Gambetta Métro station, take exit 3, called the ‘PÈRE LACHAISE’ exit. At the top of the escalator, on your right, you will see a roundabout with a metal sculpture fountain in the middle. Just in front of you, there is the bank SOCIÉTÉ GÉNÉRALE and on the left, the LCL bank. Follow this by taking a left down avenue du Père Lachaise. After 2-3 minutes, the Gambetta entrance will be directly in front of you.
Places to stop along the way:
Père Lachaise is a gigantic walled park, with really only three practical entrances and exits. There's no food nor drink inside, so BYOB. Also, only one toilet at the start of this tour, so plan accordingly ;-)
Before or after, you may want to visit the funky Belleville bistrots in the 20th arrondissement. The three closest are at Place Martin Nadaud. A bit farther from the main entrance are two places I can recommend, Shingané for Korean BBQ (63 Avenue Gambetta), and Leslie Road for British fare (8 Rue du Cambodge). Exiting the opposite side at the little door in the Northwest corner, near the Père Lachaise métro station, there are a number of good sit-down French establishments starting at the 40s block of the Boulevard de Ménilmontant and walking North.
Best time of day:
Any time is good, but you'll want to start before 4pm so the visit isn't rushed. Père Lachaise is one of the few places in Paris which is free to visit, and open almost every day of the year, including most holidays, from at least 9am to 5:30pm. Crowds can accumulate on Sundays, in Summer or especially on All Saints' Day (November 1st). My favorite time to visit is the Winter, when there's almost nobody, the trees are bare, and the place has more of a cemetery feel to it. That's also the only time of the year the park gets dark, in the early morning or late afternoon. The contrast of the grey skies with the brightly colored remembrance flowers is stunning.
Comfortable flat-soled shoes are a necessity. High heels might break off on the cobblestone paths, and some of the terrain may be dirt or moist earth. While we have fun with our hosts, let's remain respectful by not stepping on graves, in-between is OK, and if you see a group of mourners, please pass by quietly.
To honor our hosts on Tour 1, you may choose to bring with you a bouquet of chrysanthemums, a pink rose, lipstick, a brownie, three pencils, a paintbrush, some stones and a brass-rubbing cloth.
The companion photo book, also called The Chairfather, includes pictures of all of these sites. You may wish to pick it up to help identify our hosts among similar looking tombs.
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