As the winter ski holidays end and spring break looms ahead, Parisians have only one thing on their minds—make plans for the long weekends in May, all three of them! Much of Europe is just a short flight or train ride away, and the options can be overwhelming, with everything from high culture to the seductively exotic on offer. These are also perfect add-ons for any trip to Paris.
Prisms of light reflect off the water of the Venetian canals, illuminating harmonious architecture that decays before one’s eyes like a time-lapse film. Familiar with the classic itinerary, regulars visit the contemporary art collection of Parisian François Pinault at the Palazzo Grassi, then marvel at the most exquisite gelato imaginable and house-made limoncello under the white parasols at Acqua Pazza.
Catch a performance at La Fenice opera house, which, like a true phoenix, has burned down and been resurrected—twice. For a local souvenir, the silks by 1930s designer Mariano Fortuny are every bit as precious as the memories you’ll be creating.
Where to stay: Aqua Palace Hotel; 1 hour 40 minutes from Paris, with several flights a day.
Awake to birdsong at the traditional Riad Tzarra in the heart of the medina. After a breakfast on the sunny rooftop, get lost in the bazaar, negotiating over traditional slippers, then escape to the peaceful oasis of the Maison de la Photographie for an eyeful of Berber culture told in sepia tones, and for another rooftop meal, this time a savory tagine followed by a syrupy mint tea.
Visit Yves Saint Laurent’s former backyard, the Majorelle Gardens, and its extraordinary collection of succulents and cacti. Dine with the locals at stand 44 on the food court, which dominates Djemaâ el Fna, the medina’s main square, then hop aboard a horse-drawn carriage for a ride back to your hotel.
Where to stay: Riad Tzarra; 3 hours 35 minutes from Paris, with several flights a day.
Like Alice in Wonderland, fall into the Parisian metro and emerge to the sight of black London taxis and red buses. Go shopping at Lock & Co., where the bowler hat was invented in 1849, or try a custom-sized umbrella at James Smith & Sons, established in 1830.
In the afternoon, cross the Thames for a bit of the Bard at the Globe Theatre, then visit the nearby Tate Modern for art and cocktails overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral. A free ferry designed by Damien Hirst drops visitors on the north bank for sightseeing and perhaps dinner at the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Amaya.
Where to stay: Hoxton Hotel; 2 hours 20 minutes from Paris on the Eurostar train.
Queen Beatrix renounced her throne in 2013, giving the reign to her son, so Queen’s Day, the annual 24-hour festival when the entire country spills into the streets wearing orange, will be King’s Day as of April 26, 2014 (after this year it will be officially celebrated on April 27).
Open during the party and every other day of the year, the newly renovated Rijksmuseum draws impressive crowds. If diamonds are not in your budget, the Jordaan Nine is a series of trendy streets where young designers sell stylish creations for an international market.
The colonial Tropenmuseum is a popular destination for locals, and nothing could be more appropriate than ending the day at Tempo Doeloe for a spicy Indonesian rijsttafel.
Where to stay: Sir Albert Hotel; 1-hour flight from Paris, or 4 hours by Thalys high-speed train.
The Basque country is a land apart. With its own language and unique culture, the region has the feel of an international getaway within France. Stay in historic Saint-Jean-de-Luz where Louis XIV married his Spanish bride and celebrated with macarons from Maison Adam, a bakery that is still on the old port.
Take a bus into the mountains to hike the rolling green hills and taste chili peppers from the quaint village of Espelette or try brebis from Iraty. You can even cross the border to San Sebastián for world-famous tapas at Zeruko, Borda Berri or Txepetxa, or stay in France and savor fresh grilled fish on the shore at Guéthary as the sun sets.
Where to stay: Grand Hôtel; 5 hours 35 minutes by train from Paris.
Teatro La Fenice
Aqua Palace Hotel
Maison de la Photographie
Lock & Co.
James Smith & Sons
Sir Albert Hotel