Inspired by the troubadours, Les Mystères du Vieux Paris is a theatre troupe offering fun and educational walks through Paris as they recount the city’s most captivating historic moments through original songs by the Coudées Franches and the captivating storytelling of the Parisian tour guide Guillaume Bertrand. Follow in the footsteps of the Hunchback, the Grand Veneur and his troubadours, and let yourself be “en-chanté” through the alleys of the Ile de la Cité!
It’s hard to find tours in French that don’t lean heavily towards academic lectures, but I also can’t stand gimmicky tours with historically dubious anecdotes. However, this musical storytelling tour through the oldest streets of Paris gets it perfect. They have a really fun and engaging way of recounting the stories about Paris that I’ve heard countless times, and I actually learned a few new things, too (the icing on the cake: I finally got to see inside a place not usually open to the public).
It was raining when we started our tour at the Place St-Gervais, but happily cleared up after a few moments (bring your umbrellas and parkas just in case). The tour proceeded to the “Place de Grève” and then to the oldest streets on the Ile-de-la-Cité, finishing just outside Notre Dame.
You can’t help but feel transported to Medieval Paris, when minstrel troupes would entertain the crowds gathered in front of the churches with their theatrical and humoristic storytelling. One of the best parts of “Les Mystères du Vieux Paris” is the final song, both solemn and joyful, about the brave people who worked tirelessly to save Notre Dame Cathedral from being completely destroyed in the tragic fire of April 2019. And they have seamlessly added this modern event into the centuries-old timeline of Parisian history.
You’ll need to be able to follow French if you want to get the most out of this tour, but they make it a lot easier to hear by using microphones, with the speakers cleverly hidden in the gargoyles on the troubadours’ shoulders. They are group tours, but this is one instance where that actually makes the tour more fun as you’re all part of the ‘show’.
Bonus recommendation from our guides: if you’re looking for somewhere to eat on the island that isn’t just an overpriced tourist trap, book a table at Les Deux Colombes, which is a relatively new bistro and wine bar in a historic location, popular with the locals.
Update for 2021: The Paris Commune
They have added a second show to their repertoire, “Sur les Trace des Communards” about the 1871 Paris Commune (a fascinating historical event every Francophile should learn about). Here’s the trailer:
There will be some special tours for Halloween this year as well on October 30th and 31st (to be announced). To see the latest schedule of shows, visit the official website for Les Mystères du Vieux Paris (also on FB and Instagram). Tickets are €25 (discounts for accompanying children).
Les Coudées Franches — Viviane Fournier, Thomas Dunan and Christophe Auzolles – are a musical group who not only sing French chanson, but also Cajun and Irish folk music. You can find them here.
You can check out the other tours from Sous les Pavés, which specializes in all of the creepy, haunted, and fascinating aspects of Paris: “Esotericism, crimes of passion, ghosts and other disturbing or magical stories will delight the most curious of you!” Their group tours are all in French, but some of them can be done in English if privatized, here’s the list.