A DIY Da Vinci Code Tour
How to follow the footsteps of Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu through France, England, and Scotland
Spoiler Alert: If anyone still isn't aware of the best seller's plot, be warned that certain details are about to be revealed
PLACE VENDôME: Chapter 1 begins here with an urgent, middle-of-the-night phone call that rouses Langdon, who is staying at the legendary Hotel Ritz on Harvard's tab. "Squinting at his surroundings he saw a plush Renaissance bedroom with Louis XVI furniture, hand-frescoed walls, and a colossal mahogany four-poster bed."
Take Note: Place Vendôme was built for the Sun King, Louis XIV, and the gilded face of Apollo with sun beams radiating from his head adorns the window balustrades. The Ritz opened in 1898, and has hosted the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charlie Chaplin, and Princess Diana.
BT Tip: Forget the Ritz's overpriced Da Vinci Code package (one night, breakfast, Ritz agenda, embroidered Ritz bathrobe and illustrated copy of the novel from $853/670 euros). Instead, scope out the lobby and public spaces, and splurge on a Lemon Charlie cocktail at their famed Bar Hemingway, $30 (23 euros). Hotel Ritz, 15, place Vendôme, 011-33/43-16-3030, metro stop: Opéra
SAINT-SULPICE: Silas, the self-flagellating albino monk, pays a late-night visit to this parish church in search of the keystone supposedly buried beneath the Rose Line at the base of the obelisk. ("Slicing along the main altar itself the line looked to Silas like a slash wound across a beautiful face."). He breaks the stone floor tiles in frenzied anticipation only to discover he's been duped, and then impulsively murders Sister Sandrine with a giant candlestick.
Take Note: In the novel, Brown claims that Saint-Sulpice was built on the ruins of an ancient temple to the Egyptian god Isis. The church, now beset by tourists, has tacked up messages to set the record straight: The site was never a pagan temple; the brass line running north-south and up the face of the obelisk doesn't correlate with the prime meridian traced through the Paris Observatory; and the letters P and S in the round windows at both ends of the transept allude to Peter and Sulpice, the church's patron saints--not to the Priory of Sion. Well before The Da Vinci Code, Saint-Sulpice was famous for its organ, which continues to shine in concert. The baptisms of the Marquis de Sade and Charles Baudelaire and the wedding of Victor Hugo all took place here. Place Saint-Sulpice, 011-33/46-33-2178, free admission, metro stop: Saint-Sulpice
LOUVRE: Much of the drama unfurls in the Grand Gallery, where desperate curator Jacques Saunière rips a Caravaggio canvas from the wall to set off the museum alarm and where, about a hundred pages later, Langdon and Sophie gape at the sight of a message scrawled in blood across the Mona Lisa's face. Sophie then finds a key marked P.S. behind Da Vinci's Madonna of the Rocks and threatens to jab her knee through the painting to deter an armed security guard. The Louvre neatly opens and closes the book; its final page finds Langdon by a miniature pyramid that points up at a inverted pyramid, "a breathtaking V-shaped contour of glass."
Take Note: Brown begins with a mini art-history lesson on the Mona Lisa--"painted on poplar wood panel, her ethereal, mist-filled atmosphere was attributed to Da Vinci's mastery of the sfumato style, in which forms appear to evaporate into one another"--and then takes a more controversial stance. "Langdon nodded, 'Gentleman, not only does the face of Mona Lisa look androgynous, but her name is an anagram of the divine union of male and female [Amon L'isa]. And that, my friends, is Da Vinci's little secret, and the reason for Mona Lisa's knowing smile.'" The painting is ostensibly a portrait of "La Gioconda," the young Florentine wife of Francesco del Giocondo, and, as Brown notes, it was Da Vinci's favorite. The gallery's other Da Vinci blockbusters include John the Baptist and The Virgin and St. Anne. While the novel doesn't name a specific Caravaggio, the enormous painting The Death of the Virgin seems likely to have appealed to Saunière (and Brown) since its lifelike, rustic depiction scandalized the church.
BT Tip: The Louvre and most national museums and monuments are free on the first Sunday of the month and on July 14. Tickets are good for admission throughout the day, but arrive early--just before the museum opens at 9 a.m.--for a jump-start on the crowds. Culture vultures should consider purchasing the Paris Pass, which grants entry to more than 70 museums and sights as well as free public transportation within zones one, two and three; one-day, $50 (39 euros); three-day, $126 (99 euros); five-day, $177 (139 euros).
Audio Tour: The Louvre has rolled out its own 50-minute audio tours, "Step Inside the Da Vinci Code," narrated by the novel's tough-as-nails police captain, Bezu Fache (actor Jean Reno). Commentary on 30 major works is mixed with bits of movie dialogue and music. The $13 price tag is less than the cost of Classic Walks and other private tours. Tours can be rented at the museum, but we'd suggest purchasing them in advance online through iTunes or Audible.com--then you can download them onto a portable MP3 player before you go or just listen from your living room. $11 (8.50 euros) museum admission; free for those under 18, with ID, louvre.fr; metro stop: Palais-Royal